Binghamton tests Blackboard alternative, may consider campus-wide implementation

Binghamton University is piloting an alternative to Blackboard, using it in nine classes this semester before deciding whether to implement it campus-wide.

The university is testing Canvas, a learning management system that could eventually replace Blackboard.

The system, Canvas, includes mobile apps and a collaborative editor — which provides integration with Google Docs — in its student services package.

Two students using Canvas in their German class said they already prefer it to Blackboard.

“I just transferred to Binghamton last semester, coming from a school that didn’t use Blackboard I found Blackboard to be very confusing causing me to miss assignments that needed to be electronically submitted,” John Brenner, a junior double-majoring in German and political science, wrote in an email to Pipe Dream. “I feel very comfortable with Canvas just in two days of using it.”

Joe Mutarelli, a sophomore majoring in German, said Canvas is more straightforward and intuitive than Blackboard.

“I’ve had issues in the past with Blackboard,” Mutarelli said. “The beauty of Canvas is in its simplicity.”

Canvas also allows users to receive notifications through Facebook, Twitter, email and text message.

“Philosophically, we think that Canvas should be a platform that connects to the other technologies you’re already using on the web,” said Devin Knigheon, director of public relations at Canvas. “It shouldn’t be this walled garden that requires you to log in and do everything inside of Canvas.”

Canvas is a Cloud-based software system, which allows software developers to implement updates and upgrades remotely — similar to Gmail updates — while Blackboard requires updates to be installed through the BU Information Technology Services department, making Canvas less susceptible to downtime than Blackboard.

“With [Cloud] software, if the vender wants to make a change, it’s typically pretty seamless,” said Donald Loewen, vice provost for undergraduate education.

Several professors said it is too early in the pilot for them to recommend fully implementing the system, but Shannon Hilliker, a lecturer in the writing initiative department, said Canvas seems to be faster than Blackboard.

There are no immediate plans to switch to Canvas, but if the pilot is successful, Loewen said the University will consider further testing and expanding the pilot.

“We realize this is the most heavily used computer system on campus and we really want to make sure we do our homework before we do any changes,” he said.

Loewen does not know what the difference in cost between Blackboard and Canvas will be, but he said cost will be a factor in the decision.

“If you have a quantum leap in quality then you might be willing to pay more for it,” he said. “On the other hand, if the advantages are really negligible, then the cost issues might become significant.”

The Canvas pilot program cost the University around $3,000, according to Loewen.