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The Study Hall

Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s Accelerated Transition from Blackboard to Canvas


In Fall of 2015, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) began the process of evaluating the need for a new Learning Management System with the intent to pilot and launch a new (or updated) system in May 2016. Our accelerated timeline loomed over our heads, but thanks to the combined efforts of staff, faculty, and students, we succeed in transitioning our community to the new platform! Here we are in 2018, happily running Canvas and no worse for the wear. We hardly ever say the word “Blackboard” around here.

WPI’s foray into the world of Learning Management Systems started as one of the original customers of Blackboard back in 1999. This worked for a time, and we had never found a compelling reason to explore other options in earnest. In 2015, everything changed.  The changing education landscape demanded a new system that could support the innovation happening at WPI. We needed a scalable, modern, reliable, cloud-based, mobile-friendly system. The search commenced.

Our Academic Technology Center (ATC) began researching 12 LMS platforms in October of 2015. We sent RFIs to six of these that met institutional needs determined by a faculty survey of “must haves, needs, and wants” for an “ideal” LMS. After receiving the RFIs and getting virtual demos, the ATC narrowed the search down to four viable options that would work with our existing infrastructure and business processes. A “task force” of about 25 students, faculty, and staff formed to evaluate these vendors, who presented product demos and provided extended access to a sandbox. Braving the snowy New England weather, the task force and the vendors convened on our campus during the cold months of January and February 2016.  

Task force members filled out short surveys about the features and usability of each platform following each demo. We reconvened at the tail end of February 2016 to discuss survey feedback. A clear winner emerged--Canvas was favored by the vast majority of the group. The ATC announced the decision in March 2016, fully stocked and scheduled with Canvas promotions and printouts, including a number of trainings and test-drives aimed at curious faculty, staff, and students. 

The changing education landscape demanded a new system that could support the innovation happening at WPI.  We needed a scalable, modern, reliable, cloud-based, mobile-friendly system.

Thanks to Instructure’s enthusiastic deployment team and the efforts of the Information Technology team here at WPI, we were able to get Canvas up and running for the start of our Summer term in May 2016.  Blackboard and Canvas were offered simultaneously for one year, to ease transition schedules for busy instructors. The campus prepared to be 100% Canvas for the start of the Fall term in August 2017. From March 2016 to the present, the ATC has trained over 300 faculty on Canvas, and have maintained the same--if not gained a few--faculty utilizing our new learning management system.

WPI transition to the Canvas open source LMS

We’ve gotten plenty of positive feedback from the community on our Canvas rollout. One faculty member said, “I would like to commend the entire ATC staff for the roll-out of Canvas[...] I have been through several of these, and this was by far the best: terrific information, updates, training, coaching, and help[…] And plenty of time and notice was provided---could not have been done better.”

Speaking to the value of the platform to students, the consensus from a recent student survey when we asked, “What advice would you give faculty when using Canvas?” was to “Just use it!”  

Canvas continues to provide the WPI community with improved stability, functionality, and flexibility. With its modern, intuitive interface, streamlined grading, and student collaboration features, Canvas really is an LMS that is both user-friendly, and innovative.


Keep learning,

Lindsey Van Gieson
LMS Administrator, Worcester Polytechnic Institute