A Blank Canvas: Cornell Classes Transition from Blackboard

*Editor's note: This article originally appeared in The Cornell Daily Sun, the student-operated news publication of Cornell University. It is republished with permission.

Cornell seal

As students dutifully logged into their Blackboard accounts this week, a new message popped up: “Cornell is now transitioning from Blackboard to Canvas!”

The University intends to integrate the new system over time to improve student learning and faculty user experience. Instructors had the option to opt into Canvas’ platform this spring, but the full transition will be complete by spring 2020. The switch is the product of an evaluation process that began in late 2016.

For the upcoming fall semester, the University plans to have half of all courses accessible on Canvas. By next spring, all courses using a learning management system must switch to Canvas.

Blackboard, which has roots in a program co-founded by Daniel Cane ’98 during his sophomore year, served as Cornell’s primary learning management system for years, even as other universities began to move away from the platform as early as 2008.

The Center for Teaching Innovation began recruiting faculty to pilot new systems, and review systems like Blackboard Ultra, Canvas and Brightspace, other platforms for interactive education, in April 2017.

The purpose of the switch is “to improve the student learning experience,” according to the CTI website. Canvas will share many of Blackboard’s special integrated features, including TurnItIn, iClicker and Panopto. Students reportedly enjoyed the new platform in a pilot program, and it was preferred by pilot faculty over blackboard, according to the site.

As a result of the staggered roll-out, however, some students may be forced to use both platforms simultaneously until next spring. This fall, larger courses and freshman-oriented courses will likely be on Canvas, according to the site.

In the past, the University has also used another learning management system called CourseInfo, which later merged into Blackboard. Cane developed it with the help of 11 Cornell undergraduates and one alumnus, according to a University press release from 1997.

“I asked Dan to help me to create some parts of the page that would facilitate communication with the students, because I teach a large class. I wanted a way to use the Website to enhance both education and communication,” said Prof. Cindy van Es, applied economics and management.

The CourseInfo software they created was used by professors similarly to the way Blackboard is used today: To post coursework, record grades and make announcements.

“While I have continued to use it in all my courses, and I am proud of the solid foundation we built for this type of tool, I know that other products could have moved the concept to the next level,” van Es previously told The Sun.

Many of Cornell’s peer institutions currently use Canvas, including Brown University, Columbia University, Dartmouth University, Stanford University and Yale University.

The CTI will hold “drop-in” sessions this week for faculty to ask technical questions. Session times are posted on the teaching website, and face-to-face sessions are “coming soon.”