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Faculty decides on Blackboard replacement

Published: Monday, January 31, 2011

Updated: Monday, January 31, 2011 11:01

    A new learning management system (LMS) will replace Blackboard Vista starting Summer 2012 and those involved say the new program, Instructure Canvas, is more user friendly and will entice more professors to implement it in their classes.

    Associate Vice Provost Robert Wagner said faculty and students will like Instructure Canvas because "they (students and faculty) will compare it to Blackboard Vista," which hasn't had any updates in the last one and a half years. The Blackboard company is decommissioning Blackboard Vista Wagner, said, so they haven't been focusing their efforts on keeping Vista current.

    Utah State University knew Blackboard Vista would have to be replaced with a new LMS, which is why the university started making plans in 2010 to look for a  new program, Wagner said. USU, along with the other universities in Utah, made a list of criteria that they wanted featured in a new system and eight LMS companies responded and bid. It came down to three finalists, and then students were asked to take a look and experiment and provide feedback. Faculty and staff evaluated, too, and Instructure's Canvas was the one all Utah schools wanted.

    "Our goal was to find the best product for faculty and students and we think we found it.  Our goal now is make that product be successful for as long as it can," said  instructional designer Neal Legler.

    Faculty and students are going to see a lot of new things, Wagner said, including new features for both faculty and students that are "really going to help the teaching and learning experience."

    Legler said after having various students and faculty test the new LMS, they found Canvas to be much easier to use and more student- and faculty-friendly.

    Legler said not only do they hope more faculty will use Instructure Canvas, they anticipate it. He said professors will have more of an incentive to use Instructure because of how easy it will be to process grades and other assignments.

    "We would love for every faculty member to use Canvas," Legler said. "The incentive will be there for them, much more than in Blackboard. The incentive will be in time savings when it comes to grading. I would go as far as to say that Canvas is so well-designed it can cut grading time in half."

    Jeffrey Orme, a senior majoring in psychology, said he thinks the change is a good idea. He said Blackboard does not offer the main things students need in a user friendly way.

    "I don't think Blackboard is interactive-friendly. I feel that you have to go through too many loops to be in close contact with classmates and professors," Orme said.

    Legler said Instructure Canvas has found that "sweet spot" between being student-centered and faculty-friendly. With the new program, faculty will be able to communicate through messaging which students can receive in any format they want including text messages, e-mails, or Facebook notifications. It works both ways so faculty can send students messages in their preferred method and students can receive it in whatever method they choose.

    "We have the opportunity to go to a product that is state of the art, that is innovative, it is taking advantage of all the latest technology and social media tools available," Wagner said.

    Wagner said he hopes to get people to understand and appreciate Instructure Canvas and the new opportunities it will bring. He said he hopes those professors who have not used an LMS before will see Instructure Canvas as an "attractive option for teaching. "

    Starting as early as February, Wagner said introductory events to Instructure Canvas will be held for faculty and students. He said they will have the opportunity to receive training before their classes migrate to Canvas. Information about Instructure Canvas and workshops that will be held are available online through USU's website  and Wagner said that website is essential to the migration of Blackboard to Instructure.

    A committee of faculty, one from each college, and student representatives from ASUSU is in the process of being formed. Wagner said they will be relying heavily on this committee for input throughout the migration process over the next 18 months to make sure faculty and student needs are being met.

    "Migration process needs to be one that is controlled and developed so transition is smooth as can be," Wagner said.

    There are over 3,400 sections of Blackboard that need to be migrated to Instructure Canvas, and select courses will start to make that transition starting Fall 2011 and Spring 2012. At that time, Wagner said it is possible some students could have some classes available still through Blackboard, while others will be available through Instructure, depending on the courses being taken by the student.

    "There is just too much content to move everything over at once, " Wagner said  "This is not like flipping a switch, this is a process that will happen over the next 18 months."

– megan.b@aggiemail.usu.edu

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