In August 2009, the Provost and the Vice Provost for Information Technology charged the eLearning Strategic Committee with shaping the future of Penn State’s learning environment to meet the needs of the Penn State community and find a replacement for ANGEL, Penn State’s course management system. The four major criteria for this search were:

  • Pedagogical: providing the tools needed for faculty and students.
  • Technology Management: system architecture, scalability, security, development, quality assurance, etc.
  • Organizational Administration: policy issues (academic, operational), data retention, user support, training, etc.
  • Cost: hardware, software, lifecycle, operations and maintenance, staff, etc.

In 2009, Penn State did not have the option of continuing vendor support of ANGEL beyond 2014 as a result of ANGEL’s parent company, Blackboard, planning to discontinue support of the product. However, in March 2012, Blackboard reversed their decision to provide indefinite support of ANGEL. In light of this new development, the eLearning Strategic Committee recommended to renew the ANGEL agreement through 2017, which included a co-production agreement to use both ANGEL and the Blackboard Learn LMS. Both the Provost and Vice Provost for Information Technology accepted this recommendation, thus allowing the committee to successfully fulfill their charge and disband.

In October 2014, ANGEL’s parent company, Blackboard, Inc., informed Penn State of an end-of-life date and reduced support for ANGEL. As a result of Blackboard’s decision, most instances of ANGEL will no longer be supported beginning on October 15, 2016. Penn State has a contract for the course management system through December 2017 and will continue to receive operational support until that time.



Launched in 2011, Canvas is currently used by over 800 learning institutions. Canvas is available to Penn State through the University’s membership with Unizin, a non-profit technology consortium which was formed in 2014 as a way to enable universities to reach their goals with digital learning. The consortium focuses on improving the way educational content is shared by providing a common digital infrastructure. In November 2014, it was announced that Penn State had become a founding member of the organization.

Unizin was formed earlier in 2014 to enable universities to reach their goals with digital learning, from massive open online courses (MOOCs) to flipped classrooms. The consortium focuses on improving the way educational content is shared by providing a common digital infrastructure.

The consortium will enable Penn State faculty to share lesson plans, syllabi, research and more via content sharing and storage services. Students will benefit from the work being done at Penn State and other institutions as well.

Unizin is a consortium of like-minded institutions facilitating the transition toward collaborative digital education. Unizin helps universities provide teachers and students with more digital learning options. This dynamic ecosystem provides analytics that can be used to track progress and improve student outcomes.


Learn more at http://unizin.org/.



Canvas (spring 2015)

Students, faculty, and staff throughout Penn State were invited to participate in a pilot of the Canvas learning management system (LMS) during the 2015 spring semester as part of Penn State’s membership with the nonprofit technology consortium Unizin. Formed in 2014, Unizin enables universities to reach their goals with the digital learning ecosystem; delivery, content, and analytics.

Sixty-three faculty, 60 staff (instructional design and support), 2,415 students, and 81 course sections from 16 campuses and 10 colleges were involved in the Canvas pilot. Features that were being evaluated included mobile access, inline grading, customizable course navigation, personalized notifications (email, text messaging, and Facebook), and integrations with third-party learning applications including Adobe Connect, MediaCore, Turnitin, and VoiceThread.

Download the Canvas 2015 Spring Pilot Mid-Semester Report (PDF)

Download the Canvas 2015 Spring Pilot Final Report (Word)

For more information on the Canvas pilot, please visit http://canvaspilot.tlt.psu.edu.

Blackboard (summer 2014)

Since spring of 2012, Blackboard has made extensive enhancements to the Learn platform. As a result, Craig Weidemann, Vice President for Outreach and Vice Provost for Online Education, Rob Pangborn, Vice President and Dean for Undergraduate Education, and Information Technology Services (ITS) recommended to pilot a suite of Blackboard products during the 2014 summer semester. The applications that were piloted include:

  • Blackboard Learn (LMS)
  • Blackboard Collaborate (a virtual space that enables real-time collaborative work)
  • Blackboard Mobile (for Android, iOS, and Blackberry)

The purpose of the 2014 pilot was to evaluate the potential of these products to positively impact the teaching and learning experience at Penn State. The criteria used to measure this impact included ease of use, pedagogy, course administration, functionality, accessibility, and migration. Students, faculty, and staff from across the Commonwealth were invited to participate. Active members of the pilot included faculty, students, instructional designers, and support staff designated with training, documentation, and answering help desk inquiries.

The assessment strategy for the pilot included online surveys conducted several times over the course of the pilot, direct observations of the faculty and instructional designers during the training portion of the pilot, and focus groups with faculty and support staff conducted virtually at the end of the pilot project as a part of “Lessons Learned.”

In the mid-term surveys, faculty indicated that they found the platform useful for their teaching needs. However faculty respondents’ feelings about the usefulness of Blackboard for teaching and learning were less positive in the end-term surveys.

The major disadvantages of Blackboard Learn as reported by the pilot participants were accessibility, navigation, and ANGEL-Blackboard migration.

Overall, faculty and staff were not satisfied with the accessibility of Blackboard Mobile via mobile devices. Faculty reported that the core functions that were difficult to set‑up and use or that did not function on the mobile devices included Gradebook, the Mobile App, Group Discussions, and Blackboard Collaborate.

Originally, an additional pilot of the suite of Blackboard products was also scheduled for the 2014 fall semester. However, this pilot was cancelled due to a change by Blackboard in July 2014 regarding the product direction for Learn and other associated applications.

Download the complete Blackboard Pilot Final Report Spring-Summer 2014 report (PDF)

For more information on all previously completed LMS pilots at Penn State, please visit http://newlms.psu.edu/completed-pilots/.