MU committee considering options to replace Blackboard

New learning management systems pose new options for MU that may end its relationship with Blackboard.
Ben Kothe / Graphic Designer

MU is evaluating whether it should continue using Blackboard as a campus-wide learning management system or replace it. The university plans to reach a decision by December.

Technology Resource Director Danna Vessell has been leading an investigative committee of faculty and staff since February. She said the committee has held focus groups for faculty throughout September and will invite students to focus groups in October.

Vessell said the committee is also administering a survey for the rest of campus to gather student and faculty feedback.

Kevin Bailey, director of customer service and support for the Division of Information Technology who is leading the committee, said it is examining Bright Space and Instructure Canvas as potential replacements for Blackboard.

Bailey said both systems run on a cloud technology that is controlled from the companies’ headquarters, whereas Blackboard runs on local servers.

According to the committee’s website, students and faculty will be able to try out Instructure Canvas during the week of Oct. 6 and Bright Space duing the week of Oct. 13.

Vessell said both systems could adequately support a network the size of MU, and that the investigation started in response to “significant challenges with Blackboard last fall.”

Nicole Monnier, a committee member and associate professor of Russian, said that now is a good time to consider other options.

“(Since) the last academic year, Blackboard crashed a number of times, (and) there was a welling of faculty frustration with Blackboard and probably with students,” she said.

Monnier said expectations for the potential replacement would be very high and would take time to implement.

She said as using technology in the classroom has become a norm around campus, many faculty have become more dependent on using a learning management system.

Bethany Stone, a committee member and professor who has won multiple awards for using technology in her biological sciences courses, said using learning management systems allows her to see what students are struggling with in class and how she can provide them guidance and help with the material.

However, Stone said, the confusing nature of Blackboard could also keep new faculty members from taking advantage of the tools available in the system.

“Blackboard is not very user-friendly, (and) it is not very intuitive,” she said. “I think (Blackboard) is a real inhibitor for new faculty. I would like something more drag-and-drop type formatting, something that is a little bit more natural to use.”

Stone said her preference for a new system would depend on which option takes the least time to implement since a new system could take up to a year to be implemented.

The committee will finalize its recommendation in November and present it to the Faculty Council and MU administrators in December.

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