University to conduct review of Blackboard Learn


Photo Illustration by Noah Thornburgh

Blackboard, Microsoft Teams and Office365 tools are being used for today’s current online classes.

By Kierra Frazier

DeKALB – The university could be splitting ways with its current learning management system, Blackboard Learn, as a task force has been established to conduct an evaluation on the system with input from faculty and students.

The task force, established last fall, will review input from faculty and students on their current satisfaction with Blackboard Learn, and what features they wish to see in a learning management system moving forward, according to the NIU Learning Management Systems Review website

Since the university is in its final year of a contract with Blackboard Learn, the university decided to conduct a formal evaluation of other learning management systems.

The usage profile of Blackboard Learn at NIU exceeds the average Blackboard’s normal customer profile, said Matt Parks, Chief Information Officer of the Division of Information Technology, at a Wednesday Faculty Senate meeting.

“We’ve been with one provider for somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 years,” Parks said. “It’s time to go out and look at the market and see what others are doing in that space and bring a cross-section of the NIU community together to conduct a review.” 

The university has used Blackboard since 1999, and faculty usage and overall satisfaction with the system remains high, according to the LMS review website. 

The task force is working with other vendors to schedule demonstrations to the campus, according to the LMS review website. Vendors to give presentations are Blackboard Learn, Canvas and Brightspace.

“In May or June, we’ll wrap up our findings, make recommendations and move forward with a communication plan to campus that will either reiterate our staying on with Blackboard, if that’s the choice of the committee, or pursuing an alternative path,” Parks said. 

Parks said the university is working to approve a one-year extension on the current Blackboard contract to allow for enough runway if another system is chosen.

The demonstrations of the different systems will be held virtually and will be recorded so everyone has a chance to view them, said Jason Rhode, Executive Director at the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning, at the Faculty Senate meeting.

“We really want as wide a swath of input from the campus community as possible, so we want to hear from students,” Rhode said. 

Fall 2020 survey on teaching with technology

A survey including faculty, teaching staff and graduate teaching assistants conducted during the fall while teaching with technology during the pandemic was also shared at Wednesday’s Faculty Senate meeting. 

A total of 2,420 individuals were invited to participate in the survey and 359 responded, according to survey data

Findings of the survey showed that 71.6% of respondents felt they were able to engage with students through technology for the semester, whereas 28% of respondents didn’t.

The survey also found that of the 359 respondents, 217 used Blackboard Collaborate for synchronous classes, 151 used Zoom, 76 used Microsoft Teams, nine used Adobe Connect and 18 used none. 

“As we got through the fall, we really wanted to just get a pulse of where our faculty, instructors and really anyone that was teaching a course in the fall on where they were at, and in particular, trying to get a sense of their support needs,” Rhode said.