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Framingham State is switching to Canvas

By Dan Fuentes


FSU will be switching from Blackboard Learn to Canvas as its new Learning Management System (LMS).


An announcement from Information Technology Services (ITS) stated, “By Spring 2022, all courses will be delivered on Canvas.”


According to the ITS statement, “The current Blackboard Learn environment is no longer evolving to meet faculty and students’ needs adequately.”


According to the eLearning platform review, FSU’s contract with Blackboard ends June 30, 2022.


Robin Robinson, director of education technology and instructional design co-coordinator and advisor, said Blackboard is putting “most of their research and development into Blackboard Ultra.”


Robinson said, “If we were going to move to Blackboard Ultra, it would be pretty similar to moving to am new LMS.”


In Fall 2019, an e-Learning task force was created to research a new LMS.


According to the ITS announcement, the task force’s decision to transition to a new LMS is based on “the need to adopt a more contemporary and interactive online learning environment capable of enriching our student’s educational experiences, deliver engaging online programs and content, facilitate course design, and inform ongoing assessments and support accreditations.”


The task force consisted of members from the Education Technology Office (ETO), ITS, and 10 faculty members and administrators, including representatives from the Business OUce, Academic Affairs, Finance Office, and the library, according to Robinson.


Stacey Cohen, instructional technologist and task force member, said a focus group of students, including members of SGA, were also involved in the exploration process, and “were allowed to play in the ‘sandbox.’”


Ellen Zimmerman, interim provost and vice president of academic affairs, said, “There’s not really a sandbox, but they get to play with the different systems and see which one appeals to people the most. They look carefully at what each system can and can’t do, as well as cost. Although, cost was not the driving factor in this particular case.”


According to the e-Learning review, Blackboard Ultra, Brightspace, and Canvas were the three LMS’ that the task force researched and compared.


The e-Learning review documented how the task force scored the programs on 52 different factors, including general criteria, teaching and learning system administration, con[guration, integration strategies, and professional services.


The systems were also scored based on comprehensiveness, reliability, accessibility, and security.


Canvas scored “highly advantageous,” according to the e-Learning review.


Robinson said, “The Canvas platform integrates with our existing tools such as Respondus, Panopto, Voicethread, and Zoom.”


Funding for the new LMS is covered under the University’s Operations Budget and was approved by executive staff.


The e-Learning review revealed that data was collected in the form of student and faculty surveys between January and September of 2020.


One survey respondent said, “I have used Blackboard for 3 years at this school and others and Canvas for 2 years. I would 10/10 use Canvas over Blackboard. The ease of use has an immense improvement and things are much easier to communicate and navigate. Please do not go Blackboard again. Use Canvas and the students will be very, very glad you did.”


Zimmerman said, “I think people will really appreciate having a system that’s easier, even when we come back to campus.”


Robinson said, “We’ve had Blackboard since 2000, and the basic framework has not changed in all of those years.”


“Canvas provides a better, more streamlined” experience for students, she added. “Through all of our decision-making and planning, we’re putting the student at the forefront of what we’re planning to do.”


Robson Rodrigues, a junior business and IT major, said, “I remember using Canvas in high school, and it can be effective, much more effective than Blackboard, if the professors are all on the same page on how to use it.”


He added, “The only issues with it are user error.”


Zimmerman said, “The input from students to the committee was really helpful. It’s extremely important to include both faculty and students in that kind of conversation when it’s going to aVect academic classes.”


According to the Canvas Project Timeline, the transition will begin with some Summer 2021 classes.


Robinson said for the summer semester, “The faculty will have a choice.”


She added, “They may decide to use Canvas, or they can use Blackboard to teach their course. Then for the fall, everyone will transition to Canvas.”


The Canvas Project Timeline shows that faculty training, conversations, and information sessions will continue throughout the transition.


The EventBrite page for the ETO lists three Canvas workshops for March and another three for April.


Robinson said, “We’re actually [nancing a 24/7 support line which will be available to students and faculty and who work with our user services department, so that when someone comes into the system, they have support.”


She added, “We recognize that transitioning in the middle of a pandemic is not a trivial undertaking, and we thought about this carefully.”


Cohen said, “This is not the first time we’ve looked at Canvas and said, ‘Wow, that would work well here.’ The last time we did that, we just didn’t have a lot of support from the campus.”


She added, “A silver lining of this pandemic is that really quickly, everybody had to get familiar with tools to reach their students remotely.”


Zimmerman said, “Change is never fully easy, but we had to. We tried to find a system that we thought would be the most comfortable for people to switch to.”


The Canvas Project officially kicks off on Friday, March 12.

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