Fifteen years ago when MSJC embarked on its journey to offer online courses, a small group of faculty gathered to assess different course management platforms in an effort to choose one that would provide the tools necessary to deliver online courses. Three platforms were evaluated: Web CT, eCollege and Blackboard. Following presentations and demonstrations of each company’s products, MSJC faculty, administration and support staff recommended that we adopt Blackboard as the platform to deliver our online courses.
For fifteen years Blackboard has provided a stable online platform for learning to students who enroll in online and face-to-face courses at MSJC. Faculty members have undergone professional development to learn about online teaching and learning and how to use the myriad tools available in Blackboard; support staff have been hired and attended professional development workshops to learn how to best deliver Blackboard services to faculty and students. Blackboard has been integrated with our Student Information Systems software, Web Advisor, to allow students and faculty members to navigate seamlessly between the two. In the fifteen years since its adoption by MSJC Blackboard has cannibalized much of its competition to become the industry leader in course management systems.
In 2014-15, the Online Education Initiative was looking for a common course management system to host courses that would be offered throughout the state in an effort to provide opportunities for students who needed to take courses but were unable to do so through their local community colleges. After careful deliberation and evaluation the OEI, with statewide input from a variety of constituent groups, selected a relative newcomer in the course management system business, Instructure’s Canvas Course Management System. It was decided that Canvas would be the platform in which courses would be offered through OEI. With its adoption by OEI, Canvas would also be offered to local community colleges who were a part of the OEI pilot program for no licensing fees for up to three years with the potential of reduced fees in the following years. The reduced fees would be based upon wide scale adoption and the ability of the OEI to negotiate a better deal.
Turn to Fall 2015 and MSJC is at a crossroad. Should we stay with Blackboard or should we adopt Canvas as our course management system? Who should make that decision? Why are only Backboard and Canvas being considered since other platforms like Moodle and Sakai are open source products and are free to license? There are many factors that must be considered in this process, but we must always keep in mind why we license a course management system– it enables students an opportunity to pursue their educational goals. Simply put course management systems are platforms for delivering online content. It’s the quality of the content, the interaction with the content by students, the interaction between students and other students, and the interactions between students and their instructors that matters most in the learning process. The platform is just a means to create these interactions. Some platforms, e.g. Moodle, Canvas, Blackboard, etc. offer similar tools to share content and provide spaces for interactions. Their chief differences are in how they enable instructors to display their content and how they enable instructors to create interactive experiences for students. Will Canvas provide a better user experience for students than Blackboard? The OEI evaluators believed it would and as a result they adopted Canvas as the common course management system of the OEI Exchange.
Now it is time for different constituent groups at MSJC: students, faculty, administration, classified staff, to evaluate Blackboard and Canvas to determine which course management system is best suited to deliver online learning opportunities for students at MSJC. The process is daunting and it is the task of the ETC to create a transparent process to make an assessment and recommendation whether to stay with Blackboard or switch to Canvas. As an aside, Moodle, Sakai, etc. were not considered in the evaluation process because of the dramatic increase in costs that would be encumbered with local and remote hosting of an open source content management system and the support staff required to host such a system.
EDITORIAL: The prevailing opinion amongst people with whom I have discussed this issue is that it is a foregone conclusion that MSJC will adopt Canvas because of OEI’s selection of Canvas and because it is available to MSJC at no cost for three years and a potentially reduced price thereafter. This is simply not true! However, I am sure cost considerations will be factored into the final decision, but cost will not be the overriding factor when making a recommendation just as cost was not the overriding decision for OEI when it selected Canvas.
The recommendation for whether to stay with Blackboard or switch to Canvas will be based upon a team of MSJC students, faculty, administrators, and classified personnel who will attend presentations by both companies during October, a review of each product, both companies will provide access to their products for testing also during October, and a thorough discussion about which product best meets the mission of enabling students to pursue their educational goals. The face-to-face and virtual discussions will take place after the presentations and testing and will most likely finish up in early November. A vote will take place by the subcommittee who viewed the presentations and tested the platforms. The vote will take place in early November with the majority of votes for whichever platform is preferred going to the Academic Senate as a recommendation. The recommendation of the ETC will not be a decision to adopt one platform or the other, however. The recommendation of the ETC will go to the MSJC Academic Senate who will then make a recommendation to the College Council regarding the justification of the recommendation. Afterwards, the college council will make a final decision and sometime in the coming months we will know whether we are staying with Blackboard or switching to Canvas.
Regardless of which platform is chosen, the ETC will continue to provide access to quality professional development workshops to assist teachers who wish to use a course management system to engage their students in interactive learning experiences.
Please stay tuned and as always I would love to have your participation and input in the recommendation process.