The University of Southern Mississippi plans to make changes for the coming school year as it plans to modify its Learning Management System from Blackboard to Canvas, beginning Fall 2017.
With the university’s contract with Blackboard coming to an end, the idea of switching companies came about after an increase of faculty interest and the review of its significantly lower cost.
“I hope that students will find it to be an easy, user-friendly interface that supports their learning in a variety of classes,” said Associate Provost for Academic Excellence Amy Miller. “For faculty, I hope that they will find the environment to be a comfortable one to teach in that allows easy interaction with students.”
Miller said that several factors went into this decision.
“Many of the university’s transfer students used Canvas before coming to Southern Miss and expressed a preference for it, as did some faculty who had used it before,” Miller said. “Dozens of faculty reviewed a demonstration of Canvas, and 90 percent supported the switch from Blackboard to this new platform.”
Freshman Peyton Stubbs, who used Canvas during a dual enrollment course at William Carey University, said the change will be frustrating since she has learned how to use Blackboard but will try to stay positive about the change.
“I am keeping an open mind about the situation,” Stubbs said. “However, starting a new school year with a new program does worry me a bit.”
Students will begin using Canvas in fall 2017 in online courses as well as courses that use a supplement. Students who are not familiar with Canvas will have to learn the software but will be provided with information and tutorials to make an easy switch. Several community colleges in the state use Canvas, which will factor into Canvas’ accessibility to transfer students.
Miller said the university will make training students in how to use Canvas a priority.
“We will have face-to-face training sessions in labs for students who want them, and we’ll also develop a training website with videos and other tools that students can use to acquaint themselves with Canvas,” Miller said.
Both online learning platforms provide access to online content (e.g., videos, documents), allow interaction among those in the class and have gradebooks. However, many believe the products’ looks and navigation are different.
Stubbs said Canvas is more user-friendly and easier to navigate.
“The home page layout of Canvas is more user-friendly than blackboard,” Stubbs said. “The main resources that students will use are at the top for Canvas, and the website is very clear and specific. Blackboard on the other hand, contains multiple unused and unnecessary tabs that make the page seem disorganized and cluttered.”
Canvas will add some new and desired features for students and faculty with its “e-Portfolio” tool that allows students to save a variety of their work from classes in one place then make those portfolios open to others.
The e-Portfolio creates accessibility for faculty to review students’ work and allows students to access work to share with potential employers for internships, careers or to further their educational goals. Students will have the ability to save photos, papers, audio recordings, presentations – anything they produce – to the e-Portfolio.
“I think that students will make good use of these opportunities and will quickly adapt to using Canvas,” Miller said. “I have used it a bit myself and find it easy to navigate, and I expect most students will as well.”
The Office of Online Learning will be working with iTech and others to ensure that information is available over the next five months. The Office of Online Learning will have staff available to help answer questions about the online learning platform. Students can visit www.community.canvaslms.com/community/answers/guides to learn about Canvas’ navigation, guides and how to use e-Portfolio.