Countdown to Canvas: New management system phasing Blackboard out

By Jillian Anderson, Reporter

Canvas will phase out the old content management system, Blackboard, by Dec. 23.

Any student who logs into Blackboard will see a clock counting down the days. Set the date for Dec. 23, and Baylor will be a Canvas campus.

Canvas, created by Instructure, is an externally-hosted learning-management system that is used by faculty to handle grades, papers, and other classroom assignments. Lance Grigsby, senior academic consultant with Online Teaching and Learning Services, said Canvas is a better tool than Blackboard.

“You can tell the difference in the company. They’re more forward facing,” Grigsby said on Instructure.

Because of external hosting, Canvas  is updated once every three weeks. Dr. Sandy Bennett, assistant director of Online Teaching and Learning Services, said with Blackboard, updates would only arrive every six months .

In addition to improved maintenance, Canvas allows clients to preview different applications and tools that can be used with Canvas. While Blackboard tried to catch up, Bennett said Canvas had the edge in terms of interactivity and ease of use.

Canvas has many of the same functions as Blackboard. Features such as access to library documents will be listed underneath individual courses instead of on a side bar.

There are many tools and applications for faculty to use to interact with and change the way a course is taught. One of the highlights of Canvas is the inclusion of the application Kaltura. Introduced in August, Kaltura is a media-streaming application that allows faculty and students to share multimedia projects and documents.

Bennett said that Canvas allows for the growth of Baylor. The ability to add in video and interactive elements are what make Canvas so appealing. One example is the expanded courses for the schools of social work, business and nursing. In addition, Baylor used Canvas in managing online summer school courses in 2015.

“We have put in front of faculty and students the tools to create any kind of learning experience they want,” Grigsby said.

Bennett said the goal with Canvas is to go paperless, but the number of assignments that faculty can make has expanded.

Online Teaching and Learning Services handled the conversion from Blackboard to Canvas. The transition started on May 2014 after a brief pilot trial in the previous year. It’s been a two-year process. Bennett said things were going better than expected.

“We have about 80 percent  of faculty using Canvas in some shape or form,” Bennett said. Most of this growth was seen in the summer. Acclimating faculty to the system change has been the focus of most of the office’s training. Students have been curious as well.

“We heard that students disliked having to use two management systems,” Grigsby said. The office anticipated the resistance. Grigsby said because students tend to be more familiar with technology that he expected they could figure out Canvas on their own. However, there are opportunities and support for students who need it. Students can call the Canvas support number at any time of day for immediate assistance or access the Online Teaching and Learning Services website.

“Change can be difficulty for anyone,” Grigsby said. Ultimately, what can be made of Canvas rests in the hands of faculty and students.

Baylor doesn’t require that faculty use Canvas. The same was done with Blackboard. Canvas has mobile applications available for Android and iOS.