Potential Blackboard replacement “Schoology” launches in trial classes

Written By Nicole Pampena, Co-News Editor

Seven pilot courses launched this semester to test Schoology, a potential replacement learning management system (LMS) for Blackboard.

Founded in 2008, Executive Director of Point Park Online Nelson Chipman referred to Schoology as the “Facebook of LMSs.”

“I say it’s the equivalent of going from an Android to an iPhone,” Chipman said. “You know where things are…but once you dig deeper you kind of have to relearn some systems a little bit.”

The search for a new LMS began around two and a half years ago after the cost of Blackboard continued to increase while its system became more outdated. As the early 2000s came with the release of competition, such as Canvas, D2L Brightspace and Schoology, a small group of people within the university began to review and examine Blackboard.

Last semester, the university assembled over 250 students, 50 faculty members and a committee of administration and staff to test the different replacements listed above as well as Blackboard Ultra.

“For all that the user data from the committee, from faculty and from students, [it] clearly showed that there were two that rose above, and that was Canvas and Schoology,” Chipman said.

Schoology narrowly ranked higher across the board after a larger review process over the summer that factored in pricing, long-term agreements, support services and data risk management.

This led to an “implementation year,” where a committee Chipman helps oversee has placed the seven courses into “full Schoology.”

Five of those seven courses are all sections of the MFA program in screenwriting playwriting taught by Matt Pelfrey, the MFA Program Director.

According to Pelfrey, his students have been mostly successful so far working with Schoology, especially with its audio and video capabilities in comparison to Blackboard. Students now have the ability to not only read feedback, but attach it to a voice and a tone.

“That’s really valuable when you’re working in the creative arts because your notes have to be nuanced like that,” Pelfrey said. “It’s a field where there’s not a right or wrong answer.”

Storing data and information was one of the largest contributors toward the cost of maintaining the LMS for most providers. According to Chipman, Schoology costs about 70 percent less than Blackboard.

One section of Intro to Multimedia is also taking part as a pilot class. Junior broadcast production and media management major Elizabeth Spisak has agreed with the benefits of Schoology so far.

“I think it’s very easy to use,” Spisak said. “It’s very similar to social media like Facebook.”

The pilot program will continue through the spring semester as well as summer courses offered online. The implementation year allows the university to pull out of Schoology in the event of issues appearing.

“Unless something isn’t working with the system that we discover, but we have done so much due diligence and testing of the system, I would be very surprised if this happens,” Chipman said. “I’m…99 percent certain that by the fall of ’18, the entire university will be on Schoology. That’s the goal.”

While the university’s LMS provider falls under IT, the implementation committee and the school’s business office, the decision is ultimately regarded as an academic tool and left to the provost. The provost will then confer with others based on data from the students and a recommendation from the LMS Implementation Committee Chipman expects to send by the end of April.

“Blackboard was the only game in town for a lot of years,” Chipman said. “They are incredibly robust and we wouldn’t have stayed with them if they didn’t do so much. It didn’t keep up with the times.”