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University assesses transition to Canvas

By Dan Fuentes

Framingham State University has transitioned from Blackboard Learn to Canvas as its new Learning Management System (LMS).

According to an update from the Education Technology Office (ETO), all fall 2021 courses are hosted on Canvas.

The transition to Canvas was driven by the need to find a new LMS ahead of the University’s contract ending with Blackboard on June 30, 2022, according to the eLearning Platform Review.

Ellen Zimmerman, interim provost and vice president of academic affairs, said, “We were up against a timeframe within which we were going to have to switch, and we were either going to have to switch to Canvas, or some other LMS.”

She added, “It was just something that we had no control over. It was going to switch on us. So, better to choose something that we thought was good.”

Mathematics Professor Matthew Moynihan said he likes Canvas better than Blackboard so far, “but it’s been a big learning curve to get experienced with it.

“I use Canvas pretty heavily,” Moynihan said. “All of my courses this semester are hybrid. I record all of the Zoom portions of class and post the recordings on Canvas.”

Psychology Professor Mirari Elcoro said, “I think I prefer Canvas over Blackboard. I still need to learn a lot of things about it.”

Elcoro added, “In terms of the organization, I like Canvas a lot more. I like the way that the modules are organized.”

She said she was very honest with her students at first. She recalled saying, “This is new to me. This is new to you. Let’s work together.”

The ETO offers a number of different resources for Canvas, including webinars, tutorial courses, training resources for instructors, and a 24/7 support chat.

Robin Robinson, director of education technology, said her office has run workshops for faculty and questions posed do not indicate any problems with the system itself.

“Sometimes, they’re utilizing the third-party tools that have been integrated – Zoom, Panopto – those kinds of tools,” she added.

Moynihan said, “I’ve watched all of the training videos they did for the workshops in the summer. ETO has been super helpful. They’ve been amazing.”

Elcoro said, “I feel the transition has been relatively smooth, especially because I feel that I have received a lot of support from the Education Technology Office.

“Not only have they put together a bunch of webinar sessions, but I’ve met one-on-one with some of them,” she added.

Zimmerman said, “All that training has really helped the transition go more smoothly than it might have otherwise, so I’m really happy they did that.

“You can’t possibly foresee all of the glitches that might come up. I think ETO did a terrific job of anticipating a lot of it and also providing training for faculty and students,” she added.

Moyihan said, “It’s taken a little bit of effort to rework how I want to present the material.

“In the past, I wrote code to customize these progress reports for students because Blackboard couldn’t handle it. Now, it’s built into Canvas, so I’m using that gradebook feature for students to better be able to see their progress,” he added.

Elcoro said, “Blackboard – I felt like I just dumped a bunch of things. It just wasn’t as friendly as I feel it is on Canvas.

“The ETO did the automatic transfer for Blackboard courses to Canvas,” she said. “I still had to do a lot of tweaking, but all the information was there.

“What I found myself doing was more cosmetic stuff than anything else,” Elcoro added.

According to Robinson, of the 804 course sections being taught this semester, approximately 60% of them use Canvas, “which is similar to what we had with Blackboard.”

Robson Rodrigues, a senior business and IT major, said he has one professor who is not using it at all.

He added, “I like it better than Blackboard mostly for the layout, but I’m still upset that I had to switch over to a whole new system.”

Elcoro said there is never a good time to change these systems.

She said, “When I started teaching at my first job as a faculty member in 2008 in Savannah, I believe that we were using some version of Blackboard. Then, we changed to something called Desire2Learn, and it was a nightmare.”

Zimmerman added, “People have said, ‘Oh this is so different. I’m going to have to relearn it,’ and that’s true whenever you change.”

Elcoro said this summer she found it “very hard to find, not even the time, but the energy to sit down and, on top of everything else, try to figure this out.”

Robinson said the overall adoption has been good.

She added, “Students have felt that it’s easy to go from the mobile platform to the web platform.”

The ETO sent out a survey before the summer semester began to recruit students for the pilot program. A total of 35 undergraduate students from the 71 summer course sections responded and participated.

Robinson said, “Students have been involved in Canvas since this summer semester, but we went full boat – everyone had to go to Canvas that was going to use a [LMS] platform starting this fall.”

The total price for Canvas has been updated since last year. The eLearning review from October 2020 had the new LMS initially priced at $180,268.00 for 2021-22.

For 2022-23 and 2023-24, Canvas would have cost $152,457.43 and $157,009.68, respectively.

According to the winning bids and request for proposals (RFP) log, the three-year contract for Canvas cost the University $392,291.00 – $97,444.11 less than originally estimated.

The University’s contract with Canvas ends June 30, 2024.

“All spring courses will be on Canvas,” said Robinson, “and Blackboard will be available for pulling out content if faculty need old information.”

Once the contract ends June 30, 2022, Blackboard will no longer be available for FSU faculty.

Zimmerman said, “I think we’ll stay with Canvas for the next few years, and see how that goes. At the end of the contract period, that’s when we evaluate and say, ‘OK, is this something we want to renew or do we want to rethink it?’”

It’s important for people to speak up and share their feedback, said Robinson.

Moynihan said, “I think there were some bumps along the way, but overall, I’m pretty happy with Canvas and I like it better than Blackboard. I’m glad we’ve made this switch.”

According to Robinson, another survey in the beginning of November will be sent out to faculty and students in order to learn about challenges they might be facing.

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