The Learning Management System (LMS) committee published a Request for Proposal (RFP) and received three responses from vendors, one of which could replace the current LMS, Blackboard Learn.

The three vendors include Blackboard, Desire2Learn and Canvas. All vendors were asked to provide a 20-minute video that displayed the key features of each program from a student and faculty perspective. 

James Raber, executive director for Information Services Educational Technology and Service Management and co-chair of the LMS search committee, said the search is happening for two reasons. 

“There’s really two major driving factors,” he said. “One is because … we’ve reached our life of our existing contract, so from state regulations we’re obligated to make sure we’re getting the best price for the university. And the other aspect of it is we’ve had our current platform for quite some time … So that’s been one platform that’s kind of evolved over time and needs have changed, the platforms have changed, so it’s just time to kind of take a step back and understand what the market has and make sure that whatever we have is the right solution for Kent.”  

The committee started with a survey to provide feedback about the current LMS and what the expectations were for a new LMS. Raber said the survey was completed by 1,800 people, which was made up of 60 percent students, 32 percent faculty and eight percent staff and administration. 

Valerie Kelly, associate vice president for the Office of Continuing and Distance Education and co-chair of the LMS search committee, said the most challenging aspect of the search is making sure the committee is aligning their actions with the data that is being presented. 

The committee is using a sandbox approach, which means everyone in the committee has their own account access for each product and has the ability to test each product. 

“The first part of it will just be the committee members going in and we actually have to learn the systems — all three systems — and we’ll have an impression of how easy or hard this was even to just get started,” Kelly said. “From there we’ll actually talk about developing a timeline for specific things.”

Kelly said the committee plans to have focus groups of faculty and students to test out the products and understand their use, effectiveness and challenges. 

Blackboard Ultra, Desire2Learn Brightspace and Canvas Instructure are the three programs involved in the LMS search. Raber said one of the biggest features of all three are the importance of mobility. 

“All of them have recognized the importance of mobility,” Raber said. “They have different approaches to it. But they’ve all recognized that there’s the way students engage with their coursework isn’t necessarily a laptop or desktop anymore.”

Raber also said each vendor recognizes the need for accessibility, such as being ADA compliant and using a different text or color scheme. Kelly said another key feature is a cleaner interface. However, to Raber, the biggest feature he is concerned about is migration path. 

“Regardless of what vendor wins out, there’s always going to be this process of moving from current system to next system…” Raber said. “And actually, the moving and shuffling of the data isn’t what concerns me. What concerns me more is the learning curve and making sure that people feel supported and have proper training.”

Kelly stressed the importance of making the transition as least disruptive as possible. 

“How do you do this in the best possible, least disruptive and most positive way?” Kelly said. “Is this an opportunity for people to have a chance to update things that they’ve always wanted to update and get more community around this.”

The LMS search committee aims to make an award by spring 2020. Kelly and Raber estimate the new LMS will take 1218 months to be fully implemented. So far, Kelly and Raber said it is too early to tell how much the new LMS will cost, but both emphasized the importance of having the right features before worrying about the cost. 

“As far as the committee’s concerned, as far as all the data collection and feedback we’re getting from everybody, it isn’t about cost; it actually is about which product do you like, which do you think works for you, and then we go to the financial,” Kelly said. 

Some of the concerns to Kelly about Blackboard Learn, the current LMS, include an old architecture, too many features that don’t fit the current architecture and the fact that newer products are more modern.

The committee is also looking at Tech Help ticket slips to understand what sort of issues users are having with Blackboard. With the sandbox, the committee will have a better technical understanding of what each product will look like. 

Students have had many different and interesting experiences with Blackboard Learn. Abbie Kuhn, a third-year accounting student, said she likes Blackboard and its features.

“The Blackboard shutdowns have been very inconvenient, obviously, because I can’t access my courses,” Kuhn said. “But other than that, I actually like Blackboard. It’s very useful and helpful for me with my classes.”

Kuhn said for the new LMS, she wants her classes to stay organized and not have previous classes show up, as well as have a better mobile app.

However, Rachel Piazza, a third-year nursing major, said she wishes Blackboard was more organized and easy to follow and hopes the new LMS is more organized. 

“(The biggest challenge is) finding material,” Piazza said. “It just depends on the professor and how they organize it. But sometimes it’s been really difficult to find assignments I need to print documents.”

Jennifer McCullough, assistant professor in the School of Communication Studies, said her biggest challenge with Blackboard is providing feedback to students and grading assignments. 

“I think it’s tricky from the instructor side to do exactly what you want to do to edit a paper,” McCullough said. “And I also don’t think it’s intuitive for students to know how to see that, and that’s problematic because if you’re taking the time to do it, and then students can’t find it, it’s too many clicks to get to what you actually want to get to.” 

In a new LMS, McCullough wants better grading functions, as well as an interface that is easier to use.  

“But whatever LMS we end up with, I hope it is a more user-friendly environment, in terms of getting feedback to students and students also being able to actually view that feedback to be able to improve because that’s really the biggest thing that I use it for that I’m frustrated by at this point in time,” McCullough said. 

Kelly and Raber said students and faculty can see latest updates on the search on the LMS committee web page and highly encouraged students and faculty to give feedback throughout the process.

“This is one of those things that we can’t, nor should we be making this decision in a vacuum,” Raber said. 

For more information or feedback on the LMS search, go to https://www.kent.edu/lmssearch.

Contact Molly Heideman at mheidema@kent.edu.

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