Blackboard may get replaced by new system

By Nico Zulli

After more than a decade on campus, Blackboard may no longer reign as Baylor’s learning management system for students, faculty and staff.

“Change is hard,” said Pattie Orr, vice president for information technology and dean of university libraries. “And if I had been a faculty or staff member using Blackboard for 10 to 12 years, I would be concerned if I had to move on to something new.”

Orr said the idea of switching learning management systems came about as a result of Baylor’s constant evaluation of any products that are used as well as a willingness to make improvements to these products. While it remains uncertain whether or not a change from Blackboard to Canvas by Instructure will take place at this time, Orr said it is a possibility she intends to explore thoroughly before making a final decision on the matter.

Orr said numerous campus feedback surveys over the years have indicated that students, faculty and staff have favorable opinions of Blackboard. She also said the time has come to reassess Blackboard against the capabilities of Canvas.

“We have been keeping our finger on our pulse all along, and we see satisfaction, so it’s not that we are fixing a problem,” she said. “We are just looking for ways to offer improvement.”

Orr said this effort aims to fulfill Pro Futuris’ core conviction of stewardship. She said her team wants to make sure that the partnership between Baylor and its chosen learning management system company will be a sustainable and reliable resource for the campus community.

After extensive reviews discussions of various LMS system options, the Teaching Learning Technology Committee, which includes one representative from each school at Baylor as well as several ex-officio members, has chosen Canvas by Instructure to be this potential replacement for Blackboard.

“The future is what we have to be looking toward,” said Dr. Sandy Bennett, assistant director of online teaching and learning services and committee ex-officio member. “So we looked at several up and comers such as Sakai, Moodle, Canvas and Desire 2 Learn, which are all being used on other campuses. And Canvas is the main contender in the industry right now.”

Baylor is under contract with Blackboard until 2015. If Canvas is selected to replace Blackboard, the Baylor campus can expect a transition to begin as early as next fall.

Canvas was selected by the committee over other systems for a variety of reasons, including maturity of the product, reputation and scale and function on a larger campus environment. Bennett said the main reason Canvas was chosen was its minimal system management requirement.

“These other systems are what are considered ‘open-source,” Bennett said. “So they would require a lot more attention and upkeep from programmers, and we do not have the capability to supply that kind of maintenance.”

Once Canvas was selected by the committee to be the most viable Blackboard alternative, Lance Grigsby, senior academic consultant, Bennett and several other committee members traveled to meet with the staff at University of Texas at Austin.

UT-Austin, Mary-Hardin Baylor, Northwestern and several other universities have recently adopted Canvas, and Baylor staff reached out to UT for practical advice and guidance to discuss the potential transition from Blackboard to Canvas.

Grigsby said The University of Texas at Austin conducted extensive evaluations around its campus before making a decision to make the change to Canvas. And starting in the fall 2013 semester, Baylor began a similar yearlong evaluation process with the piloting of Canvas in certain courses.

“This year-long pilot was determined to be the best way to understand the differences between the two,” Orr said.

In addition to this piloting of Canvas, Grigsby has been involved with the establishment of Roadshow Demos that will take place starting Monday to March 7. Bennett said Grigsby has been instrumental in setting up these demonstration opportunities, which will involve a series of traveling demonstrations that will allow students to experience each company’s product.

“Both companies have been invited to come to campus to do a 45-minute product demonstration along with a series of come-and-go roadshow demonstrations,” he said. “These demos will give students, faculty and staff the opportunity to experience and explore the features of Canvas and Blackboard and provide feedback,” he said.

These roadshows will happen in several locations on Baylor’s main campus, including the Baylor Sciences Building, Hankamer School of Business, Moody Memorial Library and the Bill Daniel Student Center, to name a few. Dates and times for a Canvas and Blackboard demonstration and roadshow at the Louise Herrington School of Nursing will also be announced soon.

After the roadshows and demonstrations take place, the committee plans to work alongside their established ‘task force’ subcommittee to analyze feedback results and provide a recommendation to Orr on a decision between Canvas and Blackboard.

“The task force will analyze the accumulated evaluations from students, faculty and staff and return with a recommendation in about mid-April,” Orr said. “I will then consult with the provost and make a final decision on the LMS.”

If Canvas is selected as Baylor’s new learning management system, Orr said it will not be a fast transition.

“UT took two years to integrate Canvas,” she said. “It will be a gradual process for us as well.”

Bennett said the beginning of the transition from Blackboard to Canvas would involve having both systems exist on campus simultaneously for a temporary amount of time. This way, all data could be transferred to the new system from Blackboard.

“If we do end up switching, juniors and graduating seniors during the 2014-2015 school year would probably be the most affected,” Bennett said.

As the Roadshow Demos prepare to commence, Blackboard and Canvas by Instructure will be vying for student, faculty and staff participation in an effort to exhibit each system’s strongest attributes.

“Blackboard has been a good partner, so we want to do an even-handed comparison of capabilities between Canvas and Blackboard,” Orr said.

Ultimately, the system selected will be representative of student, faculty and staff preference — may the best system win.