Canvas vs. Blackboard: what is the best platform for Boise State?

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As technology continues to innovate, so does Boise State’s Office of Information Technology (OIT). A subsection of OIT, the Learning Technology Solutions (LTS) department has announced it will be launching a pilot program in Spring 2020 to test the educational platform Canvas.

Boise State has been using Blackboard as its learning management system (LMS) since 2000. Blackboard was established in 1997 and maintained its status as LMS leader for K-12 and higher education institutions for almost 20 years. 

However, it was announced in July 2018 by MindWires Consulting, an educational data company, that Canvas had finally caught up to Blackboard. Each platform individually represented 28% of the primary LMS user base, which also included other LMS programs like Moodle, Brightspace and Schoology. 

As the year progressed, Canvas surpassed Blackboard as the United States market leader of LMS. This came as no surprise to those familiar with Canvas’ cloud-based services, updated user-friendly interface and outstanding customer service. 

Starting in Spring 2020, there will be 13 courses with a maximum capacity of 400 students offered within the Canvas pilot. Up until the Sept. 27 deadline, instructors were able to apply to participate in the pilot as long as their course(s) met the requirements. The only determining factors that would render a course ineligible was if the course was 100 level, non-campus based (“eCampus” program), already using a Blackboard portfolio or utilizes the Testing Center. 

Leif Nelson, director of LTS, says his department sent out a survey to collect qualitative data from faculty regarding their personal experiences,opinions using the Blackboard system and their feelings about the possible exploration of a different LMS. 

Nelson explained, while the faculty was generally satisfied with Blackboard, a majority of the surveyees said they would support Boise State looking into the idea of alternative platforms. Without being prompted, about 10% of respondents specifically asked for Canvas by name in the final comment box.

The surveys and the pilot are intended to be an agnostic analysis of the benefits and hindrances associated with Boise State’s current LMS. Because Canvas is most comparable to Blackboard, it will be used to determine whether or not the administration moves forward with the alternative LMS initiative.

“One word that was used to describe Blackboard the most in that survey was ‘clunky’ or ‘hard to navigate,’” said Nicholas Webster, instructional technologist with LTS. “So while [the faculty]might say they are satisfied, the overall opinion is that [Blackboard] is not a very usable system.”

Josabeth Brizuela, a senior criminal justice major, said she prefers Canvas because it was enjoyable and easy to use when she took classes at Clark College, whereas it took her awhile to figure out Blackboard and her experience was much slower.

“It would help especially with my online classes because the modules would be easier to navigate,” Brizuela said. 

Regardless of multiple system updates, Blackboard seems to be stuck in a “forum style” layout which has proven difficult for students and faculty to intuitively navigate.

“Blackboard is like an onion; you have to peel it back a lot,” said Lanny Inabit, a remote clinical assistant professor in the Respiratory Care Department and member of the Canvas pilot’s data collecting taskforce. “It’s this folder, to this folder, to this folder. Moodle just lumped everything all on one page, which was just nightmarish for students. I think Canvas is the boundary between that.”

Gena Nelson, an assistant professor in the Department of Early and Special Education, will be transitioning one of her courses to be used in the Canvas pilot. She believes the biggest drawback of using Blackboard is that it is not streamlined, but acknowledges the fact that a majority of students are comfortable using Blackboard because they already know the system.

A new system might take time for instructors and students to adapt to,” Gena Nelson said. “But ultimately if Canvas ends up being more efficient, allows students to access content in a more meaningful way and allows students to understand the content at a deeper level compared to courses that are taught on [Blackboard], then I support transitioning to a new system.”


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