Staff Editorial: University requires a single-system solution
Washington University is in the process of phasing out the infamous Blackboard in favor of the platform Canvas. This is a development that is long overdue. It is no secret that students dislike Blackboard; after all, it does appear to have been designed in 2002 at the latest. The experience of using it is, as a whole, frustrating. Logging in requires forcing your way through numerous reminders of an impending shut down for “maintenance” (what they are maintaining we are uncertain; it must take a lot of effort to maintain such high levels of mediocrity).
As subpar as Blackboard is, the thing that makes the experience of using it truly terrible has always been the fact that the majority of the faculty do not know how to use it. They store important things under tabs that make no logical sense and expect the class to click through every nook and cranny until they find what they actually need. The greatest sin, however, is that teachers simply fail to post grades in a timely manner—often not posting grades at all—preventing students from seeing how they are progressing and potentially altering their ability to choose whether to take the class for credit, pass/fail or withdraw altogether.
Switching to Canvas is an improvement as far as medium goes; however, things will not get better unless teachers learn how to use the new system and begin to post grades. It would be in the best interest of both faculty and students to hold mandatory training for all faculty to learn how to use Canvas. If professors could not learn the inner workings of Blackboard after years of use, it will be far too long before we can expect anyone to be proficient on Canvas. Canvas offers far more features than Blackboard, but these are useless if teachers do not employ them.
Available on Blackboard, as well as on Canvas, is a month by month calendar. If instructors would actually add to this, it would allow students to plan out their semester and would prevent exams and project due dates from catching anyone off guard.
As of now, the University is in an awkward transition period. Some teachers are on Blackboard, some on Canvas, some use third-party sites like Piazza, while others choose to not use a platform at all. While we believe it is detrimental to not post readings nor have the syllabus available online, at a certain point we can’t blame the professors that are too nervous to navigate Blackboard’s inscrutable buttons and tabs.
Because Wash. U. is committing to Canvas as a new system for professors to use, they should consider requiring professors to institute it. Every professor could be obligated to upload their classes and class content to the system to streamline access to material for all students. In addition, professors should be held more accountable for keeping their Canvas updated with assignments, reading material and, most importantly, grades. A switch to a new system allows for a fresh start to keep professors more accountable to their students.
To incentivize proficiency, the University could include questions about educational platform use in the end of semester course evaluations. Questions could cover which platform professors use and whether or not they adequately updated their course and grades and made use of other learning tools available.
Having multiple systems as an option makes things increasingly difficult for students. The current systems are needlessly confusing to maneuver between and independently underutilized. Students are expected to figure out both systems, learn to overcome the confusion within the systems and navigate it all masterfully, or risk their grades dropping. For the benefit of students and to alleviate the frustration of professors, administrators should ask faculty to adopt the preferred system (Canvas) as well as teach them how to best use it for their needs.