Learning Management System Demo Week Notes

Ryerson is going through a public consultation for a new LMS. I mostly went to the sessions where an instructor came in to talk about their experience with a product. When that wasn’t available, I went to the vendor presentations.

Full schedule and links to the session recordings: http://lms.blog.ryerson.ca/2013/03/20/announcing-lms-demo-week/

Desire2Learn at Laurier

Use in class

  • Environmental responsibility
  • Paperless course outlines, handouts, assignment instructions, assignments (dropbox)
  • Enhanced learning
  • Online lesson notes (effect on attendance)
  • Bring notes to class
  • Focus on talk rather than making notes
  • Flexible hours
  • Expand on information in lectures

Course management

  • Contact, news, announcements, discussions, events board, emails, TA have special status
  • Grades can do weighted, release date
  • Access – increased expectations, more time spent answering questions online instead of in-class

Easy access to everything

  • Includes previous terms’ courses
  • Can embed media
  • Create short assignments

Assignment & Lab management

  • Create online groups, screencasts to standardize instructions
  • Students can post their presentation materials and groups can have their own discussion area that other students can’t see
  • Online peer review
  • Online quizzes to engage students and prepare for exams
  • Statistics by class or user for each assignment

Importance of feedback and engagement with increased with exercises, quizzes, etc.

Moodle at York University

Many interactions (not necessarily integration) with other services.

  • student information system
  • lecture recording
  • library system
  • single sign on system
  • twitter feed
  • polldaddy
  • livescribe (pencast)
  • turnitin
  • web browser window


  • User management: very customizable with very granular rights management, great for TAs
  • Lecture content: will be able to customize how it looks
  • Quizzes: categories/folders, pick questions from own bank, different formats possible, stats by student or quiz
  • Assignments: can create groups
  • Announcements with RSS feeds
  • Forums
  • Grades


  • customizable
  • interoperability
  • integration with the rest of the community
  • branded by university


  • mobile support
  • accessibility

SAKAI at Brock

“The Ugly”

  • looks very barebone
  • doesn’t exactly look pretty
  • many students see it, think it’s empty, and leave again
  • can get very frustrating

“The Bad”

    • blogging tool doesn’t work
    • chatting tool: can’t have more than one window open, not very useful
    • RSS feed reader: can only have one feed
    • Podcasts
    • PostEm: also doesn’t work very well
    • Schedule: gets too chaotic/full because would see all instructors’ stuff
    • Sign-up: office hours or presentation times, but rather convoluted and only works for one set of office hours

Statistics: not particularly useful, most useful – who hasn’t visitedmany tools very barebones/basic including wiki, pollemail notifications for messages not on by default

“The Good”

  • user management: putting students in groups, TA access
  • can roll over from previous terms
  • if have multiple sections, changes to session/assignment guides will be made for all sections
  • wiki tool is easier for sign-up
  • list of resources easier in forum area because resources list is alphabetical
  • research guides and other external content can be brought in
  • can hide future weeks
  • subforums display underneath the forum for that week, and can reorder weeks
  • Gradebook tool: can make categories, weights, grades by assignment or student, can link a specific forum post to a gradebook item

Canvas (Vendor Demo)

Focus when building Canvas:

  • ease of use
  • modern technology
  • save you time

Dashboard & Settings

  • recent activity
  • to do list: marking or assignments
  • what’s coming up
  • granular notification settings: multiple contacts e.g. email, mobile
  • integration of social media e.g. fb, twitter, linkedin, google docs
  • calendar: google-like, easy to add assignments/etc through calendar and to specific category in gradebook, iCal subscription
  • syllabus: can auto generate assignments with due dates

Content Management

  • when add link, will always try to embed document/media/etc
  • Home: can be whatever you want it to be e.g. recent activity, modules, custom
  • Modules features: can be reordered, release date, conditional release e.g. complete quiz before next module opens, can be restored if deleted
  • Personal File Management: in-line preview
  • Rich Text Editor: can resize images right in the editor, LaTeX supported
  • Image addition: flickr creative commons search
  • Media recorder: record via webcam for audio/video and media server will make it interoperable and different stream quality
  • Discussions: can subscribe, can make into podcasts
  • Collaboration tools (esp groups): build own wiki, google docs, conference (open source version of Adobe Connect, but can use others), lecture capture
  • Assignments: can do groups, weights, take snapshot of whatever is submitted from student for auditing purposes, assign (guided) peer reviews, inline comments
  • Quizzes with all the usual features including taking from personal bank, third party tools
  • Grades with all the usual plus autosave, importing, can revert if changed
  • Analytics: breakdown by page views, participation, assignments, students; can see distribution
  • All old terms/courses are kept

Other Features

  • iOS and Android app
  • accessibility: yes, and documented in the Canvas Voluntary Product Accessibility Template; Gold standard
  • integration with e-reserve has been done at other schools, though not necessarily specific to Ares
  • open programmer interface using LTI
  • open source except mobile apps and a few features e.g. analytics

OpenClass (vendor demo)


  • integration of Google Apps and Skype
  • mobile apps (iOS, Android)
  • ‘exchange’ – free curated content already brought in. Paid content to come later
  • social media foundation: personal profile, can follow other users, share updates with specific course or followers only (a la Google+), IM chat or Skype
  • notifications include Google Drive document changes
  • inline view of Google Drive documents
  • usual features (grades, assignments, course content, etc.) including integrated google docs collections
  • can embed websites


  • home page is not customizable
  • doesn’t separate courses based on role, but has visual cue
  • assignment calendar set up in addition to submissions
  • calendar, not integrated to Google Apps
  • hosted, not local
  • only basic user management (admin, faculty, TA, student)

Accessibility: unknown
Third party integration beyond Google Apps: unknown

Blackboard (Vendor Demo)

The vendor came in to talk about the latest features since the university already uses Blackboard.

Features & Improvements

  • Dashboard: Standard list of announcements, messages, courses
  • New Content Editor includes formula builder, media recorder
  • Better third-party integration using LTI e.g. Noteflight
  • Improved discussion viewing and inline reply
  • Improved profile viewing and social features e.g. following
  • Social media account integration e.g. Youtube for videos
  • Spaces: group spaces but can go beyond courses
  • Improved assignments area with inline view for annotations and calendar updates (iCal feed)
  • Improved quiz area with multiple choice and fill in blanks (this seems to now be in line with what the others offer)
  • Improved grades with statistics including “retention centre”
  • Meets web accessibility (WCAG) Level AA
  • Google Apps integration available but not supported by vendor

Some Thoughts

Out of all the products, I’ve been most impressed with Canvas. It looks very user-friendly and has extensive third-party integration including Google Apps. Since the core is apparently open source, that would make it even easier to integrate any custom in-house developed products.

Accessibility also seems to be at a high standard, which is important to the university.

I also like the incremental, rolled out updates, meaning that you don’t need to update the software yourself (a big plus on maintenance even if we wouldn’t be the ones to do it).

They also seem to have the most features of all the LMS.

Author: Cynthia

Technologist, Librarian, Metadata and Technical Services expert, Educator, Mentor, Web Developer, UXer, Accessibility Advocate, Documentarian

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