After nine years of helping faculty learn how to use Blackboard, our college is moving to Canvas.
I could say lots of funny things about this move. Like the several faculty who noted that they felt as if they were just figuring out how to use Blackboard and now they are being forced to move to another platform. I could tell you about the faculty who said that they were pissed for having to recreate courses that took them years to create. Of course, there are also those who had long railed against the Blackboard Borg like engine and are happy as larks to finally be free of the beast.
I could even comment on the few who said that if we move from Blackboard, they are going to quit teaching online.
That one is not so funny.
For me, as an instructional designer, it gives me some different spaces to craft courses and some features that will be new to instructors here at this college.
Simple things really. Like we will have the ability to chat in real time with our students and students can, like we have been able to do in Facebook for years, see who else in our class is online. We never purchased the Wimba tools in our version of Blackboard here at this college. We had to use Facebook groups to see who might be available to help us. As you can imagine, few faculty took that road.
Simple things like being able to be notified via SMS that a paper has been graded or someone has responded to one of our discussion posts. We never had those tools in Blackboard either. To be fair, they have been available, we just never purchased them.
Having a mobile app that works well will also be a step up for us. Having the ability to click a button and create a short video without having to have a YouTube account will also be new to us.
Lots of little new improvements. Great.
But I am also saddened as Canvas is a little closer to an institutional dress code than I would like.
Of course the notion of management and learning is nothing new. We have organized course in specific rooms for years. And certainly there is some wisdom in assisting the institution and the students with some of the organization. Yep. Enrollments and grades and other information that needs to be secured can all go in safe and secure system. We have things that do just that. And as we often sadly note, we have crafted the online learning management to look just like the face to face management of a common classroom.
Much of what is in any online course is just stuff to be delivered to a student. Sadly anyway, that is often the case. The LMS is a vehicle to get stuff to students. I understand. They need to have stuff delivered to them. The internet on the whole is good at delivering stuff to people and it can do it well in many ways. With or without the LMS.
Some faculty roam around the internet and make something beautiful for students. At least as beautiful as the stuff that can go into the rectangle can get. And beautiful is a part of learning. At the very least there is an aesthetic that is part of ALL experience, be it audio, visual, or tactile. Why not provide our students with at least some sense of a pleasant aesthetic experience when we are just delivering stuff to them?
Even the threaded discussion forum can look reasonably nice. This one using a tool called Discourse.
I suppose for my part here at the college I am getting better at the use of Canvas and I see some great opportunities. And really that is all I have ever looked for. Great Opportunities.
I was not looking for the EASY way to get students into the “work.” I never really thought that it was best to make it easy. I understand the argument of making content readily available to students, but having a single URL that has the course information is far easier than logging into some SAS system and then clicking on the Blackboard icon and then finding the right class and clicking on it. One click versus three or four. The internet is just a bunch of links and addresses.
I do think as we ponder our use and abuse of the LMS in academic settings we should wonder about things like aesthetic, ownership, literacy, visual demonstration of competency, and what it looks like to demonstrate life-long learning. The computer and internet, for all the sad ways we have used them and the changes they have made to society, are not going away. We need to use them wisely.
I am genuinely excited by the possibility of improvement for the college and the students learning experiences as we move to Canvas. But if we only keep our eyes focused on the LMS and ignore the rest of the internet we will continue down a path leading to minimal digital literacies for faculty and students, and a path that ultimately confuses the beauty of discovery and possibility with the simple delivery of content and ease of access to it.
And you know how I feel about “easy.”