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California Community Colleges Online Education InitiativeThe signing of a contract with Instructure for the use of Canvas as a common course management system (CCMS) marks a key milestone for the California Community Colleges (CCC) in its journey to create statewide excellence in online learning.


The adoption of Canvas will allow the CCC Online Education Initiative (OEI) to deploy resources in a comprehensive way to students and faculty in efforts to create a high-quality, effective online education system. The use of Canvas will not be limited to online courses, but will be open to full use in the traditional classroom environment as well. Even though colleges are not mandated to adopt the CCMS, many are excited to become part of the statewide effort. It is the intention of the OEI to develop learning strategies through the use of Canvas that are so engaging that all colleges will want to participate.

It was announced at the Distance Education Coordinators’ Retreat on June 17 that OEI funds could cover the cost for colleges using Canvas from October 2015 through the following four years. After 2018-19, the OEI team is confident that the CCC Board of Governors will positively consider continuing the funding at the same or higher levels to meet the online needs of its more than 2 million students.

Colleges Coalesce

Interest in Canvas adoption has been high across the community college system since last February when Canvas was selected by a large, diverse committee made up of members from a variety of colleges across the state. The announcement in June that there would be no cost to the colleges only increased that enthusiasm and the OEI is now officially receiving applications for adoption of the CCMS.

The activities of the OEI have brought the colleges together around student success and completion in a way that has not been seen before. The inception in the late 1990s of the California Virtual Campus seeded the notion that the CCC could develop something like what is happening now, but only the early adopters were involved then. The number of students and faculty using digital tools to enrich the learning experience has grown significantly over the years until it is now common practice by a large number of educators. The timing of developing a statewide initiative couldn’t be better.

We are seeing people really want to work together to put student success first, with an understanding that online resources can help. The colleges have always been in a somewhat competitive situation because of how funds are allocated by the number of full-time students who are enrolled. It’s time we put our energies together to embrace all students as students of not just one college, but students of the California Community Colleges as a whole. We all know that a well-educated population will improve the economy of our entire state, and are excited to increase the likelihood that the initial promise of the CCC will be enriched.

It’s time to break the competitive cycle that keeps colleges in silos rather than sharing the great strategies for online teaching and learning that have been developed over the last decade. The online environments that we are creating now are focused on sharing effective practices and on providing resources in an efficient way. The people who have participated in OEI activities over the past year are regenerating their practices and actually having a good time doing so.

The Line Forms Here

The 24 colleges piloting a variety of OEI resources are currently at various stages of implementing Canvas to deliver OEI courses. Colleges that are not involved in the formal pilot groups may also choose to adopt Canvas. There are two adoption cohort cycles each year in October and April for colleges to begin the Canvas implementation process. A goal has been set for 90 colleges to adopt Canvas within the next five years.

Adoption dates are being set by colleges based on when they have agreement among their stakeholders on adopting the CCMS and on the expiration date of their existing course management systems. There are currently more than a half dozen different course management systems being used across the state with only five colleges using Canvas prior to the statewide decision to adopt the system. The CCMS Selection Committee—which had not only faculty and staff membership but also included students—overwhelmingly agreed on the selection of Canvas as a system that met the needs of students and could grow through partnership with the colleges.

There is a website available to help colleges have conversations at their campuses about the considerations for adopting the CCMS as well as many other resources about the Canvas system. The application to adopt Canvas and more information are available at


Pat James is Executive Director of the
California Community Colleges Online Education Initiative