Per an initiative from the Faculty caucus and the Distance Learning Department, a call was sent out for volunteers to work on a Blackboard Learning Management System (LMS) review Team in April 2012. In light of interest in expanding distance offerings & budget concerns, the team’s task was to conduct a pro-active review of our current Blackboard LMS and see what pedagogical or functionality opportunities other competing LMS’ would offer the college at this time. The Team was then to weigh any possible gains from moving to another LMS against the pain of transitioning and or sticking with Blackboard.

The Blackboard Review team membership:

  • Business & .Info. Tech. Div:   Ross Justice, Carmen Morrison & Chuck Stickelman (Adj.)
  • Health Sciences Division: Dorie Ford, Tonya Stanger & Dan Coovert
  • LAEP-PS Division:     Josh Cramer (Adj.), Pat Herb, Deb Hysell, Margaret Puckett, Tom Shields (Adj.)  &  Brittany Smith (Adj.)
  • DL/ Instructional Support: Mike Welker
  • Student Rep:   Michelle Markley

Reasoning to Leave Blackboard:

  1. Usability Concerns –
    Blackboard Learn 9.1 was touted as Blackboard’s user-focused update. Since the College moved to Blackboard 9.1 in June 2011, there has feedback to the NC State DL Dept. from both student & faculty that Blackboard is not user friendly. The team feels that Blackboard 9.1 took some steps forward but some backwards. DL support calls have regular usability issues e.g “hide course menu” button, “adding students”, “groups” interface etc.
  2. Future Focused Features
    Social Presence — Blackboard has little “social presence” (that is ways for students to express and represent themselves in the online environment) features or support for organic & dynamic collaborative learning. The team believes that the rise in importance of social, collaborative learning makes this critical for retention and completion now and in future:“The entry of large numbers of previously underrepresented students—students from ethnic cultures that stress social interaction, older students, students blending work and learning—also calls for environments in which social interchange and experiential learning are valued....The argument doesn’t include just nontraditional students, however. Characterizations of Net Generation students8 extend similar considerations to current traditional students…”” (Van Note Chism)“Walled Garden”/Closed Access– Blackboard has a rigid organization that limits possibilities for students or faculty to flexibly share learning materials with larger world outside of class site. The team see clear trend lines for a resurgent Open Classroom movement, Service Learning, collaborative Internet technology itself, &  Employers interest in demonstrations of knowledge/skill all pointing towards increasing need for more flexibility here.Mobile – Blackboard does have a serviceable mobile functionality but it has gone from a free to have students pay to access model (see below). With the shift in sales of platform moving from the desktop to laptops and now tablet/smartphone (particularly iOS & Droid platforms), robust, free to students mobile access is becoming an increasingly important service.
  3. “Bang for the Buck” Features
    Blackboard continues to charge a premium pricing for middling features. Blackboard fees at present offer no ePortfolio feature, which several departments are interested in deploying. Blackboard fees at present offer little in the way of student learning and performance data analysis. The cost to add ePortfolio & learning data analysis features are cost prohibitive for our institution. Our current Blackboard license ($40k/year +$20k/yr hosting fees) does not include Mobile, ePortfolios or data analytics features that come standard with several other options the team reviewed. Blackboard does offer these additional functionality but it would cost an additional $150k-$200k per year in costs.
  4. Blackboard Flight
    Blackboard is not the mass behemoth it once was int he market: Blackboard has gone from about 90% of the LMS market to barely 50% in last few years:“Blackboard Learn continued to lose LMS share in 2011, clocking in at just above 50 percent — a 6.5 percentage-point drop …” (Kolowich)

Managing the Disruption from Moving Off Blackboard

A solid LMS foundation needs to be in place before Distance offerings can be scaled and pressing enrollment pressures cannot be put off. The Team’s proposed process time line offers what we think is a respectable balance of allowing time for people to settle in to semesters, having time for reasonable deliberative and shakedown testing process while still getting the new LMS foundation settled by Summer 2013. With the many initiatives at the college, there likely may never be a “good” time to do this, which is part of why we have held off on this process so long. To wait longer will mean we fall further behind with our learning technology infrastructure in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Both Instructure & rSmart made the cut with the team because they have support & training staff and resources that we can utilize to ease the transition here. While there will be inevitable hiccups with any product as complex as a LMS, with a faculty & student driven, well thought out, easily accessible training plan, this can be eased to workable levels.

Blackboard Replacement Selection Process

While very diverse and including participation form all three academic divisions and limited student input, the Team recognizes the limitations of its representation of the campus community at large. As such, we recommend that a selection process be put in place to allow wider faculty & student input and consensus building on whether to select Canvas or Sakai:

Summer 2012

  • Campus wide announcement of intent to move and process.
  • Data Gathering “Alpha” Test Pilot by 2-4 Summer classes (1-2 Sakai & 1-2 Canvas)

August 2012

  • Faculty Convocation – Vendor Demos & Q&A to faculty (Canvas & Sakai)

September 2012

  • Open Vendor Demos & Q&A Forums to students (Canvas & Sakai)

October 2012

  • Campus wide vote/survey on preference of Canvas or Sakai
  • Final decision on which to move to.

Transition Process/Timeline

November 2012

  • Commit to winning vendor
  • Develop transition student & faculty training & roll out plan
  • Find volunteers for Spring Semester “Beta” test classes using new LMS

December 2012

  • New LMS Training Boot camp for Spring “Beta” test classes faculty
  • Convert content from Blackboard to new LMS for Spring “Beta” test classes

Spring Semester 2013

  • “Beta” test classes run in new LMS
  • Student & Faculty Training for new LMS
  • Convert Summer courses content from Blackboard into new LMS

Summer Semester 2013

  • Initial rollout of new LMS – All Summer classes use new LMS
  • Student & Faculty Training for new LMS
  • Convert Fall courses content from Blackboard into new LMS

Fall Semester 2013

  • Complete campus rollout – all Fall classes use new LMS
  • Student & Faculty Training for new LMS

Works Cited

Kolowich, Steve. “mobile Picks Up Speed: Campus Computing Survey results show Blackboard losing market share, mobile computing on the rise.” Inside Higher Ed,Oct. 20, 2011

Van Note Chism, Nancy. “Learning Spaces. Chapter 2. Challenging Traditional Assumptions and Rethinking Learning Spaces”. Learning Spaces, an Educause E-Book, Diana G. Oblinger, Editor. Educause 2006. http://www.educause.edu/learningspacesch2


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