“[T]he LMS does a very poor job at providing a lot of the learning technologies desired by faculty and students. There is no way that a monolithic LMS can keep up with the market – it cannot match functionality of open internet tools especially without adding feature bloat.”
– Phil Hill, “LMS and Open: The false binary is based on past, not future markets,” e-Literate, September 15, 2014.
A good friend of mine who (normally) works at our sister school about three hours up I-25 from Pueblo, Colorado State University in Fort Collins, forwarded me the changeover announcement for their new learning management system. I’m about to fisk it. I don’t usually write about my own university on this blog, but, of course, I don’t work in Fort Collins. However, if anybody up in our system office reads this and thinks it’s a little too close for comfort, let me assure them that this sort of thing is happening just about everywhere. I’m using this particular e-mail only as a means to get at several broader points that you can appreciate even if you don’t work in Colorado at all. This announcement was simply the one that appeared in my mailbox first.
Introductory language aside, let’s start with that fisking!:
We’re writing to update you on CSU’s upcoming move from the Blackboard Learn learning management system to Instructure’s Canvas learning management system. This transition will progress over the next three semesters, and will be complete before summer session 2016. At that time, Blackboard Learn will no longer be available to faculty, staff, and students at CSU and Canvas will become the only fully supported learning management system available at CSU.”
Three semesters? This must be a big deal then! I wonder if the faculty were consulted about this decision beforehand. Apparently not:
“The University’s decision to move to Canvas is a result of our involvement as a founding member of Unizin (http://unizin.org), a consortium of leading universities that includes CSU, the University of Florida, the University of Indiana, and the University of Michigan. Unizin, which will soon be joined by a half dozen other institutions of comparable stature, is intended to increase the influence of higher education institutions in the development of a new educational ecosystem.”
Notice the language here: “The University’s decision to move to Canvas…,” not the faculty’s. “[I]ncrease the influence of higher education institutions,” not faculty. Apparently they’re more concerned about muscling out Unizin’s potential competitors than they are in opening up the decision-making process to their own employees.
In fact, it seems as if the decision to go with Unizin wasn’t really CSU’s decision at all. As my buddy Phil Hill has reported, faculty input in joining this consortium was minimal. Yet all the schools got together and settled on Canvas before Unizin was even public, despite the fact that very few of the founding members of Unizin used Canvas before this announcement. If I worked in Fort Collins I might develop the academic equivalent of those right-wing tendencies to believe that the United Nations is secretly plotting to establish world government. CSU is voluntarily giving up its sovereignty.
Yet you wouldn’t know that by reading this e-mail. Here’s the last sentence of that above paragraph:
“In brief, we want higher education faculty and staff to have a larger voice in the technology that our students use to learn.”
They’re not exactly off to a flying start on that front, are they? More importantly, look again at the Phil Hill quote I topped this post with again. Faculty everywhere have already performed the electronic equivalent of voting with their feet. If they bother to use their LMS at all, they barely use the bells and whistles that these companies offer them – perhaps because the wider Internet offers more options that they can actually control themselves or perhaps because they don’t need those bells and whistles to do their jobs well.
Yet the LMS bandwagon marches on. Back to that e-mail:
The founding members of Unizin have selected Canvas as our common learning management system. We’ve negotiated a highly favorable pricing agreement with Instructure, which will reduce our overall costs. Also, Canvas is a system that has significant advantages in features and ease of use over all other learning management systems, Blackboard included.
What’s missing from those Canvas advantages? Educational value, of course. Yes, I know that the folks who made this decision undoubtedly believe that CSU can offer better classes through Canvas rather than Blackboard, but shouldn’t faculty be the ones to play the most important role in making that decision – particularly if you want them to buy into this decision by using that new system once it’s in place?
Instead, those technologically-sophisticated faculty are left with more work to do:
“That said, this change requires instructors and students to learn the new system. We know this will take time, effort, and patience. And we know that it will take a great deal of support from the larger campus community. With that in mind, our colleagues at ACNS, TILT, and OnlinePlus have collaborated to develop a Canvas website (http://info.canvas.colostate.edu) that hosts a rich set of resources to smooth the transition to Canvas. You’ll find a workshop schedule replete with training sessions beginning October 15, online guides and videos, and information about one-on-one work sessions and a Canvas Information Center in Morgan Library. You’ll also find, over the coming months, lists of short courses, PDI sessions, and summer workshop sessions as well as a growing collection of videos, tutorials, and web guides.”
IHE reported the other day that the US LMS market is saturated. As a result, you can expect the same kinds of classes coming to your college as providers drop prices to entice cash-strapped administrations into changing systems for budgetary reasons rather than educational ones.
But there is another option. Be your own LMS. Learn and use those open Internet tools that react to the much-vaunted market faster and more effectively than any giant corporate entity that only contracts with administrations rather than individual faculty members ever can. It’s faster. You’re guaranteed that the tools you pick will gibe with your teaching style (because you’ll pick them) and – here’s the kicker – it’s almost certainly cheaper for your employer:
“Please know that we are making every effort to ease the transition from Blackboard to Canvas. In addition to our pilot studies this semester and next, this includes the development of software tools to import existing course content from Blackboard to Canvas. Finally, it involves a significant allocation of staff resources to help instructors make the move to Canvas.
I gotta crazy notion: How about reallocating those resources towards faculty? Think how many adjuncts could get an exceptional work environment with all that money, Tony.