Canvas was selected as the future learning management software (LMS) for the University of New Mexico, according to an email sent by Campus Communications on April 22. A pilot program for Canvas will roll out in the upcoming semester, and the full transition will happen in the summer of 2022.
The decision to move to a new LMS was brought about due to the limitations encountered on Blackboard Learn amid the transition to online learning, according to the email. UNM will be joining six other New Mexico-based colleges that use Canvas.
“It was painful to have (Blackboard) be another barrier for people to have to jump over in order to engage with their courses,” Pamela Cheek, associate provost for student success, said.
Over 500 evaluators, made up of students, faculty and staff, signed up to review Blackboard, Brightspace and Canvas to find a potential new LMS, according to a report published by UNM on the LMS selection process (available for review from members of the UNM community).
“We really value what our students, our staff and our faculty tell us about their experience. These tools are for the UNM community, right?” Cheek said. “They are for Lobos and we needed to hear from Lobos about what they thought was going to be best for them.”
After running each program through its paces, which included demos, orientations, sandboxes and other forums of testing, Canvas emerged as the most consistently top-rated LMS, based particularly on its ease of use. Some of the common complaints about Canvas included potential missing features to help with easy operation or unexpected programming.
The report disclosed that the LMS reevaluation process began in fall 2018, after the Provost Taskforce on Redesigning the University established a set of recommendations to improve UNM. A request to replace Blackboard was made in February 2020.
The move to Canvas will bring UNM up to the “industry standard” as Canvas is a “cloud-based solution,” Cheek said. A cloud-based solution is an on-demand service that allows UNM to access computer networks, storage, applications and resources accessed via the internet and the vendor’s shared computing infrastructure.
“We began the whole process of looking at different vendors with the knowledge that we needed to move to a comprehensive cloud-based solution,” Cheek said.
Blake Moesley, a third-year student at New Mexico State University that uses Canvas regularly, said the program offers her an easy and simple way to connect with her fellow students and professors.
“It’s easy to navigate, communicate and view assignments (that are due),” Moesley said. “The layout of Canvas is extremely organized and allows me to see my grades, assignments and study material easily.”
As far as the instructor side is concerned, Roger Mellen, professor emeritus at NMSU, said Canvas was easy to navigate but still has a learning curve.
“I have used at least three LMS systems, and they are all similar, with some strengths and weaknesses,” Mellen said. “Like all these systems, it does take time to learn, especially for instructors; students find it generally easier.”
The move from Blackboard to Canvas comes as welcome news to some students, as the COVID-19 pandemic and the shift to online learning forced students to adapt to an LMS. Blackboard-specific issues were encountered by students at UNM such as Angelina Chavez, who said there were many unused functions and Kyle Sliva-Miller, who said he saw no improvement on the LMS. Computer science professor Patrick Bridges tweeted that Blackboard was “miserable” from the instructor perspective.
Cheek is hopeful that students and faculty will gain more out of the experience with Canvas, and that this transition will help more of the UNM community reach their potential.
“This LMS, we hope, is going to remove some barriers and make it that much easier for everybody who is trying to complete their college degree to succeed,” Cheek said. “It’s about reducing barriers; it’s about making it possible for students to get through their course work, enjoy their course work and make them feel like they have true access.”
Students can follow the timeline of the migration to Canvas on UNM’s “Canvas Implementation” webpage.
Gino Gutierrez is a senior reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @GGutierrez48