Photo: Farnia Fekri

Blackboard replacement gets piloted

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By Laura Woodward

Instructors and students are acting as guinea pigs for the potential new Blackboard, Ryerson’s Learning Management System (LMS), while negotiation between the school and the vendor are in the works.

The potential new LMS, Desire 2Learn (D2L), is currently getting tested by 27 courses.

Last January, a Request for Proposal was posted for a new LMS.

Based on student and faculty feedback, the committee created a short list for a new LMS for better usability – Blackboard was not on the list.

It came down to two products, but D2L came out on top, based on its higher rating for its features.

“We took everyone’s input and said, ‘Ok, instead of just doing the usual [yearly Blackboard upgrade] let’s go out to a Request For Proposal (RFP), let’s see what else is out there and may the best LMS win,'” said Brian Lesser, director of Ryerson’s Computing and Communications Services.

During this pilot period, the advisory committee has completed drafting the formal recommendation of D2L that will go to administration.

Part of the agreement will discuss costs between Ryerson and D2L.

Currently, the licensing of Blackboard costs $226,000. But there are additional costs with running Blackboard on Ryerson servers.

“When you add everything up, the yearly cost – depending on the year – can exceed $400,000,” Lesser said.

“We have the option with D2L to host the system internally at Ryerson, on Ryerson servers or to allow D2L to host the system themselves.

There are also modules we could decide to purchase or not from D2L. So it’s too early for me to speculate on what D2L might cost. However, I don’t expect massive savings from what we are currently spending on Blackboard,” Lesser said.

Professor Jai Virdi-Dhesi is testing out D2L for her ethics and disability course that is strictly online – requiring higher activity on an  LMS.

Virdi-Dhesi says D2L is more visually appealing in comparison to Blackboard. As a professor, she finds features like tracking attendance, receiving notifactions for subscribed discussions and folders clearly highlighted on the main page to be useful.

But other profs find that after using Blackboard for more than 10 years, switching to a new LMS is a difficult transition – resulting in students struggling with its functionality too.

Bryan Chavez and Zak Krywetzky, second-year accounting and finance students, are testing D2L for their macroeconomics class.

“My favourite feature is that you’re given the option to receive text messages when there is ever an update in your course,” Chavez said.

While Krywetzky found the switch to Blackboard confusing at first, he said D2L’s features like the Dropbox function and grades viewable in per cent format are useful.

“If the recommendation is accepted and we come to a satisfactory agreement (contract) D2L will replace Blackboard in the Fall 2015 term,” said Lesser.

With files from Julia Knope

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