By Leland Fiegel
Washington College is currently in the process of phasing out the Blackboard learning platform in favor of a new system: Canvas. These online solutions are typically used as a supplement to in-class teachings and allow students to do things like take quizzes, access grades, and download documents.
Canvas has already been introduced to a select group of classes during the Spring 2013 semester, and will be used exclusively starting the following fall semester. Reasons for the switch include ease of use, robust features, and cost.
“Technology changes rapidly and it’s important to continually evaluate alternatives and find the best tools for the campus,” said WC Instructional Technologist Adrian Peterson.
Student feedback has been generally positive.
“I prefer Canvas over Blackboard because it is much more organized and user-friendly. The homepage for the course shows what we will be reading each day or if there is a quiz we have to take and you can click on it there instead of having to go to a separate file to find the reading or quiz. You can also personalize your settings to receive daily or weekly updates on assignments and what is due, which is very helpful to help stay organized,” said sophomore Heather Homick.
Improved organization is one of the major student advantages when it comes to Canvas over Blackboard.
“Canvas provides very specific tabs that make finding assignments and readings easy, compared to Blackboard where it seems like all my professors just upload things to the Content tab, which makes it harder to navigate,” said sophomore Trina Nusraty.
Canvas, however, appears to have shortcomings compared to Blackboard when it comes to functionality on mobile devices such as iPads.
“[Canvas] runs incredibly slow on my iPad and seems glitchy. We have to have access to Canvas in our class and I prefer to bring my iPad to class because it’s smaller, but sometimes I can’t access the material I need because it’s running slow or not loading what I need. I’ve also noticed that Canvas doesn’t work as well on my phone as Blackboard does,” said Nusraty.
Faculty volunteered to participate in the pilot program, trying out the software in courses from the GRW, mathematics, modern languages, education, and philosophy departments.
“I’m pretty happy with it, having worked with it this semester. I’m really busy, so it’s not like I have a lot of spare time to learn something and Canvas has not been that hard for me to learn,” said philosophy professor Dr. Jennifer Benson.
A cleaner user interface along with more robust communication and feedback tools give Canvas another advantage over Blackboard.
“Canvas offers a similar set of features, but offers them in a clean, simple, easy to use interface. Grading can be done more quickly and offers the option for video and audio feedback. Users can choose their communication tools, whether that be email, texting, Facebook or other social media. Faculty and students in the pilot have said they prefer using Canvas over Blackboard, and we hope that sentiment will be shared by the rest of the college community,” said Peterson.