NAU considering new learning management system

Across campus, students, faculty and staff use Blackboard Learn Original Course View (BB Learn) for learning and coursework, professional development and training, staff certifications and other administrative duties, but everything will change by summer 2023.

NAU has used BB Learn as its primary learning management system (LMS) for years. However, the university’s contract with this service expires in summer 2023, leaving administrators to consider a new system. The other options are Canvas, D2L Brightspace and upgrading to BB Learn Ultra. 

The Office of the Provost will oversee this process of change, including John Georgas, vice provost for academic operations and professor at the School of Informatics, Computing and Cyber Systems. Georgas said he will work with ASNAU leadership, while holding discussions with students to assess their reasoning in choosing a new LMS. 

“[All three LMSs] are market-leading systems with sufficiently robust technology and user-support infrastructures,” Georgas said. “[It] will help ensure an institution of our size and complexity is able to serve students effectively.” 

Last July, NAU kicked off the project by creating test conditions for all three LMSs. According to the timeline, the transition process includes developing demos and guided-activity courses. NAU aims to gather selection criteria until January 2022, when those involved will evaluate the LMS candidates. A new system will be chosen in March 2022 and implemented in August 2023.

Georgas said there will be two types of demo sessions: A set of videos and sandbox course shells. The videos, provided by the LMS’ vendors, are available to anyone affiliated with the university, while the sandbox course shells will provide a chance to test software and gain firsthand experience with them. 

“Starting in the spring semester, we will also offer a set of guided activities that will ensure that users have thorough opportunities to assess the features and nonfunctional properties of each LMS and then offer their feedback through a survey,” Georgas said. 

According to PR Newswire, a number of universities use Canvas, including ASU, UArizona, The Ohio State University, Utah State University and Oregon State University.

Junior Jayden Mason used Canvas in high school, and he said the platform is easier for students and faculty alike over BB Learn.

“I think [BB Learn’s] organization is all over the place,” Mason said. “The group function is very convoluted.” 

Further, Mason said the discussion boards in Canvas are easier to use than BB Learn’s. While they accomplish the same goal, he said Canvas’ user interface elements are better. Websites like The Blueprint have compared both systems and found Canvas has organized, orderly user interfaces, and even a feature to comment directly within specific sections of videos. Canvas allows university affiliates to carry or produce whatever content they need, including documents and media. It even offers social learning tools, such as chats, discussions and collaborations, that combine smoothly into lessons. 

BB Learn, however, lacks the innovative features of Canvas and has subpar user experiences, according to The Blueprint. Their interfaces were described as somewhat logical, but not easily understood. Much of what Mason said was supported by The Blueprint publication. 

Either way, NAU is considering a new LMS, because BB Learn’s Original Course View will be discontinued, Georgas said. 

“Given that a transition to Blackboard Learn’s new Ultra platform would demand comparable effort for faculty and students as adopting any other LMS, it is the right time to review our needs and how to best serve student success,” Georgas said. 

During the transiton, faculty will be trained in the new LMS, as stated on the timeline. Students, however, will not be impacted by the change, as they will still use BB Learn’s Original Course View during the transition, Georgas added.

Though the implementation of a new LMS for NAU is a few years away, the demonstration and sandbox courses will be deployed soon. More information can be found on the NAU Academic Affairs website.

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