Blackboard benched

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By Badri Murali

After 11 years, Ryerson students and staff may be working with anew online student portal.

Ryerson’s Computing and Communications Services (CCS), the department that handles technology and computer support, is reviewing applications to replace Blackboard.They have received applications from various companies over the past few months for a new online learning portal.

CCS is working with the Faculty of Communication and Design, the learning and teaching office, digital education strategies at the Chang School and the library to decide which ideas will work best for Ryerson. After looking at each proposal, they will be testing potential programs.

Brian Lesser, director of CCS, is one of 13 members on the AdvisoryCommittee on Academic Computing (ACAC) that will decide which applicants will make it to Ryerson’s shortlist. Lesser said that students and staff have told him they want more tools and a better layout forBlackboard.

“Students want things like blogs and file storage to interact with their course material,” Lesser said.“Since we began with Google,some of this is now possible.”

Ryerson adopted its agreement with Google Apps for Education in September 2012. This allows students and staff to use apps like Gmail, Google Calendar andGoogle Drive, which stores files online. Lesser said he received feedback from students saying thatGoogle Apps has helped with some of their problems, but they would like to see more.

In a 2013 survey conducted byCCS, many staff said that they want to be able to immediately contact students with marks and other updates and were sometimes facing difficulty on Blackboard to do so. Staff also said that they want to be able to mark up documents submitted by students, but often run into problems making comments on them.

The applications from external groups were due on Feb. 28. Once the CCS and ACAC create a shortlist, they will be presented to the Ryerson community for feedback.The feedback will then be collected through town hall sessions and individual meetings with CCS to let staff and students test the applications in real time. Once this has been done and after ACAC processes feedback, only then will CCS proceed to replace the system.

“We should have the trial process beginning in May to receive feedback from users,” Lesser said.“It would be great to get a new system working for fall 2014.”

There is a consultation blog available at detailing what ACAC and CCS are doing throughout this process.

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