Washington State University’s faculty senate, in partnership with Academic Outreach and Innovation (AOI) and Information Technology Services has released a timeline to expand testing of the Canvas online learning management system (LMS) with the potential of transitioning to Canvas by fall semester of 2021.

WSU has been using the Blackboard LMS platform since 2015. Over that time, usability and compatibility issues have arisen with the LMS. These include a lack of integration with WSU’s PeopleSoft Student Information System, an inability to directly push grades to the MyWSU portal, enrollment compatibility issues, and general usability concerns, among other problems.

“A large number of faculty and staff have been petitioning to move away from Blackboard for some time,” said Greg Crouch, chair of the WSU faculty senate. “We heard their concerns and began looking into options for a new LMS.”

In 2018, a committee of faculty members and IT experts from across all WSU campuses was formed to explore new LMS options. After researching available options, the committee identified Canvas as a platform with the potential to solve many of the combability and usability issues presented by Blackboard.

The Canvas LMS offers more integration with WSU’s existing software applications, creating the potential for a better user experience for both students and faculty. It is also a commonly used LMS by community colleges in Washington State, from which many WSU students transfer.

WSU began piloting Canvas in summer semester of 2019, with pilot courses including a total of 400 enrolled students. A second pilot, which is currently ongoing, was started in fall semester of 2019 and included a total of 1,000 students.

The expanded testing schedule includes Canvas pilots for each fall and spring semester until fall 2021, adding 1,000 students for each successive piloting period. The final piloting period, scheduled for spring 2021, will involve a total of 4,000 enrolled students.

“Staging pilot tests of Canvas allows us to roll out the Canvas LMS in such a way as to identify and correct technical and course design issues that arise as more students and faculty use the system,” said Crouch. “This staged approach also allows sufficient time to convert existing Blackboard courses to Canvas.”

Rebecca Cooney, associate clinical professor at the Edward R. Murrow School of Communication, participated in in the summer 2019 pilot and is currently participating in the fall 2019 pilot. In her opinion, the switch would be a positive change for students.

“Overall the students appear to be happy and satisfied with Canvas over Blackboard,” said Cooney. “I think a move to Canvas would have a long-term impact on retention, overall student satisfaction, and positive Blue course evaluations.”

The Canvas pilot project is still looking for faculty members interested in participating in upcoming pilots. If you are interested in participating, fill out and submit the Canvas pilot sign up form on the WSU faculty senate website.

“The LMS transition team has put a lot of thought, research and planning into the exploration of Canvas as our new LMS,” said Rebecca Van de Vord, Assistant Vice President of AOI. “There is no reason to think this change would be anything but positive.”