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New Mexico State Signs with Instructure

New Mexico State University in Las Cruces has made the decision to move its learning management system (LMS) work to a cloud version of Instructure Canvas. The institution, which has five campuses, 13 research centers, a satellite learning center, and extension offices in every county in the state, signed the contract with the Utah-based start-up company this week after an evaluation of several finalists.

According to Steven Leask, senior project analyst for Instructional Innovation & Quality, who managed the evaluation process, the university's LMS Task Force came to "unanimous agreement on what would be recommended. And there was no second choice." The task force comprised about 25 faculty, students, learning specialists, and technology administrators from the Las Cruces and Community College campuses.

For the last 14 years the university has been using Blackboard Campus Edition (CE) 8, the final edition of WebCT, which will no longer be supported by Blackboard as of January 2013. Because the institution's contract with Blackboard ends with the current fiscal year, "... we decided that it was time for us to go ahead and do the whole [evaluation] process," Leask said.

That included a request for information, a request for proposal, a needs assessment, and two-hour demonstrations on the main campus of each finalist. Those demos were recorded and made available on New Mexico State's Web site to all of its campuses through SharePoint.

What set Canvas apart from its competitors, Leask explained, was how different and intuitive the interface was. "Our faculty was overwhelmed by the possibilities," he said. "If you've used Web 2.0 tools, if you've used Facebook, Twitter, or those other tools, you could really pick up on it pretty quickly."

But more than that, he added, it's a "huge leap forward." "The thing that stood out most was that while the other applications seemed to be a step forward and seemed to be improving with integration of the different tools and features they had, Canvas seemed to be in a different generation. It seemed to be a generation ahead instead of a step ahead. That's what was most impressive for the people on the committee."

The new LMS is designed to manage online classroom activities and includes functionality such as a learning repository for course content, assignments, discussion boards, messaging, assessment, grades, and communications between faculty and students.

All courses currently using Blackboard will be migrated to Canvas during the spring 2012 semester. To expedite the move to the new LMS, New Mexico State will be using the cloud-based version of Instructure, which is hosted on the Amazon Web Services infrastructure. In years past, Leask pointed out, deploying a new LMS and moving everybody to it would be a nine-month effort. "That would be kind of tight this time."

Leask doesn't expect the migration effort from Blackboard onto Canvas to be effortless, but he said he does expect a level of excitement for the new deployment. "We've been through two migrations with WebCT. It wasn't easy. The interfaces have been different, which is a big thing for faculty," he said. "Students don't care. They pick up things so quickly. They adjust so fast. Faulty on the other hand, it's always a challenge. But I think they'll find the interface to be better, the tools to be a little easier to use, and overall it's going to be a more pleasant experience for them. Once we get out there and do little demonstrations and let them see what we're looking at and some of the capabilities they've been asking for for a long time, it'll excite the faculty."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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