University considers replacements for Schoology

Students, faculty, test multiple alternatives as Schoology contract nears end

Written By Caitlyn Scott, Co-News Editor

Students and faculty could see a change in how they submit assignments and see grades in the near future as the university continues to test new grading platforms to replace Schoology.

Learning Management System (LMS) Administrator and Instructional Technologist Todd Slater says that the transition from the management system comes after the announcement of Schoology focusing on its K-12 clients and the expiration of the school’s contract deal. 

“We are in the fourth year of a five-year contract with Schoology,” Slater said. “Just a few months after we signed the contract, Schoology announced that it was exiting the higher education market to focus on its K-12 clients – despite all the assurances we were given during the selection process that it was committed to investing and growing its place in higher education. We started discussing the need for change in Spring of 2020, and we started developing a timeline that summer.” 

According to Schoology’s official website, the platform is currently the “leading K-12 focused learning management system (LMS)” that’s used to help educators connect, track progression, and “deliver personalized instruction” to prepare students for success upon graduation.

With the contract expiration, along with Schoology being acquired by PowerSchool, the “leading provider of cloud-based software in K-12 education,” the university formed a committee to test alternative management systems that would better suit faculty, staff, and student needs. 

“After surveying the LMS market, the committee started by evaluating Blackboard Ultra, D2L Brightspace and Instructure Canvas” Slater said. “The committee decided not to continue with Blackboard Ultra, as many features were not available or were still in development. This led us to focus on evaluating both Brightspace and Canvas as the two contenders to replace Schoology.”

D2L Brightspace and Instructure Canvas are learning management systems that are provided to both K-12 and higher educational learning institutions that provide educators with the means to communicate with and post assignments for students. 

As the process to select a new system continues, faculty and students have voiced their opinions on the two contending platforms and which one they feel would be more beneficial for students and educators to use at Point Park.

Professor of Mathematics Mark Marnich said that upon receiving an email from Mr. Slater to be part of the committee, the process of testing was conducted individually, with members then meeting every two weeks to discuss their progression. 

“Committee members test each of the LMS individually,” Marnich said. “We meet as a group to discuss our findings. While all committee members thoroughly test each LMS, we each have a “specialty” that corresponds to our position or area of interest in the university, [such as]; faculty examines content and assessment, IT examines system integration, instructional designers examine course migration, etc.” 

Marnich said that when reviewing both Canvas and D2L Brightspace, he has looked for specific features that align with his courses’ curriculums. 

“As a mathematics professor I look for features that allow for mathematical problem solving and software integration,” Marnich said. 

Along with Marnich, Assistant Professor of Human Resources Sandra Mervosh says that during her time on the committee, she too has looked for specific features that seem to fit best for her courses, noting that Canvas has personally seemed to be the most efficient resource. 

“My focal area is collaboration and assessment, both [learning systems] provide better collaboration [than Schoology], especially Canvas, although both provide additional elements of assessment,” Mervosh said. 

Along with faculty, Slater says that students were also invited to participate in the evaluation of both Brightspace and Canvas. 

“We invited students to participate in testing right after spring break, which took place between March 14th and March 26th. We had 86 students complete testing and provide feedback through a survey,” Slater said. 

“A couple of faculty on the committee are also doing testing with their classes,” Slater added. “I expect that the total number of students participating will be about 125.” 

Junior Public Relations and Advertising student Chris Fischer said that it was important to take part in the testing, since the change could happen during their time at Point Park. 

“[I had gotten an email about participating in the testing], and I like [taking part in] stuff like this,” Fischer said. “If we got a system that was impossible to use then I’d probably kick myself for not [participating]. Plus the incentive was good; ‘Chance to win a $75 Amazon gift card?’ Sign me up. I don’t go to Point Perk often enough to (for lack of better words) care about the $5 gift certificates.”

Fischer said that after looking into both systems, Canvas has showcased better benefits than Brightspace. 

“Canvas was so much nicer than Brightspace. Canvas was streamlined, easy to locate stuff, and was just better on the eyes,” Fischer said. “Brightspace had so many confusing menus and design choices. The discussion boards were impossible to follow. Brightspace was horrible. I can’t remember anything positive or, if I even said anything positive to be honest.”

Although stating that Canvas was better than Brightspace, Fischer also said that they saw some features present within Schoology that made it easier to navigate than Canvas.

“There were some menus that weren’t as clear as Schoology’s. It was really easy to “get lost”, and end up going back to pages you’ve been to already,” Fischer said. “I really like [Schoology’s] ability to see the feedback quickly and easily. Grading is clear and concise, you don’t have to hunt for it. Also, if the professor put in the effort, finding the course material was super easy.” 

Point Park is not the only university transitioning away from Schoology, as other local universities have already switched to new learning management systems. 

“We are not the only institution deciding to move away from Schoology,” Slater said. “Locally, Carlow University switched from Schoology to D2L Brightspace this year.”  

Although it is unclear as to when the change in systems will happen, Slater hopes to have a decision made before the contract agreement with Schoology expires. 

“It makes the most sense to have a new system in place when the Schoology contract expires to ensure a seamless transition for our students and faculty in the fall of 2023,” Slater said.