Wake County prepares to pull Blackboard Learn, will replace with better system

Blackboard Learn’s Homescreen. Note it’s state of disuse. Your account, if you have one, won’t be usable beyond June 30th. (Photo credit to Blackboard Learn)

On June 30, 2016, Wake County will discontinue the use of the Blackboard Learn Virtual Learning Environment. The county will switch to a new online tool, Canvas, for the 2016-2017 school year.

Chances are that outside of CTE classes, you will find very few teachers used Blackboard to manage their courses. This is because a number of problems existed with the Blackboard system which made many teachers wary of ever relying on the service. Blackboard’s hierarchal data infrastructure was a source of major criticism. It was unreliable in its handling of data and often caused major downtime that inconvenienced teachers. Furthermore, working with Blackboard was often tedious, requiring many clicks of the mouse to complete rudimentary tasks. Additionally, many times the website itself would run slowly. Others just found working with the service difficult and annoying–I’m enrolled in New Blank Course, for example. In the course of my high school career, I’ve worked with Remind, Powerschool, NCEd Cloud, Blackboard Learn, Edmodo, your WCPSS student email, and Google Docs. A lot of these systems have functions that overlap. For example, both Edmodo and Blackboard allow students to download assignments from their teachers and then turn in a completed version of said assignment. Teachers’ willingness to go with services other than Blackboard for tasks like these might demonstrate just how unpopular the Blackboard was with many.

The service which will replace Blackboard will be Canvas, a platform provided by Instructure, a Utah-based firm. The firm was founded in 2008, 11 years after the original version of Blackboard was released. As recently as November of last year, it became publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange. The company started marketing their product in Utah, and by 2013, Canvas had racked up 9 million users and was winning over colleges and school districts eager to convert from Blackboard. Canvas uses the latest technology, including HTML5, Which will make the experience using it “feel” considerably smoother and more responsive. Much of Canvas’ user interface is built around accomplishing in the simplest way for end user. Whereas Blackboard took too many clicks to do certain things, Canvas is meant to glide along and get things done in the smallest number of steps possible. Canvas is also more reliable in the way the service handles user data, and there have been few complaints of data going missing that weren’t quickly resolved. Canvas will come integrated with Powerschool and include certain functionalities that will integrate it with Youtube, Facebook and Twitter.

The Department of Public instruction will provide the full suite of Homebase tools (which includes Canvas) to Wake County for just a $1 per student next year, according to the News and Observer. While some may be annoyed by yet another change, it seems unlikely that Wake County will regret this decision. Whatever the specifics of Canvas vs. Blackboard, Canvas at the least bills itself as a tool for the future instead of a poorly-designed relic of the past.

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