The Librarian Role in our Canvas Pilot

screenshot of UM Canvas Pilot webpage

As UM begins its third pilot term with Canvas by Instructure.com, it's nice to see "Librarian" show up on the dropdown list of roles available in the People section at a site.  I shouldn't be surprised to see it there; I've been consulting with the fine folks on ITS for the last month. Still, it seems monumental.

Monumental is the recognition that a lively course ecosystem (let alone a "learning" ecosystem) is complex -- and likely includes players other than students and instructors.  The fact that UM had to add the Librarian role is a bit of a downer.  Instructure touts itself as a 21st century educational revolution, but it is pretty old school about who's involved.  Student and Teacher are their two out-of-the-box roles.  Also they managed to include Designer and Observer, but I digress.

Canvas prides itself in being not overly complicated as well as very flexible, so they might posit that if librarians are important to You, then You can add them.  Fair enough, I suppose.  Suffice to say, UM ITS was eager to support the integral role of librarians in coursework and added Librarian as soon as they could confirm the best permission set.

The Winter 2015 Librarian role in our UM Canvas pilot basically replicates the permissions of our standard Librarian role in CTools (Sakai).  One notable difference is the emphasis Canvas puts on push-notifications.  In Ctools, Librarians  don't receive email notification as often as Students or Instructors at the same site.  Not so in Canvas.  In Canvas there's no "mercy rule" for librarians.  If something happens at the site to trigger a notification, librarians get it.  

Sometimes, bureaucracy is a good thing

Perhaps the best news in regards to roles in our Canvas pilot is that ITS can add administrative layers to reflect schools, colleges, and departments. In Ctools, the corresponding concept of admin-lite was never realized.

With the implementation of what Canvas calls sub-account roles, and with the approval of the college or department, subject specialists can easily be associated with a whole sub-set of sites.  The librarian can therefore interact with  instructors, students, and course content without jumping through the hoops required to gain site-by-site access.

In this sub-account role (currently called Content Specialist), the librarian is not technically a member of the site, and so she does not receive push-notifications.  That's good news if you are already feeling spammed by course communications that really don't effect you, but could be bad news if the instructor doesn't remember to notify you directly (or add you officially via People) when push-notification is critical.

A librarian with department-wide access can easily share content such as handouts, quizzes, even more complex modules with multiple instructors.  Librarians can participate in online class discussions, chats, and/or collaborations.  If appropriate, the librarian can evaluate assignment submissions.

There is really very little that is new under the sun, but our Content Specialist role in Canvas may be a game-changer in terms of efficiency for UM librarians who have spent too much time just getting access to the right course sites.

What is the likelihood that your school, college, or department would grant your subject specialist or designated librarian automatic access to course sites?  What potential benefits do you see?

Or maybe your reaction is "Thanks, but no thanks."  Librarian time and resources are not limitless, and the real challenge is managing expectations.  What worries you?

If you're reading this as a librarian at another institution using Canvas, how has your local IT department responded to librarians' needs to join course websites?  What's working, and what would you like to see happen next?