North Texas Daily

UNT transitioning from Blackboard to Canvas

UNT transitioning from Blackboard to Canvas

August 29
22:43 2017

UNT announced on Aug. 22 it would be switching Learning Management Systems (LMS) from Blackboard to Canvas. The university plans to make the full transition to Canvas by Spring 2019.

The Process

UNT has signed a five-year contract with Canvas beginning Sept. 1, 2017. The UNT Center for Learning Enhancement, Assessment, and Redesign (CLEAR) decided to review potential options for new LMSs after its current LMS, Blackboard, announced the introduction of their new cloud-based product, Blackboard Learn Ultra.

The university has been using Blackboard and previous iterations of the product through various transitions since 1998. UNT set out to find other cloud-hosted systems and discovered Canvas, an LMS which has been leading national adoptions in recent years.

While the university planned to pilot both Blackboard Learn Ultra and Canvas with faculty and students during Spring 2017, Blackboard was not ready in time, so only Canvas was piloted.

Patrick Pluscht, director of CLEAR, said the response was overwhelmingly positive.

“The type of feedback we’ve gotten from faculty was that virtually every process required fewer clicks,” Pluscht said. “That’s important. You shouldn’t have to spend all your time trying to figure out what buttons to push.”

Once it was clear students and faculty preferred Canvas, the decision went through various stages of approval before being recommended to President Smatresk by the Information Technology Planning and Prioritization (ITPP) committee, who approved it.

Of the 11 courses piloted in the spring, four are offered in the fall. Those four are PSCI 2316, CJUS 5700, AEAH 4614 and INFO 5713. All four chose to continue their courses in Canvas. These are currently the only courses which are being offered through Canvas.

The university’s contract with Blackboard is set to end on Aug. 31, 2020. Pluscht said the first year of using both LMSs will cost less than previously using only Blackboard due to discounts, and that the cost of Canvas will eventually be about equal to what Blackboard had cost.

Features for Students

In Canvas, students will be able to access a what-if feature that allows them to input scores for assignments and see what their course grade would be with that score.

Because it is cloud-hosted, Canvas does not have regular website maintenance downtimes, allowing students to use the website whenever they need. Like Blackboard, Canvas also has a mobile app.

“Blackboard always seems to have technical difficulties,” fashion design sophomore Kiara Brown said. “The worst thing is trying to be productive and you can’t. I’m excited for this new system.”

One of the advantages of Canvas, as identified by Pluscht, is that many schools and colleges which feed into UNT use Canvas, so those students come in with experience with the system.

Freshman business major Tariq Gay has experience with both Canvas and Blackboard, having used Canvas for high school and Blackboard for dual enrollment courses at Tarrant County College. Gay said he had a hard time using the Canvas app, and that the layout of the Blackboard website is cleaner.

“I personally don’t like Canvas,” Gay said. “Blackboard is more suitable for a college environment.”

Features for Faculty

Faculty will have access to a variety of new features in Canvas which UNT says will allow for a more efficient experience. Notable features for faculty include a “speedgrader,” which Canvas said would allow faculty to grade faster, a calendar with which students can schedule appointments with professors and full integration with Turnitin assignments.

Bethany Blackstone, associate professor of political science, was one of the faculty members who piloted Canvas in spring 2017. She said the experience was “very positive,” and even requested an extension on the pilot in order to use Canvas in her summer course, which she received.

“I found the interface well-designed and intuitive,” Blackstone said. “I’ve used Blackboard for years now and while it’s generally met my needs, I find it difficult to navigate and clunky. I think students will find it easy to use.”

Blackstone said students in her spring and summer courses had an overwhelmingly positive response to using Canvas. Some of Blackstone’s favorite features in Canvas were the built-in calendar, easy-to-organize modules and Turnitin integration.

Challenges for UNT

Due to the size of the UNT student body, the switch to Canvas will have to take place over multiple semesters. UNT is planning on moving the approximately 2500 courses needing to be switched over from Blackboard to Canvas in thirds and hopes to have all courses in Canvas by spring 2019.

One of the primary student concerns from those who were a part of the pilot group was that using both Blackboard and Canvas was inconvenient. Pluscht called this the biggest downside of the switch since such a situation will be unavoidable for many students from spring through fall of 2018 while the switch is occurring.

“To try to ameliorate that as best as possible, we want to try to target self-contained programs where they’re unlikely to be taking courses in other academic departments,” Pluscht said.
CLEAR is also taking requests from faculty who would like their courses to be switched to Canvas earlier, and prioritizing those classes to be switched over by next semester. There is no definite cap on requests as of now.

Pluscht said the number of requests from faculty immediately following the President’s announcement regarding Canvas was encouraging.

“Rarely have we seen faculty clamor for something and run towards it,” Pluscht said. “Usually we have to push them to pursue change. But they seem to be welcoming of Canvas.”

Featured Image: Blackboard is the Learning Management System (LMS) currently used by UNT where students can access class files, message professors and turn in assignments. By spring 2019, UNT plans to have fully switched to a new LMS, Canvas. File

About Author

Sarah Sarder

Sarah Sarder

Sarah Sarder is the Senior News Writer for the North Texas Daily.

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