Webster to switch from Blackboard Learn to Canvas by next summer


When Gary Ford, associate professor in the School of Communications, logs out of Webster University’s current learning management system (LMS), Blackboard Learn, he’s unavailable to his students in online courses. He doesn’t know if they have questions or when their work is complete until the next time he logs in.
This coming summer, Webster will switch from Blackboard to a different LMS. The new program is called Canvas — a relatively new LMS on the market.
Canvas was chosen by a group consisting of the offices of Information Technology, Online Services, the Faculty Development Center (FDC) and a group of online students and professors like Ford.
“It was pretty clear what was the best,” Ford said.
Ford said he liked Canvas’s text and email alert features. These features will allow him to stay connected with his online students when he is away from the computer.
“The easier it is for the instructor to access the students, the more benefit the student gets because they have more interaction with the professor,” Ford said.
Pam Williams, manager of training and instructional design at the Online Learning Center, said students take online courses so they won’t be restricted. However, Blackboard wasn’t giving them the flexibility they wanted.
Canvas’s mobile apps for smartphones and text and email alerts should give students a lot more freedom away from the computer, she said.
“Students want to learn at their own schedule,” Williams said. “The fact they can do it now just with their phone, if necessary, is awesome.”
Outside of new capabilities, Erik Palmore, director of the FDC, said Canvas could be described as “intuitive.”
“While a lot of the intuitive logic that we like from Blackboard is there, (Canvas) also has a modern intuitive design,” Palmore said.
To Ford, a more user-friendly learning tool is important for his students.
“The learning management system should be transparent. You shouldn’t even know it’s there,” Ford said. “Why can’t it be as easy to post on a discussion board in class as it is to post on someone’s wall on Facebook?”
Online graduate student David Rogers has been a vocal critic of Blackboard.
This led him to help in choosing Canvas. Rogers said Canvas helps him feel more connected with his online classmates.
“I’m never going to meet them,” Rogers said. “So it’s nice to be able to send video messages and have discussions online with them through Canvas.”
Webster will be releasing Canvas for its domestic and international campuses on May 26, 2013. The implementation will be in time for summer classes.
Training sessions will be held before the launch date for students and faculty to become better acquainted with Canvas.

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