Students attend the Townhall on Portal at Sidney Smith Hall on January 28th. MALLIKA MAKKAR/THE VARSITY

The Faculty of Arts & Science is reviewing U of T’s learning management engine (LME), which is currently provided by Blackboard. There are plans to develop a new LME: the Academic Toolbox Renewal Initiative. In anticipation of this new system, the faculty hosted a townhall on Portal, where students came to air their grievances and give feedback about the interface. 

A little over a year ago, The Varsity reported on the persistent outages and maintenance hours that Blackboard faced, and many students believe that they feel a disconnect with their instructors.

Professors and students have expressed frustrations with the current LME. One student who attended the town hall criticized its user unfriendliness, mentioning that one of her peers pasted her assignment in a comment box rather than the assignment submission box, which could have affected her grade. In addition, professors are not required to use Blackboard to submit grades, which leaves some students frustrated with the inaccessibility.

Learning tools such as gamification modules, marking interfaces, publishing capabilities, and many more are on the long list of suggestions for the new framework. The faculty discussed features such as a calendar for assignments and exams, and many of the technologies were scheduled for renewal last year. Out of the three stages of the LME development, the initiative is in its second phase. 

Abdullah Shihipar, president of the Arts & Science Students’ Union, also criticized the lack of “user-friendliness” of the current Portal system. 

“No one knows how it works,” Shihipar said. The lack of a search option, the inability to edit the types of tools needed for each course, and nothing “more than just a text option” for the current organization function, were a few of the grievances he aired on behalf of himself and other students who reached out to him over social media.   

The university is currently accepting comments for the new LME online. Shihipar encouraged students to have their voice heard saying, “before this process is over, get [your feedback] in.”

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