With Binghamton University’s contract with Blackboard expiring in December 2020, the Center for Learning and Teaching (CLT) is testing three new learning management systems to potentially replace it.
The three systems being piloted are Canvas, Brightspace and Blackboard Ultra, all of which allow students and faculty to communicate, assign homework and submit assignments.
According to Andrea MacArgel, director of instructional design services at CLT and chair of the Learning Management System Pilot Committee, members of the CLT started to question whether Blackboard was the most efficient tool for the University when its contract was renewed for the fall 2018 semester. MacArgel said the Blackboard format can be difficult for faculty to use, and doesn’t appeal to students, who favor contemporary design while using different types of software and applications.
“The faculty find Blackboard to be confusing and difficult and it’s very dated looking,” MacArgel said. “The other platforms are more modern looking.”
The CLT has initiated similar pilot programs before, one involving the iClicker, a system designed to allow students to respond to questions prompted by professors during class. It was tested against similar classroom tools like Top Hat, but ultimately, iClicker remained. The pilot committee hopes to do something similar with the search for a new learning management system, and created a faculty and staff users group meeting once every two weeks to discuss issues with Blackboard. MacArgel said points raised during these meetings led them to consider a different learning management system.
“In that users group meeting, we were like ‘Yeah, let’s test the other ones out because we’re always constantly trying to make sure that we are using the right products for campus,’” MacArgel said. “Our goal is to make sure that the students have the best learning experience, that they’re the most successful, and if using Brightspace over Blackboard gives them more notifications and makes them more successful, we want to make sure that we are giving them the best product to ensure the best success.”
Currently, MacArgel expects the request for proposal process, which involves soliciting bids from different companies to find the cheapest price, to begin in fall 2019. The cost of the pilot program for Canvas and Brightspace is $5,000 each, while Blackboard Ultra was free to pilot.
“We chose to do the pilot before the RFP [request for proposal] because we wanted to have hands-on experience with the products,” MacArgel said.
The RFP will take about six months, and after a learning management system is chosen, it will be fully implemented by fall 2020.
Although the SUNY system has a negotiated rate with Blackboard, other schools have switched from the system already. SUNY Geneseo now uses Canvas while SUNY Sullivan uses Brightspace.
Alessandro Segalini, an assistant professor of graphic design and typography, wrote in an email that he is using Brightspace and believes it provides a better experience than Blackboard.
“Generally speaking, we have the opportunity to be very intentional about the details, whether it’s choosing a typeface or doing project management,” Segalini wrote. “Doing this well makes a difference. The first thing I would compare with Blackboard is user-friendliness and cross-platform flexibility.”
Anna Dlott, a sophomore double-majoring in chemistry and Spanish, said she uses Canvas for her organic chemistry class and enjoys its layout.
“I like Canvas thus far because it breaks everything down in sections such as assignments, grades, modules,” Dlott said. “The lecture notes are easily accessible and all assignments show the date and time that they are due and how many points they are worth. Overall, I like having everything laid out in front of me.”