Heading: Blackboard vs. Canvas

St. Scholastica's Student Newspaper
The Cable

By Kelsi Novitsky

Deck: CSS explores new learning management systems

This summer, The College of St. Scholastica will be piloting a new Learning Management System (LMS) that may take the place of Blackboard next year.

Canvas, the alternative LMS considered by CSS, serves the same purpose as Blackboard, allowing students to check grades and course material. Teachers are able to post videos, Power Points, course syllabi, and calendars. The college's online courses will also be hosted through Canvas if the switch in LMS is made.

"Canvas is another LMS that's built on a newer technology and offers different features," said Chief Information Officer Lynne Hamre. "It's more mobile friendly, it has some additional video and multimedia tools, and with the type of technology it is, there's no down-time; when Blackboard updates, it takes a little while."

While Blackboard seems to serve students and faculty well enough, Hamre and a task force of students, staff, and faculty want to make sure they're utilizing the best resources possible.

"It's part of due diligence. Every so often you need to step back and look at the best options, and decide if we are on the best solution," said Hamre. "You don't want to stay with what you have just because you have it. You have to make sure you are going in the right direction."

In addition to Canvas and Blackboard, CSS reached out to four other LMS providers including Moodle and Desire to Learn (D2L). Moodle, D2L, Canvas, and Blackboard all responded with proposals. It was decided that D2L was too similar to Blackboard, and Moodle wouldn't serve students the way CSS wanted it to, so Canvas and Blackboard became the college's top choices.

"Blackboard has been around a little bit longer, our faculty and students know it, it's also feature-rich, a large number of schools use it, and it does pretty much everything we want it to do," said Hamre. "But canvas doesn't have any down-time. It's just a different tool with a different look and feel."

The piloting process started March 19 with informational meetings held by representatives of Canvas. Blackboard also held a meeting March 27 to discuss their site.

"We asked students and faculty to look at different functionality, mobile, accessibility issues, discussion boards, video editing, assignments, and quizzes on Canvas, and then give us a good overview of the tool," said Hamre. "Then the task force and IT met with faculty."

While there was a large faculty turn-out at the Canvas informational meeting, very few students attended. According to Hamre, the next step in the piloting process will be to hold Canvas demos on campus and gauge the response of the CSS community. If the demos go successfully, Canvas would be installed at CSS, and online courses would start to run on the new program.

"Part of the testing process will be to identify issues that may arise," said Hamre. "It will take resources to convert everything. There may be things that we haven't found that Blackboard does that Canvas doesn't. We'll do our best to try to test everything, but there might be something someone does in Blackboard that we can't do the same way. It will also take time to redo Blackboard classes in Canvas."

With most of the piloting taking place this summer, and a decision anticipated to be made in the fall, Hamre hopes the transition will be as seamless as possible.

"My expectation is that Canvas is so intuitive that students will just be able to adjust. Students shouldn't have any problem adjusting to new environment," said Hamre. "Professors are the ones who have to learn how to create and develop in new environment."

Despite the Canvas piloting process being well under-way, students and faculty know surprisingly little about the new program.

"I think of it like, there are two doors, and we know what's behind door number one- it's blackboard," said communications professor Rob Larson. "I want to know what's behind door number two."

While students may have little information about Canvas, many have strong opinions about Blackboard.
"Blackboard works pretty well," said freshman Charlie Franklin. "It's nice knowing your grades, and when teachers actually use it, so that you can actually use it."

For Hamre and the task force, the lack of student and faculty involvement with the pilot process so far poses a problem.

"We really would like student feedback when we do have the open labs, maybe even before school gets out in May, we'd really like it if people would stop in, take a look at the tool, and give feedback," said Hamre. "If they're in an online course when we try Canvas, have some patience. That's really why we're doing it- to provide as robust an online learning environment as we can; something students like and find intuitive and can do their best work."