Blackout for Blackboard

CWRU completes switch of class administration sites

The countdown is over, all classes are now running through Canvas.

Beginning this semester, no courses will use Blackboard, the document and multimedia posting site for professors and students outside the classroom long used by Case Western Reserve University.

Even though Blackboard is no longer being used, it will remain available until June 2018 so that previous content can be retrieved. The sites are officially referred to as Learning Management Systems.

According to University Technology ([U]Tech), Canvas was chosen to replace Blackboard for a variety of reasons, including better compatibility with mobile devices and an easier workflow to complete common tasks. Second-year student Minh Pham agrees that Canvas is better in this sense, even though he has been using Blackboard since high school.

“All the functions are laid down for you [in Canvas].” He said. “I don’t have a problem with Blackboard but it’s so hard to navigate and it can take so long.”

English Department Professor Shaofei Lu has mixed feelings about this transition. She had also been using Blackboard for some time and feels switching is difficult in the technical sense.

“As an instructor,” Lu shared. “I feel like it’s a little complicated to set up the assignment and quizzes and a lot of things on Canvas because there [are] a lot of differences [between Blackboard and Canvas].”

However, she acknowledged that Canvas has advantages Blackboard doesn’t have.

“Once you set up your courses on Canvas, I think it’s easier to use as an instruction tool for your classes. For example, when you have class discussions on Canvas, or you have students submit their assignments through Canvas and ask them to even peer review on Canvas… I think in that perspective it’s easier to use than Blackboard because of a lot of details and functions [that Canvas offers].”

To make the transition easier, [U]Tech offered training for both students and faculty. Pham did not need the training since he thought Canvas is easy to use. But for Lu, as an instructor, the training proved to be helpful.

“I actually set up an appointment during the summer to have a personalized training on how to use Canvas and I found that to be really really useful,” said Lu. “It helped me to at least have some confidence in transitioning from Blackboard to Canvas. And I also went to the Canvas Clinic where there were a lot of specialists there to help and one them helped me setup my course and it took about an hour and a half… I think if I’m just trying to figure it out on my own it’s going to take even longer.”

[U]Tech hoped that this transition will not only better suit the needs of CWRU, but will also give the instructors a chance to review their teaching methods and make improvements as necessary. Lu agreed that it allowed her to cater to the needs of her students.

“I started to think about different ways of instructions [at the Canvas Clinic].” Lu said.

She used to have students peer review by commenting on the margin of printed essays. While transferring her class documents to Canvas, she decided to move that section online so that students may feel more comfortable not having to write by hand. Lu thinks it will also make her job easier, since she needs to read students’ comments for each other, and “some handwriting can be difficult to decipher.”

The transition to Canvas started in Spring 2017, and after only half a year, it’s been completed. [U]Tech thinks the short amount of time using two LMSs would benefit both students and faculty. Pham agreed with [U]Tech that it’s beneficial.

“I think it’s perfect because it’s very annoying to use Canvas and Blackboard at the same time so it’s better to switch [fast].” He said. “Canvas is very easy to use anyways.”

Lu is more indifferent towards the transition time. “The transition time is really short, but it doesn’t really bother me that much because of all these support the university’s offering… I actually chatted with a person online [today] and I found that to be very helpful. So I don’t think it’s too short a time [for] transition.”

Lu is also impressed with some small features in Canvas, and she thinks those features make it more interactive.

“There’s a function where when the instructor posted a question,” she explained, “the students can respond by clicking like or dislike of this question. So you can get, actually, feedback from the students about the questions that you are asking. I found that to be very interesting, and I’m hoping that I’m going to use that in my class.”