Andover to Replace Blackboard with New PAnet Intranet Server Starting 2021-2022 School Year

Andover’s Office of Information Technology plans to adopt Axero’s Communifire in place of the PAnet’s previous Blackboard platform at the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year, according to an announcement published in the Andover Gazette. 

It seems like a lifetime ago when we were reviewing intranet vendors to replace PAnet… Fortunately—with the generous help of 119 community members who shared their ideas via survey and 25 who helped us to vet six platforms—we are pleased to announce Communifire by Axero as our choice for PAnet 2.0. Many thanks to all who participated in the process,” wrote the Office of Information Technology (OIT) in the announcement. 

The Andover community has used the Blackboard platform since 2005, according to Erin McCloskey, Associate Director of Education Initiatives. For eight years, it served as the foundation for electronic life at Andover: from course delivery, a file manager, and the community function it still serves today. In light of the new implementation, the OIT is hosting a tournament for updated platform names throughout February and March.

“In 2013-2014 we began piloting Canvas for course delivery, and in 2017 we adopted the Office 365 suite of tools to enable better content management and collaboration. This freed us up to explore other platforms that would be better-suited to replace the community aspect. In 2019, we vetted several platforms, seeking feedback from the community via surveys and focus groups. Guided by their input, [we] chose Axero’s Communifire,” wrote McCloskey in an email to The Phillipian

Communifire will provide a new search function for community members to access specific search results, according to McCloskey. Unlike PAnet’s centralized update system and HTML designs, McCloskey noted that the Communifire will additionally allow departments to manage and update their own spaces as opposed to being managed by a single administrator. 

“It is our hope that the change to Communifire will make departmental information more readily available to students, faculty, and staff. Rather than centralizing updates through one administrator and relying on outdated HTML designs for visual presentation, Communifire will allow individual offices to present their information as they see fit, and to design pages that are sensibly organized,” wrote McCloskey.

McCloskey continued, “We expect the main page of the new intranet to be more immediately useful to any user, with news feeds, upcoming events, quick links, and more intuitive navigation. And above all, the search feature will surface more information, more quickly.”

The OIT is currently working to apply a responsive design that optimizes visuals for each platform. According to McCloskey, iOS and Android apps for Communifire are already in hopes of targeting users who wish to access the server through mobile devices. 

“Communifire will work across platforms, and the responsive design means that whether it is accessed through a phone, a tablet, a laptop, or a desktop, the visual experience will be optimized for that device. There is a Communifire mobile app available for iOS and Android as well, which will make much of the same functionality available as the web experience,” wrote McCloskey.

While McCloskey foresees challenges in adapting to a new platform, she hopes that additional difficulties can be avoided by restoring the existing content from PAnet before taking full advantage of Communifure’s new venues. 

McCloskey wrote, “As far as weaknesses/areas to work on, we recognize the challenge that comes with a change to a new platform and are striving to avoid the platform fatigue that comes with ‘yet another tool’ by having a lengthy adoption process with input from as many sides as possible. Our aim is to start with the basics—porting the existing content over from PAnet first—before taking full advantage of what Communifire has to offer.”