Technology

Blackboard to change in summer

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The University of Calgary plans to change its current learning management system Blackboard to different software over the 2013 spring and summer break. Blackboard 8.0 has been in use since 2008. A committee of IT partners, Library, Teaching and Learning Centre representatives determined the shortlist of programs based on utility, as well as surveyed staff and students about each program. The shortlisted software candidates are Canvas, Desire2Learn and Blackboard 9.1.


Each member of the committee scored the three programs based on technical requirements, its features, documentation, price and support available. Faculties and organizations, such as the Students’ Union, had the opportunity to explore and use each software and offer recommendations as well.


“We’ve had an opportunity to engage with sandbox accounts and provide feedback on which ones we liked and didn’t like,” said vice-president academic Kenya-Jade Pinto. “We, as the SU, after consulting with our faculty representatives extensively, recommended Canvas.”


Between the three candidates, the committee ranked Desire2Learn higher in the committee with Canvas a few points behind. According to the report released by the U of C, “Desire2Learn is a more robust and mature platform, while Canvas provides more effective notifications and communication tools.” However, the majority of students and staff ranked Canvas higher when asked which program best suited their needs.


From all the surveys and rankings, Blackboard scored lower, indicating students and staff wish to move away from Blackboard. Pinto said that the newer version of Blackboard wasn’t much of a change from the current system. 


“If we’re upgrading the system we should aim for something more intuitive so students are better using the learning management system to integrate it into their learning,” she said.


The main concerns for students that Pinto and the Student Legislative Council kept in mind when deciding between the three systems were usability, security and privacy.


“The software were all similar in terms of the functionality, but we found that the calendar integration in Canvas was very intuitive and extremely user-friendly,” said Pinto. “Students found Desire2Learn too confusing.”


“Overall, Canvas seemed to be the best tool for the direction this university is going in regards to teaching and learning,” Pinto added.


There were several trends Pinto noticed when SLC went through each system. 


“The vendors seem to think that on the whole students would want to integrate social media into their learning management systems. But what we’ve heard is that students prefer to keep those as two separate things,” she said.


First-year student Tasha Mayerle said she found the quick access to grades through Blackboard the most useful aspect.


“You don’t have to be in class to get your mark back quickly,” she said. “I think it’s really good to use.”


Fourth-year political science major Samina Tajik said she was content with Blackboard as is.


“I find it pretty useful for uploading assignments and checking grades. I don’t have any further suggestions for making it better than it already is,” she said.


Tajik noted that a calendar or an instant chat application would be helpful for students.


“Being able to get hold of classmates more quickly rather than sending out mass emails all the time would be beneficial,” said Tajik. “If there was a calendar that could lay out all the quizzes and midterms, to have an overview of everything would also be useful.”


The SU and U of C administration plan on further investigations to decide between Desire2Learn and Canvas. The current Blackboard expires this summer, so any change of system will not be made until fall 2013.


“I think ultimately, regardless of which system we end up going with, it’s important that there are support mechanisms in place,” Pinto added, “to allow students, professors, faculty and staff to be able to best use the software so that we’re maximizing the potential for integrating teaching and learning.”


Mayerle said technical support for professors and teaching them how to use the service would be the best addition to the learning management service.


“Blackboard is really helpful and is good for viewing your grades quickly, but if the professor doesn’t understand how to post something then it’s a waste,” said Mayerle.

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