Leaders from UAB community choose new learning management system in unanimous vote


Canvas logoAfter a five-phase, four-month process, the UAB Online Academic Advisory Council voted unanimously Nov. 12 to recommend the adoption of Canvas by Instructure as the enterprisewide learning management system (LMS) for UAB. A recommendation letter detailing the process was drafted and sent to Provost Linda Lucas, Ph.D., who gave her approval Friday.

The transition to Canvas will occur from Jan. 1 to July 31, and as of Sept. 30 Blackboard Learn will no longer be available. Because the change will affect students and faculty directly, the advisory council followed a comprehensive strategy to enable every member of the UAB community to have a voice in this critically important decision.

“The UAB Online Academic Advisory Council and its Enabling Technologies Committee played a major role in coordinating the efforts to involve faculty, staff and students in the system-selection process,” said Jacqueline Moss, Ph.D., professor and chair in the School of Nursing and chair of the advisory council. “Our adoption of Canvas by Instructure as an enterprise learning management system will provide students and faculty with an intuitive and user-friendly distance-education platform to support teaching and learning. The depth of experience and expertise of the advisory council members will provide the leadership needed to advance other online initiatives at UAB now and in the future.”

Not only will the Canvas system better connect faculty and students, but it also comes with “white glove” service, which means assistance will be provided during the transition process. With the new system, faculty will continue to be able to give course updates, supplement class materials, track student progress and report grades. Students will be able to submit assignments and receive automatic alerts from their tablet and smartphone to get the most out of their classes. A list of frequently asked questions about the transition is available online.

In order to make a unanimous recommendation, the council spent four months testing and evaluating several learning management systems with the input of students and faculty. A summary of the five phases is here:

Phase 1: July 15-Aug. 5

The UAB eReporter announced the beginning of the LMS evaluation process July 15. The first step was a needs-assessment survey, which was distributed to all faculty who taught an online class during the past two semesters at UAB. The survey also was distributed to members of UAB’s Instructional Design Consortium, and they were asked to encourage their school’s faculty to complete it. All stakeholders were encouraged to participate in the survey through an article published in the eReporter July 25. Ultimately, 146 people completed the survey (75 percent faculty, 14 percent students and 11 percent staff).

Phase 2: Sept. 3-5

Vendor webinars were provided by all four LMS candidate vendors for the UAB campus community: Blackboard Learn, Canvas, Desire2Learn and Pearson Learning System. Links to each webinar were provided on the UAB Online website and publicized through the UAB eReporter. Three of the four vendor presentations were archived for future review; Blackboard Learn did not archive its presentation.

Phase 3: Sept. 11-Oct. 8

A usability study was conducted on the four LMS candidate systems, which provided a vehicle for front-end users to participate in the evaluation and adoption of the enterprisewide LMS. Participation in this study was widely encouraged through the UAB eReporter, UAB Center for Teaching and Learning and UAB Online websites and numerous email blasts to faculty. A total 189 faculty, staff and students participated in the study, and 81 individuals completed the associated survey instrument. The faculty ranked the usability of Canvas and Blackboard Learn equally, which was remarkable given that Canvas was a totally new LMS system and Blackboard Learn is in use on the UAB campus. The two remaining vendors, Desire2Learn and Pearson Learning Studio, were ranked very low in the study. 

On Oct. 8, the council’s Enabling Technologies Committee narrowed the candidate pool to two vendors: Blackboard Learn and Canvas.

Phase 4: Oct. 21-31

The Office of Instructional Technology conducted an analysis of the vendors’ integration capability with existing UAB systems/architecture. Technical representatives for Canvas met with UAB IT; Blackboard Learn is currently integrated with all UAB systems. Requests for proposals were sent to both vendors and formal proposals were received. 

Campus presentations were made by both vendors Oct. 29-31, with multiple sessions held to accommodate as many stakeholder participants as possible. Participation in these face-to-face meetings was widely encouraged through the UAB eReporter on Oct. 27 and numerous email blasts to faculty on a school-by-school basis. The council conducted an additional interview session with each vendor to conduct deeper due diligence on each vendor’s technical support capabilities and future business plans for growth and scalability.

Phase 5: Nov. 1-12

Financial proposals were received from both Blackboard Learn and Canvas. Both proposals included vendor-provided, 24/7/365 technical support services, and the Canvas proposal included “white glove” conversion services for up to 4,000 courses. Faculty will be able to opt in or out of these support services for their courses.

After an initial net implementation cost of approximately $158,000 for Canvas (by comparison, Blackboard Learn has implementation costs of $50,200 for updating the existing system), the annual cost associated with Canvas provides a net $157,620 savings when compared to Blackboard Learn. That means the initial investment with Canvas will be recouped in the first year of implementation. A net annual savings of more than $150,000 will follow each year thereafter.

On Nov. 12, the UAB Online Academic Advisory Council met to review all data obtained from the LMS evaluation process and make a formal recommendation to the provost. At that meeting the council voted unanimously to recommend the adoption of Canvas as UAB’s enterprisewide LMS. Notably, representatives from every academic unit except one were present and voted at the council meeting. The minutes of that meeting will be posted on the UAB Online website as soon as they are available.