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New learning platform replaces Blackboard

Jon Coffey

Canvas, the university’s new learning platform, will take over June 30 and will be in full swing by the fall semester. The Blackboard version that Emporia had previously was out of date. The new platform will use small updates instead of having different “versions.”

Blackboard, Emporia State’s online learning outlet, will soon be changing to a new, more modern platform known as Canvas. After 15 years of experience with the Blackboard program, the university will officially start using Canvas campus-wide on June 30.

“The faculty wanted a change and the students wanted a change,” said Ron Gibson, director of Learning Technologies.

In addition, Gibson said the Blackboard version known to the Emporia campus is two years out of date. This problem won’t be seen in the future, since there are no “versions” of Canvas. Instead, the program uses small updates and improvements called Sprints, which are automatically released every three weeks.

“They decided that Blackboard was good for its time,” Gibson said. “It was good for its day, but new products have emerged.”

The Canvas mobile app also played a part in the decision-making of which new program the university should license with. Students can now view their grades, assignments and class discussion boards right from their Android or Apple phone. This makes the Crocodoc feature of Canvas even more instantaneous. Crocodoc allows teachers to annotate directly over an assignment without the need to download and print each submission. In turn, students now have the opportunity to see the corrections and comments on their papers the moment the grade is posted.

Plagiarism protection is one feature that Canvas lacks. In order to compensate for SafeAssign, which is a Blackboard native product, the university will license with Turnitin.com, which provides the same services.

“We will kind of miss having SafeAssign built into it because it’s all part of the same license,” Gibson said. “At the end of the day, weʼll have two better products because TurnItIn is much better than Blackboard and SafeAssign.”

Some instructors who teach predominantly online classes or have intricate set ups on Blackboard still have concerns about the switch.

“I feel like I have something that works great, and I’m kind of nervous that it might be difficult to rework what I’ve done,” said Marcia Schulmeister, professor of geology. “It could be great, and if it’s not, I just hope IT will work with me in revising my classes.”

The Science Department is one that has yet to be trained for the new platform. The School of Libraries and Information Management, however, began using the Canvas program at the beginning of the spring semester.

“As a blended course program, we wanted to transition sooner rather than later,” said Mirah Dow, associate professor of library and information management.

Spending only 30 face-to-face hours with their professors, MLS students have also been able to use the video feature of Canvas to have more productive conversations with their teachers.

“As a basically brand new product, it still has a few little quirks,” said Mike Butler, Associate professor of Health Physical Education and Recreation, who also began implementing the Canvas platform to his courses this semester. “I think that is to be expected for a brand new product.”

Dow said that one of the problems she’s run into this past semester is that the emails sent to her Canvas account no longer directly go to her Outlook email, like they did with Blackboard. Canvas will notify her Outlook account that she has an email waiting, but she cannot view the email until she logs on to Canvas.

“I believe that long-term, Canvas has some good options and a bit more flexibility than Blackboard had,” Dow said. “I’m not interested in going back to Blackboard.”

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