Student body shifts from Blackboard to Canvas
Almost half of undergraduate students have begun the switch from Blackboard to Canvas, a new online learning management system, following a positive response to the 13-class pilot last term, assistant director of educational technologies Barbara Knauff said. A total of 110 courses transitioned to Canvas this winter, and an additional 150 faculty members are slated to adopt Canvas in the spring. Knauff said she expects Blackboard to be phased out by the end of the calendar year.

The new system further digitizes class content delivery, making time for greater professor-student interaction in the classroom, Knauff said. Canvas provides users with a more user-friendly interface as well as a calendar program for scheduling assignments and a new mobile app, Knauff said. More classes also are making use of the new system’s discussion board feature, she said. Canvas also costs less than Blackboard in licensing and other expenses, said Susan Zaslaw, the project manager for the transition and the associate director of computing services. Students in fall term classes using Canvas preferred it to Blackboard in a five-to-one ratio, Knauff said. Educational technologies staff created five short video tutorials called Dartmouth Daily Minutes, explaining how to use the system’s key features, following student feedback on how the office of educational technology could ease the transition. Knauff said that faculty drove the decision to move from Blackboard to Canvas. The College began reevaluating its learning management system in July 2012 to anticipate the expiration of Blackboard’s license at the end of 2013. Student and faculty focus groups helped to pick Canvas, which beat out an updated version of Blackboard, Moodle, Desire2Learn and Sakai. A faculty focus group completed pilot surveys and evaluations over the summer, revealing a clear preference for Canvas over the most recent version of Blackboard, Zaslaw said. Psychology professor Catherine Cramer and government professor Brendan Nyhan both remarked on the ease of posting files to Canvas and navigating the system in general. Cramer highlighted the system’s calendar function as one that she found particularly useful. Several students agreed. “The messaging system between the teacher and the student and the email notifications are all great,” Arun Ponshunmugam ’17 said. Nyhan said that, in his experience, the Canvas customer service desk has been very responsive to problems and requests for help. Now, he said, teaching students and faculty to use the system will be the challenge. Educational technologies also consulted heavily with peer institutions in the initial phases of the switch to Canvas, soliciting faculty feedback and information on the logistics of implementation. Those discussions will continue throughout the transition, Knauff said. While the College expects to complete the switch in time for the winter of 2015, its graduate schools have different schedules for the change. The Thayer School of Engineering will likely fully integrate Canvas into its curriculum before the College, as the tool better supports lab assignments, Knauff said. The Tuck School of Business and Geisel School of Medicine will incorporate Canvas at a slower rate. “Because Tuck hasn’t really been using Blackboard, for them it’s not a transition so much as a adopting a learning management system for the first time,” Knauff said. Geisel will also adopt Canvas as a learning management system, but it will wait until after it completes its curriculum review.
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