College to scrap Blackboard in favor of Canvas

by Amelia Rosch | 10/17/13 10:00pm

After 15 years of using Blackboard as its learning management system, the College will transition to Canvas by Instructure by winter 2015. As part of a pilot program, 13 courses already use Canvas.

The College began reevaluating its learning management system in July 2012 in anticipation of the expiration of Blackboard's license at the end of 2013. Student and faculty focus groups helped to pick Canvas, which beat out an updated version of Blackboard, Moodle, Desire2Learn and Sakai.

Biology professor Mark McPeek volunteered to use Canvas for his spring Biology 11 class and found it is easier and more efficient to use.

"It functions much more like a website or a content management system," he said. "I think it looks much better too."

Pawan Dhakal '16 tested an updated version of Blackboard in the spring in his writing class, "Argument in Context," and found it to be too complex.

"I like it when it is simpler," Dhakal said. "It was getting fancier, which I didn't like."

Focus groups preferred Canvas because they found it more user-friendly, said Barbara Knauff, assistant director of educational technologies.

"It has a more modern look and feel," she said. "It has a really modern tool set."

Unlike Blackboard, Canvas can be linked to Twitter and Dropbox and has a video and audio recording function.

Both student and faculty groups wanted the new learning management system to be easy to integrate with other applications and devices, have real-time collaborating opportunities and flexible discussion boards.

The faculty focus group prioritized security so that professors could administer tests and post grades without worrying.

They disliked Blackboard because they found the software to be difficult and "unintuitive" for exam proctoring.

"Faculty want to use [a learning management system] to administer tests, but with assurance and safeguards for honesty and academic integrity," a statement from the faculty focus group said.

The student focus group emphasized the importance of design and the ease with which professors could learn the software.

"[Faculty] comfort level with [learning management system] technology is evident and guides how material is presented," the group said in a statement. "Some faculty don't know how to use computers in class."

Geisel School of Medicine and Tuck School of Business will change to Canvas as well, though the timeline is not yet determined.

Amanda Roberts '16 said that she is glad to switch to Canvas because she found Blackboard frustrating.

"It's really slow, and you have to log into it every time," she said.

Kaila Pedersen '14 said although Blackboard could be improved from a design perspective, it is useful for sharing files.

"I don't find it particularly fun in terms of design," Pedersen said. "I don't find the design intuitive or user-friendly, but I'm used to it now."

While it may take time for people to get used to a new interface, Knauff said students will not have trouble adjusting.

"Going into a new system, there will be a bit of a learning curve," she said.

Katie Bates '16 anticipated that the transition would bring stress.

"I hate technology because I can't use it well," she said. "I'll have to adjust to a totally new website."