The Switch from Canvas to Blackbaud

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Schools produce a lot of data. Every student has a file of grades, submissions and assignments to manage every day. This type of information is tedious to manage as a teacher but trivial to computer algorithms. In recent years, schools have adapted special programs called Learning Management Systems (LMS).

Currently, Greenhill uses Instructure Canvas as their LMS. This program is used by schools such as Pennsylvania State University and University of Florida. Canvas allows students to receive and submit assignments, discuss what happened in class and see a rough overview of their grades.

Although Canvas is a useful tool for managing assignments, its weakest feature is its compatibility with other crucial programs. Canvas fails to support Greenhill’s school management system (SMS), a program that manages Greenhill’s accounting, admissions and parent student records. The SMS also manages student grade reports and scheduling. In addition, Canvas only records grades on the conventional A-F scale. Classes that wish to use Standards Based Grading cannot use Canvas to record grades.

On Oct. 15, Greenhill Informational Technologies set up a task force to change the LMS from Canvas to Blackbaud. Blackbaud is another LMS that provides many of the same services that Canvas does, but with the necessary integration with third party programs and standards based grade reporting. It also supports a wide range of scheduling options, including the block schedule that Upper School is switching to next year. Blackbaud is used by schools such as St. Mark’s and Hockaday, as well as universities such as Brown University and University of Oxford.

“One of the big attractions of Blackbaud over Canvas was its support of standards based grading,” said Director of Technology Scott Rosa. “Even though standards based grading makes up a small part of scoring at Greenhill, it seems to be growing and the fact that Blackbaud had that was a huge attraction. And by having an all in one system where student data and parent data, the hope is that it provides amore integrated view with other parts of the systems.”

Mr. Rosa joined the Greenhill staff in 2017, where he immediately started working on updating the school technologically.

“There will be a core team of Greenhill staff that will drive the project, we have a project defined with Blackbaud and steps that we will take. It’s not just the LMS but the Student Information System, which will include student information and parent registrar,” said Rosa. “The core team will meet with Blackbaud and share with them the way that the school is structured. We will identify sub teams with each of the departments to configure the system for each of the classes.”

Blackbaud has already been partially added to Greenhill learning resources. It is the LMS that operates the student portal accessible through the official school website. The portal hosts links to other school resources, posts official administration news, and schedules sports and community events.

New computer programs always come with a new learning curve. Programs that have very similar functions may still be wildly different when it comes to operating it. AP Biology teacher Barry Ide remembers the transition from Blackboard to Canvas.

“When I started using Canvas, I used it largely to get a couple of assignments and expectations on there and added upon during that next year,” said Ide. “There was inhouse training that was afforded to us.”

This isn’t the first time that Greenhill changed Learning Management Systems. Four years ago, classes used Blackboard LMS.

“I think that going from Blackboard to Canvas was a step up in terms of teaching,” said Ide. “As a graduate student, my program used Blackboard and it frustrated me more than Canvas did.”

Even after four years, teachers are still learning the intricacies of Canvas. Switching away from the LMS will require relearning the necessary functions of the new program in order to reach the effectiveness of the status quo.

“The biggest problem will be training and education on the new system. We’ve had canvas for five years, people have been using it for a while,” said Mr. Rosa, “All the content that teachers have been creating over the years on canvas and how we can move it to the new system.”

Despite the work it will take to change the learning management system, teachers believe that it will improve workflow regarding school organization.

“I think what LMS does for us as teachers is allows us to more effectively communicate expectations and assignments with students and to collect those things,” said Ide. “In the past, student management had been more of a burden.”