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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

MU transitions from Blackboard to more modern Canvas

Director of Educational Technologies Dana Wren: “I felt from the beginning that this should be a campus decision.”

Up until this school year, one of the top-visited sites on most MU students’ browser sites has been the infamous Blackboard. However, the days of relying on the academic site will soon come to a close. The era of Blackboard will be replaced by the reign of another online resource: Canvas.

While some instructors are continuing to use Blackboard, a large percentage of the faculty have begun to transition to the new learning management system. Canvas will officially take over as the dominant learning platform in December 2017.

Director of Educational Technologies Dana Wren said that the initial move to a new platform was prompted by a routine system check to compare academic website platforms.

“We had an initial reason for doing a review,” Wren said. “It’s a best practice to regularly take a look at your LMS to make sure it’s still meeting the teaching and learning needs of the campus, and that’s why we kicked off a review.”

The process to find the new platform included various presentations from potential websites. MU eventually narrowed the options down to three.

“We were kind of limited because there are a lot of different kinds of LMS sites out there, but not all of them are capable of handling a campus of our size,” Wren said.

From there, the handful of selected sites were tested through the use of various outreach efforts. One of these methods was formal focus groups. These groups included over 150 instructors and instructional support staff. Over a period of time, they determined the desired characteristics for a new LMS site. These desired traits included being easy to use, having a better user interface, a mobile app option and group sharing capabilities, similar to those provided by sites like Google Docs.

But the process of accumulating feedback from students and teachers regarding the potential shift was a time-consuming process, requiring the committee to reach out to students and teachers in a variety of ways. The process took a total of a year and a half. The committee did town halls, faculty test drives and surveys to gain feedback.

After the extensive testing process, it was concluded that Canvas would be the best replacement for Blackboard. The new site retains a multitude of characteristics which have been deemed superior to the prior academic site, according to the LMS recommendation report.

“I’ve liked the shift from Blackboard to Canvas,” atmospheric science professor Anthony Lupo said in an email. “I have a heavy teaching load. I’ve found Blackboard a little less straightforward. I’ve found Canvas more versatile.”

Lupo is one of many professors who have chosen to prematurely move towards Canvas as their primary learning site.

Some of the new benefits which are coupled with the new program include a more straightforward navigation process for users, a design which is friendly to devices other than the standard computer and more effective means of communication. Another factor which sets the new system apart from the one of the past is its heightened ability to deal with a large number of users.

While the formal transition hasn’t taken place yet, the changes which sit in the future have already evoked reactions from faculty and students. Lupo spoke highly of the differences which he has experienced with the novel platform.

“Since I’ve used Canvas more heavily this semester than I’ve ever used Blackboard, I have more time to devote to other parts of running a classroom and research.” Lupo said in the email.

But some students find confusion in using both platforms at the same time in the transition period.

“I think that there are a lot of perks to both programs,” sophomore Kelly Paul said. “However, it’s inconvenient for us as students to not have all classes on the same platforms. Having two different platforms makes it difficult for incoming students to transition to having web based classes.”

Wren and the rest of her team hope that positive reactions to the shift, similar to those of Lupo, will result from the majority of campus body when the shift is fully implemented.

“I felt from the beginning that this should be a campus decision,” Wren said. “It’s so critical to good teaching and learning. It’s really important to faculty and it’s really important for the students.”

Edited by Claire Mitzel | cmitzel@themaneater.com

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