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The upcoming shift from Blackboard to Canvas will be the culmination of a Penn Libraries courseware update that began last spring.

But as the University prepares to permanently switch to Canvas software on May 30 , faculty members are feeling mixed emotions about the end of Penn’s Blackboard usage.

“Courseware has been something that the University has been monitoring for quite some time,” Director for Planning and Organizational Analysis at Penn Libraries Joseph Zucca explained. “A major reason for the change is that Blackboard was found wanting of certain aspects by faculty and students and new products were emerging that showed a lot of promise.”

Students and faculty in Wharton and the Graduate School of Education were among the first to pilot the new Canvas technology. After this testing period garnered an overall positive response, Penn Libraries put the transition into action.

As of this semester, about 2,450 courses have already begun using Canvas, while about 240 courses still operate with the Blackboard software, Zucca said.

English professor Lucia Martinez, who started using Canvas in July, praised the new software’s streamlined grading format. She also remarked that her classes have made use of Canvas discussion threads, which she considers to be more efficient than the Blackboard equivalent.

However, some of the professors who still teach on Blackboard have cited dissatisfaction with Canvas as the reason behind their hesitancy to make the switch.

History professor Margo Todd, who still uses Blackboard in her courses, said she feels the change to Canvas is “pointless [and] time-consuming” since she was already familiar with Blackboard and didn’t have any problems with its functionality. She added that Canvas is an “inferior product” compared with Blackboard, as she has found certain tasks, such as creating class subgroups and sending out emails to subgroups, to be more difficult to complete in the Canvas format.

Physics professor Eugene Mele, who is using Canvas for the first time this semester in his Physics 518 class, also noted that he preferred Blackboard’s email function to the one that exists in Canvas.

“I had learned Blackboard pretty well, so the learning curve with Canvas has been a bit frustrating,” Mele said. “I mainly used Blackboard as a grade server for students and I have found the grading system to be a lot less transparent in Canvas.”

Mele pointed out that he primarily uses his own website that he created separately from Penn courseware and has used in the past, but predicts that his experiences with Canvas will improve as he gains familiarity with it in the future.

“People use technology in different ways ... in terms of courseware, some can get by with very marginal use but others need more to be satisfied, and that’s fine,” Zucca said. He and Kimberly Eke, Penn Libraries’ new Director of Teaching, Research and Learning services, both emphasized that another reason Canvas was selected as the successor to Blackboard was that it provided a wide variety of services and features that could find a range of users.

Other professors who still rely on Blackboard have said they simply have not had the time to learn how to use the Canvas software yet.

Economics professor Luca Bossi, who teaches several hundred students in his macroeconomics class, said that he plans to learn how to use Canvas this summer. He explained that since he teaches so many students, he stayed with Blackboard this semester to avoid the risk of losing time by dealing with software with which he was not familiar.

Similarly, Art History professor David Brownlee stated that he, too, has not had enough time to explore the new Canvas format. Brownlee added that he has found Blackboard to be “satisfactory” and is thus “not yearning to make the change,” but will take the time to learn Canvas in the coming months.

“For most professors, their main preoccupation is teaching, so learning new technology can be an incredible burden,” Zucca said, continuing that because professors are “at different points in the learning curve,” Penn Libraries will continue to offer faculty training courses for Canvas into next semester.

Despite initial difficulties that may arise as the transition takes place, Zucca and Eke pointed out that Canvas has a number of features that were absent in Blackboard, including a built-in peer-reviewing system, a calendar where assignments for all classes can be viewed and greater capacity for uploading media.

Physics professor Jay Kikkawa said that although he transitioned to Canvas last semester, he does not yet have a strong opinion on whether it is better than Blackboard or vice versa. He did point out that, “With Blackboard, you couldn’t add large batches of files at the same time, files had to be added one by one. With Canvas, you can drag large numbers of files onto the site, and that is a plus.”

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