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IT to replace Blackboard with new system

IT looks into possible replacements for Blackboard. (Carolina Skillman / The Sandspur)

Many changes are coming to the way Rollins students will manage their classes. The Office of Information and Technology (IT) will be replacing Blackboard with a new educational technology system, as well as rolling out a new class-scheduling system on FoxLink.

Rollins is testing out two new programs to replace Blackboard. One is an upgrade called Blackboard Ultra, which combines a modern design with a mobile-friendly layout. Developers advertized that it allows students to have quick access to the most critical information for their courses, such as an activity feed that shows upcoming and recently graded assignments.

Developers believe this will save time for both students and faculty, as they will not have to dig through their class sites to access documents and information.

The other potential replacement program is Canvas, a competitor of Blackboard that has a similar design. Canvas developers said that their goal is to make learning more interactive and engaging.

They have a video program for online learning where professors can upload videos to a digital classroom, and students can create conversations or leave comments on that video. Canvas also has a web-conferencing feature, where professors and students can engage one-on-one or in a group.

Various Rollins professors and classes are trying out the two programs in order to compare them. Ultra is a newer product of Blackboard that is still in its piloting stages, whereas Canvas is a long-established competitor.

“We decided this was the right time to compare vendors,” said Troy Thomason, assistant vice president of IT. “We haven’t made a decision on replacing Blackboard yet.”

The announcement of these changes is timely, as students have recently had to deal with connection issues and system failures that caused both Blackboard and FoxLink to be inaccessible. While these issues have since been fixed, Thomason said that the upcoming changes were decided on before these problems occurred.

A number of demos have been set up so students and faculty can see the programs for themselves. On Tuesday, Nov. 6, there will be an open demo for Canvas from 10-11:30 a.m. and from 1:30-3 p.m in Bush Auditorium. Demos for Ultra will take place on Monday, Nov. 12 at those same times in Bush Auditorium.

After the demos, surveys will be sent via email so that students can offer feedback. The final decision will be made by a group of faculty members, and the replacement will be rolled out next fall.

“We want this to be a community decision,” said Thomason. “Although the final decision is being made by faculty, both the IT department and the professors will take the thoughts of students into account.”

Foxlink scheduling changes

On FoxLink, a new Fox Scheduler program is to be implemented. “The goal here is to make class scheduling more user-friendly and have a better planning system,” said Thomason. Among other features, the system will allow advisors to see what their students are planning.

This new program will be introduced at the end of the spring semester in order to be used for planning summer and fall 2019 classes.
“Change is sometimes difficult,” said Thomason. However, he said he believes that these changes will roll out smoothly.

“Our instructional technology team is putting an incredible amount of effort in putting together training for the new systems and are always available for support just by calling the help desk,” said Thomason.

The IT help desk can be reached by phone at 407-628-6363 Sunday to Thursday from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Friday to Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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