Computer committee airs concerns about transition to Canvas


The Senate Computing and Information Technology committee unanimously voted to endorse a report submitted by the Learning Management System committee, which suggests a pivot from Blackboard to Canvas.

At the Feb. 14 meeting, Dwight Helfrich, director of enterprise initiatives, provided committee members with more information on the proposed transition from Blackboard to Canvas.

He assured committee members that Canvas was a product created with “the user experience as the key to it” from its inception in 2009.

“I think the biggest bang we’re going to get with something like Canvas is it’s going to be much easier to use,” Helfrich said. “One of the other things with Canvas is that it was created with integration in mind, so there’s really open integration.”

However, some committee members were concerned with the migration process from Blackboard, how much faculty input was involved and how faculty would learn the new system.

In a memo sent to Provost Ann Cudd and outgoing Chief Information Officer Jinx Walton, who also attended the meeting, committee chair Michael Spring outlined some of his specific concerns.

“While we have no doubt that the LMS Committee has done their due diligence, the chair was, and is, concerned that there is no evidence of an assessment of how long it would take faculty to install new courses in Canvas, or most importantly to transition existing courses coming from the Blackboard system,” Spring wrote.

Helfrich said there will be an automatic migration process from Blackboard to Canvas and “full support” available to faculty. Faculty also will have roughly a 60-day period to learn Canvas before it goes live.

Either way, he said, there will be a disruption as Blackboard also has plans to change soon.

"I can’t confidently say (the migration process is) all going to be perfect,” Helfrich said. “We’re not there. I can say that we’re comfortable that it will be an easier transition than the transition to something that’s completely unknown with Blackboard because we can’t test that. There’s nothing really to test yet."

He later told members that 11 focus groups and 36 independent faculty brought requirements to Helfrich and his team. There was also an online survey about Canvas, sent to faculty and staff through Read Green, with 120 responses.

This input was combined and sent to the vendors. And as for the price, Walton said costs should be “similar” to Blackboard’s, however, negotiations are still underway.

Canvas, Helfrich said, also has 50 percent of the market share in the top 150 U.S. universities.

“There’s a lot of positive things about Canvas that will help the University,” Helfrich said.

As for an official timeline for the project, Helfrich said he expects a final decision on the migration to be made sometime in May of this year with the full transition to Canvas finished in May 2020. Cudd has the final say so on the decision.

Also discussed at the meeting were the deployment and publishing of mobile applications, which is being examined by the Innovation Institute and Computing Services and Systems Development. Walton will develop guidelines for this process.

Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at or 412-383-9905.