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Auburn U Moves to Open Source Canvas LMS

Auburn University, with about 25,000 students, has decided to move off of Blackboard Vista and onto Instructure Canvas following a multi-months evaluation process. The Office of IT at the Alabama institution will begin offering training on Canvas in the fall, and the online learning management system (LMS) will be available for faculty beginning in spring 2012. Later that year Blackboard will be shut off at the university just before the company itself shutters support for Vista in January 2013. Instructors will be expected to migrate to the new LMS by spring 2013.

Canvas, an online-only LMS, was launched in 2010, and its code was released as open source in early 2011.

The LMS evaluation was done by a working group composed of IT people and faculty members. Along with Canvas and Blackboard Learn 9.1, other contenders included Moodle, Sakai, and Desire2Learn. The short-list consisted of only two products: Canvas and Desire2Learn.

The Instructional Multimedia Group at the university posted a brief comparison of the two finalists, which appears to rate both fairly equivalently. But the faculty overwhelmingly voted for Canvas over Desire2Learn as a replacement to Vista.

According to Troy Hahn, a member of the working group and IT specialist for the Department of Fisheries & Allied Aquacultures, which is offering a global certification of acquaculture professional program, several aspects of Canvas appealed to his team "Our clients are non-traditional students, all with different language requirements, who do not have time to learn a complex system. Canvas provides our students with a clean, simple, and undisruptive learning environment. One of the defining qualities is the system's ability to convey information intuitively."

That application simplicity also factored in on the faculty side. "From an instructor standpoint loading material and organizing is not only easy, but can actually be fun," Hahn said. "The simple drag and drop from your desktop into the file menu structure of Canvas is light-years ahead of others. Several faculty from my area have pointed out organizing and reorganizing is no longer complex and cumbersome like it was in the past.  If they wish to move items around they are able to, quickly and on the fly."

Grading and communication features likewise impressed Hahn's team. "Canvas provides a wonderful grading system, from speed grading to the ease of access for students to obtain their grades," he noted. "Students wanting to communicate back with their instructors have a multitude of options, from discussion boards to one-click voice or video recordings, all built into the interface.  Those who would like to participate in online office hours are also satisfied.  Built in Web conferencing opens up a unique avenue for office hours, group work, and online tutoring."

The team also liked the service's notification system. "Each party can pick how they want to receive course notifications. From e-mail, Face-book, Twitter, SMS, and more," Hahn said.

Canvas has the Gold Star Certification for accessibility from the National Federation for the Blind, Hahn added, a point that's "normally overlooked" during LMS evaluations. Blackboard Learn 9.1, Blackboard's latest release of its LMS, has that certification too.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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