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RIP Blackboard - AUT ditches aging platform

By Justin Hu

News Reporter

Students and staff can begin farewelling Blackboard, as AUT begins to retire the aging software platform. At a meeting in December, AUT Council, the university’s governing body, signed off on a $15 million programme to begin implementing Canvas as a replacement. “The implementation of Canvas is underway and the appropriate staff teams are being brought together,” said Vice-Chancellor Derek McCormack at a council meeting.

AUT says they expect Canvas to go live for students and staff in the first semester of next year, with the university’s Blackboard license expiring in 2022. The transition comes after the university ran a two-year internal procurement process which found that Canvas has a “qualitative difference in performance, user experience and functionality.”

“This is a crucial system for us throughout all of our teaching in the future,” said McCormack, who also said the new system would be integral to supporting online learning amid the global pandemic. “This will be one of the largest IT projects AUT has undertaken since we became a university 20 years ago,” continued McCormack in a report.

AUT spokesperson Alison Sykora said academics will begin working through a 10-week course development process on the new system to get their courses ready for the transition. “Our learning management system is the largest piece of academic infrastructure that touches almost every staff and student,” Sykora tells us. “Throughout the year, we will keep students up to date on the progress of the project and provide information on how best to use Canvas to enhance their learning experience. Courses will be prioritized in order of their occurrence in 2022.”

The university said that archived class material will not be shifted to Canvas, though students will have the opportunity to download their Blackboard course information, from the last three years, before the system is ‘turned off.’ AUT has also said that a school-wide replacement for the virtual meeting Collaborate functionality in Blackboard is yet to be determined.

The replacement Canvas system is currently in use at the University of Auckland, after it began its transition to the platform over five years ago. A group of students surveyed by Debate said they were glad to see the replacement of Blackboard, which many perceived as laborious to work with.

“It’s good they’re finally doing something about it, but it sure could have come sooner. [...] It’s slow and you have to change how you work on it between every class,” said Anthony — a second-year student studying computer science.

First trialled in 2002 as ‘AUTOnline,’ Blackboard has been with students and staff for 17 years, with the university mandating it for all courses in 2009. Other universities that continue to use Blackboard include the University of Otago and Victoria University in Wellington.

The replacement, Canvas, has experienced significant growth in the universities sector overseas since its launch in 2008 and has been lauded for being open-source, meaning the software’s source code is publicly inspectable.

AUT is expecting to bring on external candidates to help transition students and staff into the new system, as a result of "the specialist nature of the work." The project is being led by the university’s pro-vice-chancellor of learning Gayle Morris.


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