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U Maryland To Overhaul LMS for New School Year

The University of Maryland will begin running a pilot of Instructure Canvas as its new enterprise learning management system (ELMS) starting this fall, with a full rollout planned for January 2013. The institution is moving away from Blackboard, which has been in place since 2006. UMD has 37,000 students, 4,000 faculty, and 5,000 staff.

A faculty-led evaluation committee recommended Canvas after running pilots of five applications in courses: Blackboard Learn 9.1, Desire2Learn, Moodle, Sakai, and Canvas. The university has posted public videos of faculty sharing their experiences with each of the learning management systems. In each case the university also surveyed students from course, who provided their feedback at mid-term and at the end of the semester. Areas of investigation for the no-cost pilots included usability; flexibility of tools for instructors, students, and administration; integration with the student information system and library systems; support for implementation and on-going usage; and overall system architecture.

"The committee considered Canvas to be a cutting-edge platform that integrates all existing e-learning tools into a modern, yet interactive, virtual learning environment," said Marcio Oliveira, assistant chair of the Department of Kinesiology in Maryland's School of Public Health and member of the faculty evaluation team.

The school's Division of Information Technology is now working with the university community to orchestrate the transition to the new platform.

"As Maryland's academic quality continues its upward trajectory, the central IT organization will do its part to build upon Maryland's academic strengths," said Brian Voss, Maryland's vice president of IT and CIO. "The selection of a new, next-generation ELMS increases the university's capacity to educate students for work and life in the 21st century."

Added Chris Higgins, director of Learning Technologies and Environments, "When ELMS powered by Canvas is launched in 2012, faculty and students will encounter a university-wide learning environment that uses modern Web technologies; is easy to use, intuitive, and accessible; contains features for teaching, learning, collaborating, and evaluating academic performance; and integrates multimedia, e-portfolios, social media tools, and Web conferencing."

The hunt for a new ELMS began in 2010 when the university put out a request for information and the faculty committee started its appraisal. Participants in that process included representatives from every college, the Graduate Student Government, and the Student Government Association.

That RFI listed these minimum requirements:

  • A discussion board tool;
  • A gradebook tool that also displays grades to students;
  • A wiki/blog tool;
  • An assessment engine;
  • A WYSIWYG HTML editor;
  • A built-in help system;
  • Student activity tracking tools;
  • Support for foreign language character display and input;
  • Support for assistive technology;
  • The ability to archive discussions;
  • Import/export of gradebook contents;
  • The ability to set up groups through student tools; and
  • The ability to delegate administration.

The university also joined a procurement initiative as part of the Maryland Education Enterprise Consortium (MEEC) with other educational institutions also seeking to acquire learning management systems. In that case, MEEC established master agreements with six LMS providers: Agilix Learning Services, Blackboard, Desire2Learn, Instructure, Pearson's eCollege, and Moodlerooms. For the most part, those are in effect through June 2017.

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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