Reaction is Mixed as Westridge Moves from Finalsite to Canvas Learning Management System


Jessica W.

Canvas Dashboard, where students can see an overall view of their classes.

At the end of the previous school year, Westridge announced through an email that the school will be changing its learning management system from Finalsite Learn to Canvas from the 2022 fall school year onwards. One month into the school year, faculty and student reactions remain mixed.

Some were excited for the switch. 

Upon learning of the impending change, Upper School History Teacher Jennifer Cutler decided to pilot Canvas with her four ninth-grade sections a full year before it was formally implemented because she has experience with using Canvas and preferred it to Finalsite.

“Finalsite wasn’t created to be a [learning management system]. That’s not what its usage was, so it was just clunky and difficult in terms of uploading information and storing information,” said Cutler 

Most students and faculty, however, did not have a strong preference for Canvas or Finalsite; there were features from both they liked. 

Emily L. ’25 went into this school year with no issues navigating Canvas because she had used it in Cutler’s history class last year. She has found that each platform has its respective advantages; turning in work is easier on Canvas, whereas Finalsite was easier to navigate and had a resources section.

“I don’t really like [Canvas’s] due date system. You see the date when it’s due, rather than when it’s assigned.” Jesslyn C. ‘23 said, “In the beginning, the modules were kind of confusing because there were so many files. On Finalsite, however, there were just folders, so it was easier to see. But now it’s fine.” She also likes how she can check off assignments she has completed on the Canvas calendar. 

Willa Greenstone, Upper School History Teacher, shared a similar perspective. “I really liked the folders in Finalsite, and I still miss the folders. Modules end up being such long lists to me. I prefer the visuals of Finalsite. However, Canvas is actually smoother when you make things between classes.” 

Despite initial reactions, Westridge is committed to Canvas. 

Westridge had already been considering moving away from Finalsite Learn for the past three to four years. However, the need to switch to Canvas came very suddenly for the Technology Team, as they were informed in June of 2021 that Finalsite Learn would be going away by the end of the month. Sally Miller, Director of Technology, and her team were able to negotiate a one-year extension with Finalsite, but Westridge had to choose a new learning management system quickly. 


Sally Miller, member of the Technology and EdTech teams, work to make the change from Finalsite to Canvas as smooth as possible. She plans on sending out a school-wide survey regarding Canvas around November. (Jessica W.)

Under usual circumstances, changing learning platforms would have taken three to four years, allowing ample time for the Technology Team to plan, get administrative and financial support, and test various platforms. Switching to Canvas this school year fast-forwarded their plans by around two to three years. 

Miller had two main prerequisites when looking for new learning management systems: a financially stable company with a decent market share and easy integration with Veracross, the new student information system.  

Schoology and Powerschool were considered, but Canvas was decided on because of its predictability, consistency, customizability, and modernity. Previously with Finalsite, every teacher had their way of organizing their class pages. With Canvas, the Technology Team created templates for teachers to use so students would see a more uniform and predictable interface.

Selecting a new learning management system is only part of the work.  The other part is helping teachers, staff, and students adapt to a new system. “We do think it’s really important to get input from the users,” said Miller, “so that’s really why we would usually spend a couple of years looking at different options and getting teachers who are interested in the ed tech team to try things out. And we just didn’t have time to do that. So, that’s what we lost.”

Though Cutler’s experience with Canvas last school was not an official pre-test for Canvas, she provided valuable insight as to what using Canvas would look like from the 2022 school year onwards. Cutler reported feedback from her ninth graders to Miller, who then utilized the feedback to create faculty and student training courses for Canvas.

 The actual implementation process began last year, as the Technology Team had already started building training courses on Canvas for teachers in November of 2021. In Spring 2022, the EdTech team, created in 2015 and currently consisting of 12 faculty members across all divisions, began training teachers on navigating and operating Canvas. 

The team uses a peer-to-peer model, where each member is partnered with eight to ten classroom teachers from varying departments to facilitate the change. Members have and continue to meet in person, over the phone, or over email whenever needed to help teachers acclimate to Canvas. 

 Sandra Penrod, Application Support Specialist, said, “I personally enjoy being a member of the EdTech team because each of our faculty members come to me with a slightly different level of understanding of overall technology skills, so I am challenged to find the best way to reach that particular teacher.” She also underscores the importance of having patience as an EdTech member. 

Despite there being many resources available, teachers have methods through which they learn best. “I learn best by doing. So, for me, being told how to do things wasn’t as helpful as just being there and doing them and working my way through them,” said Greenstone.  

To help students transition from Finalsite to Canvas, Westridge required everyone to complete a remote training course on Canvas before the start of the school year. The Help Desk is also available to students requiring any technological assistance. 

With all the different opinions surrounding Canvas, Miller plans to send out formal surveys around November to gain more feedback on Canvas. 

“The teachers have done just an amazing, amazing job learning management system,” said Miller. “It’s one of those projects that affects literally every member of the community. It’s new for students; it’s new for teachers; it’s new for parents, even administration; it’s new to everybody. And it’s a big deal.”