FAQ about Evaluating the Learning Management System

Blackboard and Canvas LogosMembers of the Learning Management System Evaluation Task Force have received many questions about their work.  This blog post is a round up of questions and answers.  To see more information about the task force and its activities, check out the other blogs posts tagged with “lms” on this blog:  http://sites.stedwards.edu/instructionaltechnology/tag/lms/

1. What is the process?

  • The Office of Information Technology supports and monitors technology platforms for the university.  Based on their knowledge of the Learning Management System (LMS) marketplace, they recommended an evaluation of our LMS.
  • The Office of Academic Affairs and the Office of Information Technology jointly charged a task force composed of faculty representing each school, level of student, and delivery mode for courses, as well as related staff to evaluate the LMS.
  • The task force began meeting in Fall 2014 and has promised a decision by April 24. If a change is recommended, instructors would have until Fall 2016 before they had to move from Blackboard to Canvas.
  • The task force has met to review information about learning management systems, has gathered data on use of Blackboard and pilot use of Canvas, has hosted demos from vendors and by Canvas pilot faculty, has decided on criteria for evaluation based on all of those activities, and will make a recommendation based on those criteria.
  • Mary Boyd, Vice President for Academic Affairs, and David Waldron, Vice President for Information Technology will review the recommendation and make the final decision.

2. How long does it take?

  • The LMS was last reviewed in 2010 by a subcommittee of the TLTR which had vendor demos attended by faculty, surveyed faculty about the LMS, and made a recommendation to move to Blackboard 9 rather than Moodle.  That committee was convened in October 2010 and made its recommendation in January 2011.
  • This task force has taken longer for its review to allow for in-depth exploration of a potential new LMS by having faculty pilot it for courses.  Pilot faculty are representative of every school, level of student, and delivery mode for courses.

3. How can I find out what the task force did and what they decide?

4. Why Now?

The Office of Information Technology (OIT) recommended an evaluation of the learning management system for the following reasons:

  1. It is a regular process to review technology platforms to ensure the best solutions for the university.
  2. There have been ongoing support and reliability challenges for supporting Blackboard. While OIT has reduced the amount of down-time that impacts the campus, cloud hosted solutions promise greater reliability (greater than 99% up-time).
  3. OIT has a strategy of choosing cloud-hosting for reliability.  The impact of upgrades is also reduced because there are many tiny upgrades without taking down a service.
  4. There has been a change in the web since the university last chose an LMS.  In particular, there has been a growth of social media, increased use of easy audio and video, more intuitive interfaces, and the growth of mobile use for web access.
  5. The university needs learning tools that meet students where they are, e.g., with free mobile access and personalized communication choices.
  6. There has been a change in the approach to the learning management system since the university last reviewed the LMS.  The new approach focuses on integrating more external tools through the Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) standard and views the LMS as part of a larger ecosystem rather than a walled garden. (To find out more, see Carl Straumsheim. “The Post-LMS LMS.” Inside Higher Ed 18 July 2014. Web. 13 Oct. 2014.)

5. Would switching the LMS require too much change given faculty workloads and other changes on campus?

  • It is true that there is a lot of change on campus, but there may never be a time when that will not be true.  For example, a new general education curriculum is scheduled to be in place by 2018, with substantial work by faculty to create new courses in 2017.  Any new LMS should be in place before those courses are created.
  • The proposed migration plan lets faculty pick 1 of 3 semesters for a move: Fall 2015, Spring 2016, and Fall 2016.  Instructors can pick the time that best fits their work load.
  • Canvas is intuitive and offers a wide range of do-it-yourself resources.
  • There are ways to export/import content from Blackboard to Canvas.
  • Instructional Technology will provide extensive support and training for migration.

6. What about contingent faculty? How would they make the change?

  • Yes, Instructional Technology has thought about contingent faculty and are including support for their migration in their plans. Some contingent faculty already have experience with Canvas from other universities.  For example, UT uses Canvas.

7. What about students?

  • Students were surveyed about their preferred LMS features and their use of Blackboard and Canvas.  There is a student representative on the task force.

8. What is Blackboard’s future? Why don’t we wait for their new offering? 

  • Blackboard’s new version is not yet available for testing, but in demonstration it seems to copy Canvas.  Availability is still more than a year off.  OIT has concerns about Blackboard’s ability to implement this drastic change, especially based on previous versions.  Either way, however, faculty would be faced with a changed interface.
  • Although Blackboard is promising a cloud-hosted version, past experience with Blackboard support makes OIT question their reliability for cloud-hosting.

9. Why is the task force looking at Canvas?

  • Canvas is the industry leader for this new type of interface and is rapidly gaining market share from Blackboard.
  • Canvas is approved by Internet2, a higher ed IT consortium of which St. Edward’s is a member; 252 US universities, 41 regional and state education networks, 82 corporate partners (service providers) are members of Internet2.  One of the benefits for members is consortial pricing and validating services, with a rigorous process (functional, technical, contractual, legal evaluations). Canvas is a general availability product, which that means is that it has been tested, piloted, and proven to be a reliable service.

10. Which is better? Blackboard or Canvas

  • The task force has gathered data on LMS usage, especially what features the majority of faculty use (communication, file repository, collecting assignments, gradebook).  They are using this data to help determine which platform–Blackboard or Canvas–has features that best meet the needs of the majority of faculty.
  • The task force is conducting a pilot of Canvas and surveying faculty about both Blackboard and Canvas to see which LMS has features that best meet the needs of the majority of faculty.

11. If we move to cloud hosting, will someone in the Digital Infrastructure department lose their job? 

  • No. Digital infrastructure staff support other platforms besides Blackboard.  There is no staff member who only works on Blackboard.  Cloud-hosting, however, would give Digital Infrastructure staff time to implement more tools like Box or a new email and calendaring system.

12. If we change LMS platforms, what about the people in Instructional Technology who support the LMS?

  • Instructional technology staff will continue to support the LMS, whether it is Blackboard or Canvas.
  • Canvas does offer some features that might allow instructional technology staff to focus on more innovative uses of technology and complex instructional design rather than more basic tasks for supporting Blackboard.  For example, it is easy to see how to publish courses (make available to students).  Also, faculty members can add their own TAs.  Canvas also has easily available online guides and a vibrant user community.
  • Instructional technology looks for tools that will empower faculty so they do their work without having to wait on instructional technology.

Have more questions?  Reply to this blog post, contact one of the task force co-chairs, Amy Burnett or Rebecca Frost Davis, or one of the task force members, listed here: http://sites.stedwards.edu/instructionaltechnology/2014/11/18/learning-management-system-evaluation-task-force-named/

About Rebecca Davis

Rebecca Frost Davis Director of Instructional and Emerging Technology Rebecca Frost Davis joined St. Edward’s in July 2013 as Director of Instructional and Emerging Technology, where she provides leadership in the development of institutional vision with respect to the use of technology in pursuit of the university’s educational mission and collaborates with offices across campus to create and execute strategies to realize that vision. Instructional Technology helps faculty transform and adapt new digital methods in teaching and research to advance the essential learning outcomes of liberal education. Previously, Dr. Davis served as program officer for the humanities at the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE), where she also served as associate director of programs. Prior to her tenure at NITLE, she was the assistant director for instructional technology at the Associated Colleges of the South Technology Center and an assistant professor of classical studies at Rhodes College, Denison University, and Sewanee: The University of the South. She holds a Ph.D. and M.A. in classical studies from the University of Pennsylvania, and a B.A. (summa cum laude) in classical studies and Russian from Vanderbilt University. Dr. Davis is also a fellow with the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE). As a NITLE Fellow, Dr. Davis will develop a literature review relevant to intercampus teaching, which will cover contextual issues such as team-teaching, teaching through videoconferencing, and collaboration; a survey of intercampus teaching at NITLE member institutions; and several case studies of intercampus teaching at liberal arts colleges, including interviews with faculty, students, support staff, and administrators. This work will be summarized in a final report or white paper to be published by NITLE. At Rebecca Frost Davis: Liberal Education in a Networked World, (http://rebeccafrostdavis.wordpress.com/) Dr. Davis blogs about the changes wrought by new digital methods on scholarship, networking, and communication and how they are impacting the classroom. In her research, she explores the motivations and mechanisms for creating, integrating, and sustaining digital humanities within and across the undergraduate curriculum.
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