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Blackboard Vista To Be Phased Out

Canvas Network Will Replace Vista In 2014

News Editor

Published: Thursday, January 16, 2014

Updated: Sunday, January 19, 2014 19:01

By the end of the next academic year, Boston College will no longer use Blackboard Vista as its online course management network. Vista will be replaced with Canvas, a learning management system (LMS) produced by Utah-based educational technology company Instructure.

Blackboard, the University’s online source for students and professors to access class information, course materials, and student schedules since 2001, has decided to retire its Vista product, resulting in the application’s waning capabilities. BC’s Information Technology Services (ITS) subsequently decided to begin researching a more advanced LMS. BC is now under a five-year contract with Canvas LMS after separating from a 12-year agreement with Vista.

Recognizing the need for an updated platform capable of keeping pace with the growing technological needs of students and faculty, Executive Director for Academic Technology Rita Owens, alongside Associate Director of Instructional Design and eTeaching Services (IDeS) Cristina Joy, searched for the new LMS best suited for BC.

“Blackboard has served us well for what it was at the beginning of the 21st century—a place to hold information, faculty PowerPoints … a safe and secure place to put all class materials,” Owens said, comparing Vista to “a big briefcase” intended to house class documents. When Blackboard announced its plans to phase out Vista, however—coupled with growing faculty frustration at Vista’s outdated interface—the administration began the search for a new higher-education LMS.

The process for replacing Blackboard began with the IDeS department evaluating the forefront of online learning platform options, conducting extensive research on an array of higher-ed LMS that was guided by both the administration and student input.

“This is a very thorough process, and it begins by asking the question, ‘What do we need to do, who needs to do what, and what is the rank order of those things in terms of the process [for selecting an LMS]?’” said Vice Provost for Undergraduate Academic Affairs Donald Hafner.

“We wanted more ability to intersect with other tools like Google Apps to allow more dynamic discussion and student contributions in the classroom rather than just putting the materials there that students would passively see,” Owens said. “Canvas has a lot more capabilities to bridge students and empower faculty to invite people to their courses.”

When comparing different technological systems, the team sought to address the needs of faculty and students rather than being sold on a product, and looked for tools that would develop interaction between students and their professors—all while ensuring that the security and background of Instructure was vetted thoroughly by ITS and other administrative offices on campus. Members from IDeS also worked with Brown University’s information technology department, which also recently adopted Canvas as its LMS, to better understand its capabilities and potential advantages over Blackboard Vista.

“[Canvas] has some interesting tools within it that will allow students to interact more with professors … In a lot of ways it now allows faculty and students to be more human to each other through the system,” Hafner said.

Unlike Blackboard, Canvas allows its users to submit video and audio recordings; choose customizable interface displays; upload and connect with Google Apps; receive immediate text or email notifications whenever grades, assignments, and announcements are posted; host virtual study groups and share desktops; and conduct video conferences among other features.

“It’s elegant, it’s simple, it’s modern, it integrates the fact that all students are on Gmail, you can work in groups … it’s just great,” Owens said of the new technology. “I think that the collaboration tools for canvas are fantastic—that’s really one of the highlights.”

Once Canvas was selected, IDeS coordinated a pilot program last fall consisting of eight “early adopter” faculty members who volunteered to test the product. Throughout the program the IDeS staff gathered feedback, held information sessions, and focused on the difficulties students and professors encountered.

“We supported them as best we could, but we were still learning a lot,” Joy said.

In her role with the launch of Canvas, Joy works closely with the manager of Learning Technologies in addition to making sure communications regarding the new LMS are communicated effectively to students and faculty. She is also responsible for the marketing and training-related aspects of the project.

Joy said the department grew from the pilot program through the feedback it received, which allowed her team to respond to challenges they didn’t expect or weren’t prepared for.

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