RIP Blackboard: ASU makes the switch to Canvas

Colleges across ASU transition to the new learning management system

Mark the date June 30, 2019 in a calendar: ASU Blackboard is shutting down.

ASU is officially moving to Canvas by Instructure for its new learning management system. Students will likely see more Session B courses in Canvas this Fall and even more next Spring because Oct. 17 is the last day for a course to be requested on Blackboard. However, next year all courses will be on Canvas. 

In 2016, Blackboard announced a future depreciation of the current form of Blackboard for a new cloud-based version called Blackboard Ultra. Cloud servers avoid maintenance downtime and stay up 24/7.

ASU decided to look into new Learning Management System options because either way they were going to have to transfer all the classes to a new system. This led to the decision to switch to Canvas.

Now, the job of preparing faculty and transferring classes has fallen to teams of Canvas Liaisons within each college.

“(We’re) developing resources that faculty and students can use to ease into this transition so that when you enter a class, you aren't spending time trying to figure out the platform, you can get right into the learning,”Allison Hall, a senior instructional designer at Herberger Online Learning, said.

The Herberger Online program has a team of instructional designers working to integrate its entire program into Canvas. The Canvas team at each college varies in size based on the college’s needs.

Hall noted that Canvas is used in many K-12 programs around Arizona, allowing for an easier transition to ASU for those students.

In addition, Canvas will bring a new suite of features for classes.

“The main feature that’s exciting between Blackboard and Canvas is actually the design of the user interface,” Hall said. “It’s very clean, clear, intuitive and user friendly so that everything is where you suspect it’s going to be and very clearly labeled.”

Another key reason for ASU switching to Canvas is the guarantee of 24/7 cloud-based servers unlike the soon-to-be depreciated Blackboard servers that often have downtime.

Transferring classes is never simply completed with just the flip of a switch. Despite the ability to import a Blackboard course directly into Canvas, a lot of manual movement and double-checking occurs to ensure no course is missing anything.

Toby Kidd, web application developer and senior production coordinator at Herberger Online Learning, said features across Blackboard and Canvas are mostly similar, but there are differences.

“There’s some difficulty in that they don't structure things the same way and/or small features might vary from one platform to the next,” Kidd said.

He said the LMS change is going to impact everyone across all campuses.

“This idea that technology is distinct from an in-person classroom environment is a misnomer,” Kidd said. “The ubiquitous nature of technology (means) you have at any given moment a laptop, a cellphone. Why wouldn't we be leveraging this technology?”

Rowan de Faria, the director of Herberger Online Learning, said Canvas is a newer product and more sustainable because it was created with thought for today’s needs, unlike Blackboard.

“The move to Canvas was the right move for ASU,” de Faria said. “ASU is big in innovation, leading the online world, and so it makes sense to choose the partners, tools and platforms that are on the same trajectory, that are wanting to move forward consistently.”

Bruce Matsunaga, the director of digital technology for the English department at the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, is the Canvas Liaison for his college, leading training sessions on the switch.

He is a one-man team, unlike Herberger.

By spring 2019, his department will have moved three-fourths of their classes to Canvas. He’s looking at this large-scale transition with a goal of improvement.

“We’ve been thinking of this transition as an opportunity to revisit the course structure and really to build in more best practices,” Matsunaga said. “That’s something that I’ve been encouraging all the faculty to do rather than just pull everything over.”

Matsunaga has been at ASU long enough to remember the many LMS transitions it has gone through.

“We actually ran a web-board server for a number of years and that was really just a discussion board that was private and that we could assign people to,” Matsunaga said. “They also had a system called Sakai, a few places were using Moodle, (but) for our scale, Blackboard at the time was the only real viable option.”

Scott Mahler is director of digital immersion at the Fulton Schools of Engineering and a Canvas Liaison heading up the transition at the college. His team is larger like Herberger Online and provides many resources.

“Workshops and training where we're making use of both the (University Technology Office) trainings that are available and also some of our own sessions,” Mahler said. “Then we also have made ourselves available for individual complications they request so we can sit with an individual faculty member.”

His team has also hired student workers, and Fulton has created a specialized website for its department’s switch.

“We thought having a sort of landing page that curates the resources that are available from UTO and from ASU online and from other places would allow people and allow us to provide concise communication,” Mahler said.

Once the switch has been completed, most of these teams of dedicated ASU staff members will be providing further resources as well. Additionally, there is always a help button in the bottom-left corner of Canvas.

“One thing that may be comforting to students is that their teachers are probably fairly nervous about this as well,” Matsunsaga said. “There’s a certain sense of camaraderie that we’re all going through this together.” 


Reach the reporter at egilchr1@asu.edu or follow @Ethan_G45 on Twitter.

Like The State Press on Facebook and follow @statepress on Twitter.


Get the best of State Press delivered straight to your inbox.