By way of introduction, seeing as this is my very first blog post as a D2Ler, please call me Jeff. I come to D2L having served in about a dozen professorial and administrative roles at various colleges and universities throughout the United States, most recently serving as the Chief Innovation Officer for a university in Florida. In that capacity, I led the effort to build a next-generation learning “ecosystem,” which included finding our school’s new learning management system (LMS). Search committees were formed, RFIs were created, and eventually pilots were run, with D2L Brightspace going head-to-head against a “big 4” LMS. The result? Not only did the school see the Brightspace platform chosen by an overwhelming majority but our new D2L colleagues proved to be incredibly supportive and partnership-centric.
This led to two powerful early stories, D2L was both critical in our LMS migration process (including courses for fully on-ground, hybrid, and fully online delivery) which included 30,000 users in only one term and they saved us from a publishing disaster when our textbook vendor failed to deliver course materials for several weeks. D2L came to the rescue even though they had nothing to do with the problem, the publisher, or the product, showing off the legitimacy of the term “partnership” and forever ingraining in my mind what an amazing organization D2L is.
It is in this context, that I blog today. I had the honor of facilitating a session with two colleagues from the University of Victoria (UVic) at the CANHEIT conference this summer. Their story was quite similar to my own. They were able to migrate 20,000 students, user data and content for all courses over 60 days, seeing many of their COVID-19 concerns mitigated due to the powerful but timely new infrastructure of Brightspace.
As CANHEIT is the largest virtual gathering of Canadian higher education IT leaders from universities, colleges, and technical institutes, this session was highly impactful. Garry Sagert, Director of UVic Online Systems, represented the IT side of the equation, while Dr. Mariel Miller, Director of Technology Integrated Learning, provided a lot of insight into the training programs and development side of the experience.
As Garry and Mariel explained to our audience, an LMS search was going to take place anyway, but everything sped up under the umbrella of COVID-19. The open-source LMS that UVic leveraged prior to Brightspace was simply too complex and overly segregated, and it was taking numerous resources to create a quasi-seamless experience for students, faculty, and staff. Brightspace provided an upgrade to that experience, with more continuity and ease of progression for students, which proved to be exponentially crucial once everyone began working remotely.
Garry was quick to point out that the ease of migration made it possible to focus on other technical and nontechnical issues. Mariel agreed that the ability to create training programs as well as some “imagining” sessions for faculty proved to be quite powerful going into a setting where some new online instructors were just getting started.
Similarly, some of the “aha” moments the university experienced were likely good processes for anyone going through an LMS transition. UVic took this moment in time, especially when it became obvious that the LMS migration process was not going to be burdensome, to take stock of current courses and student experiences, culling some older content, rearranging various assets throughout the portfolio, and adding some new content, even leveraging some of the new functionality found in Brightspace. This dovetailed with my own experience, as my instructional design team was able to sunset some older materials and replace them with newer, updated assets faster and more easily due to the modern interface and back-end capabilities of the learning platform.
But perhaps the most exciting opportunity that I heard Garry and Mariel describe was the genuine change in teaching and learning momentum at UVic. As is likely the case with most K–20 institutions, a lot of research and important teaching and learning findings have surfaced since the last LMS change. But making substantive changes to course flow, pedagogical/andragogical models, differentiation, or authentic assessment might be seen like the changing of passwords.
We all likely have 50–500 passwords that we know we should change for many reasons (security breaches, over-usage of one password, stale codes that aren’t long enough to be considered safe, etc.), yet most of us don’t change our passwords until an emergency occurs. Similarly, anyone who teaches online (myself included) knows that there are aspects of every course that likely need refreshing, updating, or straight-up changing, yet we seem to consistently run out of time to make those changes.
The university leaned into this moment in time by treating this not just as an LMS change but as a refresher of sorts. Mariel’s team was able to discuss issues of teaching and learning strategy as well as how to add learning content items or facilitate a discussion. Faculty had a natural break in normal operations to make appropriate updates and strategic changes that are supported by teaching and learning effective practices, à la “Make It Stick” (Brown) or “How Learning Happens” (Kirschner), etc.
I hope that over time you see my dogged and determined position on transforming the teaching and learning experience across all (K–20) education. This is why I found the University of Victoria’s updates to learning frameworks highly impactful during the interview. While the LMS migration process to any new system can certainly cause hesitation, when that migration is supported by an experienced organization that knows what it is doing and the institution feels its needs are supported, it really can be a game changer. What might initially look like a mitigation strategy due to a worldwide pandemic suddenly becomes an opportunity to help students and faculty do more.
And in the end, isn’t that why we all get up in the morning?
My thanks to Garry and Mariel from UVic for sharing their findings and feelings. I hope everyone took some important lessons from that conversation to heart, so that every school might find their implementation process both quick and opportunistic.
Good luck and good learning.