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University chooses Canvas for its cost, ‘flexibility’

When it came time for the University to leave Blackboard in chalk dust, one program emerged as a cheaper and more “open” option for students and faculty.

Canvas, an “open source” program created by a company called Instructure, is set to replace Blackboard in spring 2014. Canvas allows for more flexibility with its user interface and tools due to its “open source” format, said John Ellinger, chief information officer for the University.

“It’s just more accessible,” Ellinger said.

The University started looking to reoutsource its online class system after Blackboard became outdated by two versions.

“In order to do two versions of an upgrade, you can’t jump and do one big one,” Ellinger said. “I said to myself, ‘why go through that process and if I’m going to, why not take the time to look at other things?’”

Ellinger decided to look into other programs rather than create an in-house program because of the cost, timeline and limited developments that tend to accompany the construction of such in house programs.

“It’s just not done anymore,” Ellinger said.

In switching to Canvas, the University will also save approximately $73,000, Ellinger said.

Programs like Canvas offer a larger community for developments of tools and parts of the program, Ellinger said.

“Instructure is literally a community of lists of development,” he said.

After investigating the options and running a test trial of Canvas for students and faculty, Ellinger moved forward with implementing Canvas during the 2011-2012 school year. One of the options he looked into was Desired Learn used at Ohio State University, but it was cut from the options due to high costs.

While Blackboard is still available for use, Canvas Specialist James Tyree is noticing more faculty starting to use the program because of its features and technology.

“It’s just mind-blowing,” Tyree said. “The feedback we’re getting is fantastic.”

Tyree is part of a team that offers multiple Canvas informational sessions each week to prepare for the eventual shift from Blackboard.

Although Tyree has noticed more faculty are using online teaching platforms, student usage is lower than desired and has even been as low as 27 percent of students in past years, Ellinger said. Other schools, such as Kent State University and Ohio University, typically see approximately 70 to 80 percent of their students using online learning platforms.

Ellinger wants to increase usage of Canvas by students such as Logan Richardson.

A freshman, Richardson came into the University using both Canvas and Blackboard.

“It was a little hectic at first but after a while you start to realize how much easier it is to do everything on Canvas,” Richardson said. “It’s definitely worth it.”

While Richardson touts some of Canvas’s features including its grade calculator and messaging system, the University is still taking suggestions for how to improve Canvas, Ellinger said.

Canvas is updated every three weeks, whereas Blackboard only had the opportunity to update every few months.

“No piece of software is perfect but we’ll keep the pressure on [Instructure],” Ellinger said. “We’ll keep working on it.”

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