Suffolk to switch from Blackboard to Canvas

Suffolk University is retiring its old learning management system (LMS), Blackboard, and replacing it with Canvas by Infrastructure, University Provost Julie Sandell announced in an email on Feb. 23. 

Canvas is expected to be fully accessible across the university on July 1, 2023.

After assessments of new LMS platforms began in Spring 2020 and ran for 18 months, Suffolk has settled on Canvas due to the program’s “fresh look [and] engaging and easy-to-use tools,” said Sandell in the email. 

The university-wide review committee included students, faculty and staff from Suffolk’s libraries, career center, ITS and more.

Canvas is “an appealing and organized way to structure courses, [has] excellent mobile apps with student and faculty interfaces, and is seen as the leader among learning management systems,” according to the email. 

Blackboard Learn is officially being phased out of universities across the country, and Sandell cited this change as “a complicated undertaking but essential.” 

According to Suffolk spokesman Greg Gatlin, the university invited multiple platform vendors for presentations with constituencies of faculty and staff, technologists and students. Gatlin said Blackboard support from the company will become limited and no new features will be added as the company switches over to Blackboard Ultra, a new platform. As a result, Suffolk has decided to make the switch to Canvas.

Canvas is used by neighboring universities such as Emerson College, Boston College and Harvard University. Boston University and the University of Massachusetts, Boston still use Blackboard. 

As for students at Suffolk, many are unsure of how they feel about the change. 

“I don’t know what Canvas is, but I’m nervous to try it,” sophomore Kelly Weiner said. “Blackboard isn’t the prettiest or the best platform, but I’ve been using it for two years and I’m not a big fan of change.” 

Senior Sara Nelson said she is happy she won’t be here for the transition.

“I can’t imagine learning a whole new system as a senior just before graduation,” Nelson said. “It would cause me so much anxiety to have to be in my last year [of school] and struggle with a new platform.”

Suffolk sophomore Janna Turnquest is excited for a change in the LMS being used.

“I think it’ll be a good change,” said Turnquest. “I’ve found Blackboard to be super slow, and it doesn’t have enough features to make it useful in the classroom.” 

However, Turnquest is nervous that professors won’t take the time to learn how to use the new learning management system before classes start up in the fall.

“Half of my professors haven’t taken the time to update Blackboard because they don’t want to take the time to figure out how to use it,” Turnquest said. “I just hope the school does some intense training with how to use Canvas, so that all of my professors use it for assignments and updating grades.”

Gatlin said there has been a large number of instructors who have already volunteered to pilot Canvas.

“A small pilot program will be offered in Fall 2022 followed by a larger pilot program in Spring 2023,” Sandell said in the email. 

Sandell announced the transition would start this upcoming summer, with training for professors beginning as soon as May. 

Despite the university’s contract with Blackboard Learn expiring on June 30, 2023, the school needs a year to build the infrastructure of the new LMS and pilot the system, according to Gatlin. This also includes supporting Blackboard Learn until the end of the contract.

Phase one of the pilot program will begin in Fall 2022, followed by phase two in Spring 2023. By summer 2023 Canvas “GoLive Summer Courses” will be available and “GoLive Fall Courses” will begin in Fall 2023.

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Follow Emily on Twitter @emilyhbeatty.