University prepares for transition to new learning management system


Dustin Vickers

UTSA will be moving to Canvas Learning Management System beginning in Fall 2023, after using Blackboard for the past 12 years.

Jada Thomas, Staff Writer

On Jan. 11, 2023, UTSA announced to students and faculty that they would adopt the Canvas Learning Management System (LMS) as the new academic platform beginning in the Fall 2023 semester, consequently replacing Blackboard. 

This development is not sudden; rather, it is one that has been a long time coming. According to Melissa Vito, the vice provost for academic innovation, the administration began putting the pieces in place for the switch as early as March of 2020. 

“We were ready to go to academic council in March of 2020 and seek feedback and approval to move forward with looking at a new LMS,” Vito said. “If you recall, March of 2020 was right [around the] pandemic. And so we decided that was the one thing we couldn’t add on to everything else that we were working on.”

Given that the university has utilized Blackboard for the past 12 years, a lot of consideration went into the decision to switch to Canvas, including feedback from students and faculty regarding what they wanted to see in an LMS.

“Some of it was also based on feedback that we were hearing from students about things that were important to them in an LMS,” Vito said. “Being mobile friendly, you know, and other types of features.”

Faculty feedback was also taken into account when making this decision.

“Faculty who use our tools were looking for more features, and we would often find out that Canvas had those features or better integration with those tools that we use,” Jonathan Gutierrez, an associate director for Digital Transformation, said. “And so that also led to considering the realignment to Canvas.”

Amongst the feedback that was received from students, the primary desire in an LMS was its ability to be user-friendly on mobile devices. 

“As we surveyed students regularly during the pandemic to try to understand their experience, one thing we learned is that almost half of our students really use their phones for almost everything that they do,” Vito explained. “And so it really isn’t overestimating how important being mobile friendly was because that was really a barrier for students, not to have that seamless experience.”

Aside from feedback, another factor that went into the decision was the rapid pace at which the university was growing and how students and faculty needed an LMS that could match that pace. 

“So we’ve [UTSA] been growing with new buildings, more students, awesome football team, new research tier one — all of these great designations and levels that we’re reaching,” Gutierrez said. “But the Blackboard experience had largely gone unchanged since we first adopted it.”

In areas where Blackboard has lacked as an LMS, Canvas will provide more tools that will give students more agency in their learning and help increase the quality of their academic performance. 

“It [Canvas] gives them [students] tools that we have not had in Blackboard, to be able to take ownership of their learning and basically not go into a course and not understand where they are until the end, or until the grade comes out,” Gutierrez said. “I think they’ll be much more up to date with their progress, their grades and what they need to do — what they need to accomplish.”

In terms of any challenges that students and faculty may face, UTSA Academic Innovation has prepared several methods to assist individuals throughout this transition. 

“We created an LMS, or Canvas, transition team,” Gutierrez said. “So for the faculty, we have a representative from each college and a lot of supporting student services like Student Success, the Graduate School, as well as we’ve been reaching out to students, so we’re working with the student government very closely.”

Marcela Ramirez, associate vice provost of Teaching, Learning & Digital Transformation, also mentioned other materials in place to assist students with this change. 

“We have a self-paced course for students that they can go in and look at specific elements that they might be looking for that they need more support in,” Ramirez said. “So that will be available as well for students.”

While those who are spearheading this development are prepared for potential challenges, there are some features on Canvas that they believe will make this switch worthwhile for students. According to Gutierrez, the features in question are grade predictions and integration tools.

“One of my favorite features of Canvas is [that] it allows students to put in what-if grades in the grade book so that they can say, ‘Oh, if I don’t perform the way I want to here, what are my opportunities to raise my grade back up or how will this affect me long term in the course,’” Gutierrez said. “Also, some of the tools are things that students will need to know how to use for their professional careers. Some of the ones like Microsoft [and] Office 365, but also our Adobe Creative Cloud. So with Canvas, we’ll have stronger integrations with those tools.”

As the switch to Canvas progresses, Academic Innovation will continue to survey and gauge feedback from students and faculty about the transition process and how the LMS is working for them overall.

“We are working together with Student Government Association, and with Student Success and the Graduate school, to come up with a feedback loop where students can provide feedback of how things are going with Canvas,” said Ramirez. “So if there’s anything that we may need to look into improving or in general — even Technical Support — they can provide feedback on that.”

As the university makes this next leap forward, the Student Government Association Chair of Academic Affairs, Maribel Martinez, relays some advice to students regarding the shift.

“Students should try their best to have patience with this transition, reach out and go to the Department of Academic Innovation for help, download the mobile app that is able to be used on any mobile device, and get ready for this new and amazing addition to UTSA,” Martinez said.