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Canvas emerges as frontrunner in search for Blackboard replacement

Several+Northwestern+professors+have+been+testing+Canvas%2C+a+learning+management+system%2C+as+a+potential+Blackboard+replacement.+A+committee+of+25+faculty+and+staff+members+is+in+the+process+of+searching+for+a+replacement+for+Blackboard%2C+which+NU+has+used+since+1999.
Several Northwestern professors have been testing Canvas, a learning management system, as a potential Blackboard replacement. A committee of 25 faculty and staff members is in the process of searching for a replacement for Blackboard, which NU has used since 1999.

Several Northwestern professors have been testing Canvas, a learning management system, as a potential Blackboard replacement. A committee of 25 faculty and staff members is in the process of searching for a replacement for Blackboard, which NU has used since 1999.

Source: Canvas screenshot

Source: Canvas screenshot

Several Northwestern professors have been testing Canvas, a learning management system, as a potential Blackboard replacement. A committee of 25 faculty and staff members is in the process of searching for a replacement for Blackboard, which NU has used since 1999.

Julian Gerez, Reporter

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Nearly 40 classes in eight undergraduate and graduate schools are testing the learning management system, Canvas, which is a top choice to replace Blackboard.  

Canvas, the system used at schools such as the University of Pennsylvania and Dartmouth College, has emerged as a front-runner in the Education Technology Advisory Committee’s successor search.

“Technology changes,” said Wendy Woodward, director of Northwestern University Information Technology. “Blackboard is a system that has worked well for the University, but the time has come to look at new systems that provide new ways of delivering teaching and facilitating learning.”

Electrical Engineering and Computer Science 111 is one of 37 classes spread across all eight NU schools, including the Kellogg School of Management and the School for Continuing Studies, that is piloting Canvas software.

Some students in the Fundamentals of Computer Programming course welcome the new program, noting that Blackboard has been prone to previous glitches.

(School of Law Blackboard accounts deleted)

“I have had problems with Blackboard in the past,” Weinberg freshman Kevin Russell said. “So far, I haven’t had any issues with Canvas. I’d like to see how it works for the whole quarter but I’d say at this point, I like Canvas a lot better.”

Other students said they wanted the rest of the quarter to compare the two programs.

Weinberg freshman Jackson Middleton said he was ambivalent about the new software. 

“It’s nothing too groundbreaking for me,” Middleton said.

(Botched Blackboard upgrade leads to inadvertent emails)

Canvas is not the only new learning management system that NU could use. Desire2Learn is another program used at large, public universities, including five other Big Ten schools. The final candidate could also be an updated version of Blackboard, according to NUIT’s website.

“Any technology that helps faculty and teachers coordinate their work and engage their students with all kinds of details, particularly in the learning element is a good thing,” said Gregory Light, a member of the replacement search committee and director of the Searle Center for Advancing Learning and Teaching. 

One of the most notable aspects of Canvas is its integration with other programs such as Google Docs, Google Calendar and Twitter, as well as a mobile application for smartphones and tablets, according to NUIT. Information could pass freely between each of these programs when logged in to Canvas.

Devin Knighton, an employee at Instructure, the company that developed Canvas, said the system’s “usability” is its most distinguishing feature.

(Northwestern profs pilot potential Blackboard replacement)

“Students will notice that Canvas can proactively notify them through an email or text message if the date of an assignment changes or the date of an exam changes,” Knighton said. “They don’t have to always be logging in to the system to find out what’s going on in their courses.”

Additionally, Canvas is a cloud-based service, meaning NU would not need to continue using physical servers to run the software, Knighton said.

NU deployed one of the first versions of Blackboard in 1999 and since that time, thousands of NU instructors have used the service. It was not until October 2012 that the IT Governance Education Technology Advisory Committee identified the need for a comprehensive review of technology commitments at the university.

Email: juliangerez2017@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @jgerez_news

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About the Writer
Julian Gerez, Development and Recruitment Editor

Julian is a Medill sophomore studying journalism and political science. He was born in Colombia, but grew up in Miami. His past positions at The Daily...