Students and faculty currently share learning materials at Binghamton University through the Blackboard website, but that system might change over the course of the next two years.
Blackboard is the learning management system (LMS) that has been used at BU since 2001 over the course of multiple contracts. The current contract, which has been in effect for the past three years, will end in December 2021, and a committee comprised of faculty, staff and two undergraduate student representatives from the Student Association (SA) E-Board is looking to contract an LMS for five years that meets the University’s needs.
Maxwell Hisiger, SA chief of staff for the vice president for academic affairs (VPAA) and a senior double-majoring in economics and mathematics, is one of the two undergraduates on the committee, along with John Santare, SA VPAA and a senior double-majoring in biology and comparative literature. According to Hisiger, having a diverse committee is important to ensure that the LMS will work well for everyone.
“I think it’s great that the process to choose a new [LMS] has been a joint effort between faculty, staff and students as everyone uses the LMS for different purposes and hopes to get something different out of it,” Hisiger wrote in an email. “For example, I know [Santare] and I have placed emphasis on the LMS’ mobile interface while faculty and staff may place more of an emphasis on other features.”
For Dylan Klein, a senior double-majoring in English and philosophy, politics and law, a mobile interface is a must-have. He is critical of the current Blackboard app.
“Sometimes I think [the app] is a little clunky,” Klein said. “I don’t have a personal computer. I have to use desktops on campus, so being able to get stuff online on my phone in an easy way is pretty important to me.”
While the current Blackboard contract was initially set to expire in December 2020, the committee renewed it for another year while the selection process takes place. The committee said it is looking to see the full implementation of the chosen system by the fall 2021 semester. They are currently considering three options: Canvas by Instructure, Brightspace or Blackboard. According to Santare, the physical implementation process is something the committee keeps in mind.
“Fundamentally, it would be easier to renew Blackboard because it does not require any new systems or software to be installed,” Santare wrote in an email. “I’m not an expert on the technology side of this, so I can’t explain this too much further, but that’s why there’s a strong [information technology] presence on the committee.”
The outcome of the committee’s decision could fix issues some students have with the current Blackboard system. Madison Millwood, a junior majoring in biology, said she sometimes has difficulty selecting the course she is looking for.
“Sometimes it’s hard to see the little links,” Millwood said. “Like when you want to find your course, I find it hard to differentiate my lab course of physics from my discussion from the actual lecture — so maybe color-coding those so I could see it better. I find I’m on the wrong course all the time because I get mixed up — like some of my courses have three parts to it.”
Despite this, others, such as Mackenzie Johnson, an undeclared freshman, find redeeming qualities in the current Blackboard system.
“I think that it’s pretty user-friendly,” Johnson said. “I don’t think that it’s too difficult to learn. I’m a freshman so this is my first year using it and I figured it out pretty easily. I take chemistry so putting up videos and interacting with students through that online platform is pretty useful.”
Students will have the opportunity to try out the LMS options for themselves before the selection is made. Santare said he thinks student opinions are an important part of the selection process and encouraged attendance at the system demonstrations.
“The on-site [demonstrations] are an important part of the scoring process and are open to the public,” Santare wrote. “It is important that students attend these demos to make sure our voices are heard when it comes to which LMS we prefer.”
All the demonstrations will take place in University Union 108. The Canvas by Instructure demonstration will be held from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 7, Brightspace will take place from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 14 and Blackboard will be demonstrated from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 21. Students can also share their thoughts on the new LMS by email firstname.lastname@example.org.