We recognize that transitioning to a new learning management system (LMS) is no easy feat, so we don't take the switch to Canvas lightly. An LMS switch was imminent regardless, as Blackboard is undergoing redesign, and we would have to switch to their Bb Ultra cloud-based system eventually. While Bb Ultra is in the early stages of development, Canvas has been up and running successfully for five years.
In short: there was no way to avoid transitioning to a new course delivery setup, so we chose the best option available to us. Canvas retains most of Blackboard's functionality while offering additional features (see our Canvas Crosswalk for more information). Both the Board of Governors for the State University System of Florida and FSU's Opt-In LMS Feasibility Workgroup preferred Canvas after carefully comparing Bb Ultra and Canvas side by side.
Five reasons we think Canvas is an upgrade:
Canvas offers a 99.9% guaranteed uptime service level agreement to all customers. This is the highest guaranteed uptime in the industry, which means minimal downtime for you! The cloud-based approach also means that you have more space available for your course content.
- Integrated communication tools
Conversations are essentially Canvas emails, and Conferences offer an easy web-conferencing option. You can also opt to be notified about important Canvas events (e.g., a deadline or personal message) via email, text message, or on your phone or tablet through Canvas's mobile app. These notifications can be sent immediately or as a daily or weekly digest.
- Clean and simple user interface
Canvas makes it as simple and intuitive as possible to do what you'd expect. Because of this, it takes fewer clicks to do just about everything, and it's easier to find what you're looking for, especially on mobile devices. There are even multiple ways of doing the same thing.
- Easy resource sharing
Canvas has created a "Commons" area that acts as a digital library for instructors and staff. Quickly find and import course content like learning modules, page content, and documents that have been shared across your department or college, FSU, or the larger Canvas community.
- Faster, better development cycle
Canvas has a much faster development and release cycle than Blackboard's, constantly rolling out updates based on the needs of the Canvas Community (that means you) – no downtime required. If you want a new feature or if you find a bug, get enough Canvas users on board and you can escalate the request to their software development staff.
Canvas feature improvements (as compared to Blackboard)
SpeedGrader is Canvas's equivalent to Blackboard's inline grading tool, but better. In fact, using SpeedGrader can cut your grading time in half! Both Crocodoc and rubrics display in SpeedGrader much like what you are used to in Blackboard. What's unique to Canvas is that SpeedGrader offers media comment options, which means that you can add audio/video comments directly to student assignment submissions via a microphone or webcam. You can sort submissions by student name, track grading progress, and “mute” assignments to hide grades from students while you are busy grading. The SpeedGrader app is also available for both iPad and Android systems.
Canvas's Gradebook has a user-friendly interface, so we think that you will find it to be much more intuitive than what you are used to in Blackboard. For starters, the spreadsheet frame on the Gradebook page is much larger than it was in Blackboard, so you are no longer stuck with a tiny frame for viewing the actual numbers in your Gradebook. No more wasting time trying to find a specific student's grades – Canvas allows you to search individual students so you can find their information quickly. When it comes to organizing your Gradebook, Canvas offers several options to fit your workflow needs: sort by assignment due dates, student names, total scores, or group scores (if applicable). You can also easily message students who haven't yet submitted an assignment directly from the Gradebook page. Like Blackboard, Canvas automatically creates columns for gradable items, including a column for attendance that syncs with the built-in attendance tool. There isn't quite the same level of customization that Blackboard offered, but with Canvas's more intuitive Gradebook tool that shouldn't be any problem! Canvas even offers your students a "what-if" grade calculator, so they can see the full impact of their performance on assignments throughout the semester. Nothing motivates you to study quite like the realization that a "C" on next week's quiz will bring your final grade down by a full letter grade, right?
Blackboard doesn't have any built-in feature analogous to Canvas's Conferences – Bb Collaborate is not a “built-in” feature and is only available to online-only courses at FSU. Conferences are built into Canvas's interface and can be used for synchronous class meetings, virtual lectures, virtual office hours, and are available to student groups. Best of all, Conferences are available to all courses! Conferences can accommodate a maximum of 50 users at one time and do not require any additional software downloads, unlike Bb Collaborate Classic. However, please note that if you choose to record a conference, the recording will only be available for 14 days after the conference has ended. After this point the recording is automatically deleted.
Canvas rubrics are an upgrade from those offered in Blackboard. Canvas rubrics can be adapted to your preferences – you can use rubrics for both grading and feedback or for feedback only. You can easily align them with course and/or institutional outcomes.
In Blackboard you organized your course content by Content Areas and Content Folders, but in Canvas you'll be organizing your content using Modules. Canvas Modules are basically a streamlined version of Blackboard's Content Areas and Content Folders. Individual modules function like a folder that contains the individual items (such as files, weblinks, assignments, pages, etc.) relevant to that particular week or unit of study, and all modules are contained on the same page. This effectively keeps all the course content in one place, which makes it easier to keep track of from an instructor perspective and easier to navigate from a student perspective. The Modules' drag-and-drop capability makes it easy to reorder modules and module content. You can also use the Content Creation tool in Modules to easily re-use existing content or to create new Assignments, Quizzes, Content Pages, Discussions, link to Files, link to external websites, and link to external tools (e.g., Khan Academy, Turnitin, etc.).
When it comes to determining how you want your students to progress through your course, Canvas offers more logical and user-friendly options than Blackboard. If you've ever used Blackboard's adaptive release settings, then you know they are clunky and confusing. Canvas offers adaptive release-mimicking options for both entire modules and in individual module items called prerequisites and requirements. Prerequisites and requirements can be used together in a course to create the desired course progression. For example, you can create prerequisites that make students complete each module in a specific order, which means they must complete Module 1 before they are able to access Module 2. You can also create requirements within a module to ensure that students complete each Module item in a specific order. For example, students must view a lecture video before they can access a quiz assessing their understanding of that lecture video.
Canvas Discussions are discussion forums done right. You can have students ask some questions in the course or easily have students use video responses rather than typing out text. Best of all, it's a simpler structure than Blackboard's Discussion Board tool: Each “Discussion” is its own entity on your Discussions page, so you won't get bogged down in any “forum, thread” semantics.
The best word to describe Canvas's Groups tool is “upgrade”: Canvas offers an improved group workspace that better facilitates communication and collaborative work. In Canvas, students can create pages, announcements, collaborations, discussions, calendar events, and chat in real-time within their groups. This is a vast improvement over Blackboard's group workspace, which only offered file exchange, group blog, group discussion board, group journal, group tasks, group wiki, and send email to group members. The blog and journal options were in some ways redundant and not used by most faculty, and group tasks were almost never used. Canvas's pages are like Blackboard's group wiki – but better – and offer the same ability to share files as the Blackboard group file exchange tool.
Canvas has its own built-in messaging system, which acts like a built-in email inbox. This is better than our current system of sending emails because students will see all new messages sent via Canvas Conversations as soon as they log in to Canvas rather than having to go and log in to a separate FSU webmail account. Unfortunately, there is no way to integrate our current FSU webmail system with Canvas Conversations, so students and faculty will still have to log in to a separate interface to access their FSU webmail accounts. Though the Canvas Conversations and FSU webmail systems remain separate, Canvas Conversations may be ideal for sending a quick message to the entire class.
Bigger course size to easily incorporate media
Media-rich classrooms improve student engagement, but media files take up lots of space. Did you ever run into problems in Blackboard because you had used up your allotted quota of "space" for your site? It will probably take you longer to reach your course size limit in Canvas. Canvas offers 1 GB (1,000 MB) course size, so you can use more media to create an engaging learning environment that aligns with your course's objectives. The Rich Content Editor makes it super easy to create and/or upload media content and to embed media from a variety of sources – including YouTube, Flickr, Khan Academy, TED, and more than 100 library collections with an HTML Editor.
Better course site analytics
If you want to analyze student performance in your course and understand student interaction with your course, then you now have some great options. Blackboard's performance dashboard and course reports were clumsy at best. Canvas offers so much more! You can view broader course analytics to better understand overall student performance and trends in your course. For more specific information, Canvas offers the following user-specific information: You can view all the interactions between you and a student, view the last time a student accessed your course and a course access report, and view further student analytics. However, please note that Canvas does not measure activity on mobile devices.