UC Berkeley to pilot bSpace alternative

As part of an ongoing effort to upgrade the campus’s online educational tools, UC Berkeley’s Educational Technology Services has announced it will pilot online platform Canvas with the long-term goal of replacing bSpace, the current system for hosting course webpages.

The campus will pilot Canvas this summer in a select number of classes. There will be a period of overlap as other classes continue to use bSpace.

According to Oliver Heyer, manager of ETS’ Learning Systems Group, Canvas will cost roughly the same to maintain as bSpace.

Though Heyer said that bSpace has been a valuable educational tool, he noted that it “still has issues in terms of overall usage experience we think will be improved upon with Canvas.”

Canvas will have all the features of bSpace with a few notable additions, like streamlined notifications from course pages.

Heyer added that current bSpace users don’t make full use of capabilities such as online quizzing, ability to turn in and grade assignments online and the online gradebook. Canvas aims to increase use of these online tools by making course sites more straightforward and easier for professors to use.

Kyle Brudvik, who is a GSI for Earth and Planetary Science 50, said he looks forward to the changes.

“(bSpace) is cumbersome and is neither user-friendly nor intuitive,” he said in an email. “I do find it helpful for posting announcements to my classes, but beyond that … the Assignments and Dropbox features are completely maddening.”

ETS elected to pilot Canvas over other platforms because of its more modern feel and success at other universities.  ETS will not make a final commitment to Canvas until after the pilot.

“If we find that our evaluation of Canvas turns out to be incorrect based on feedback from students and professors, then another platform will be chosen,” Heyer said.

Canvas will be open to UC Berkeley faculty, staff and students sometime next year, with bSpace still accessible during this time. ETS intends to completely phase out bSpace by the end of the 2014 school year.

CalCentral, a new collaboration platform for students, will be integrated with Canvas in the hopes of consolidating student information and services, such as the bConnected activity suite, which includes Google Calendar.

Although everything to be integrated with CalCentral is still under negotiation, ETS is “potentially looking at a student finance profile and your registration status,” Heyer said.

Schools like Brown University and the University of Texas at Austin already use Canvas. Heyer said UC Berkeley has been in touch with these schools’ educational technology departments throughout its transition process.