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Making the Switch From Blackboard to D2L Brightspace

  • 5 Min Read

In the D2L webinar “Transitioning From Blackboard to D2L Brightspace”, our host and panelists discuss why their schools decided to switch and share tips and best practices for successful change management.


In D2L’s webinar, Transitioning from Blackboard to D2L Brightspace, host Danielle Burt welcomed Anna Galka, learning technologies educational consultant at the University of Windsor, and Paula Russell, senior director at the center for learning and teaching at Binghamton University (SUNY). They shared why their schools switched from Blackboard to Brightspace, tips for successful change management, and the teaching and learning tools they’re most excited about in Brightspace. 

Look Before You Leap 

Switching to a new learning management system (LMS) has the potential to be a game-changer for any campus. But the process of making the change can be daunting, with many factors to consider.  

“Your LMS is a long-term commitment,” Danielle Burt, senior solutions engineer at D2L, shared. “I work with many institutions, and they tend to stay with it for five to upwards of a decade.” 

Burt understands that LMS transitions are intimidating. Some of the best practices she and her team implement at D2L when running migrations include offering a personalized project plan with scalable course migration, incorporating change management and providing hands-on technical guidance. Perhaps most importantly, it doesn’t matter whether your institution is evaluating an LMS for the first time or re-examining their needs—it’s critical to listen to the wants of your faculty, students and staff.  

With thousands of end users at both Binghamton and the University of Windsor, our guests were all too familiar with the process. Given all the other LMSs on the market, why did they choose to go with Brightspace?

Transitioning From Blackboard to D2L Brightspace

Switching to a new learning management system is a game-changer for any campus—and it’s a real thrill when you’ve got the right partner by your side.

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A Desire to Change Learning Management Systems 

As the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. So, what prompted our guests to consider alternate LMSs in the first place? 

Anna Galka shared that the University of Windsor’s contract with Blackboard was expiring. They were using a self-hosted instance of the learning platform, which they knew would no longer be supported. 

“We were going to have to make a significant change whether we stayed with Blackboard or not,” Galka said. 

In Binghamton’s case, Paula mentioned that they’d been using Blackboard for over 20 years.  

“During that time, [as with] any partnership, you have good times, not so good times and times where you really need to reconsider and re-evaluate if this is the track you want to remain on.” Russell said.  

With both Galka and Russell knowing they needed to make a change, the next step was to evaluate what their options were.  

A Lengthy Evaluation Process 

Selecting a new LMS can be an extensive process. Galka and her team began by reviewing their current LMS, distributed a campus-wide survey and appointed special committees to gather specific information that couldn’t be gathered by surveys. They also ran focus groups.  

Following that, they put out a request for proposals (RFP). Then came the review and testing stage, followed by more feedback. 

“In the end,” Galka said, “our university community they told us they preferred Brightspace.” 

Russell and her team went on a similar journey at Binghamton. They ran surveys, focus groups, put out an RFP and did pilots of the vendor products they were evaluating. 

“The most important thing, I would say, is to get the input from all your key stakeholders. Your faculty, staff and also the students—they’re a huge stakeholder in all of this as well.” 

When all was said and done, Russell said, Binghamton made the decision to move forward with Brightspace.

The Complete LMS Evaluation Guide

Learn the four phases of an LMS evaluation so you can choose the best fit for your institution.

Read the Guide

Communication Is Key for Successful Change Management 

Galka and Russell agreed that migrations are only as good as the communication strategies an institution deploys. They shared what worked for them and the challenges they faced once a new LMS was chosen. 

Russell’s team publicized opportunities and events where end users could learn about the transition early and often.  

“We got in front of all the deans and directors and talked to all the department chairs. We really wanted to make sure that people knew what we were doing and that this wasn’t going on in a bubble. We used surveying tools and were able to produce nice reports as that we could then share out with the stakeholders.” 

At the University of Windsor, Galka and her team reached out to all the faculties and departments and offered to do a roadshow. Almost every single one took them up on the offer.  

“This made the biggest impact to our success,” Galka said. “We went to council meetings and in less than 15 minutes provided answers to the most anticipated objections, pain points and questions. And then we laid out the timeline and the support that we were building for them and when those would be ready.” 

Still, Russell acknowledged that challenges still popped up from time to time. “No matter how many times you say it, there’ll be people saying, “Oh, I didn’t know that was happening.”  

From Galka’s point of view, communicating with students was the bigger challenge. “They don’t read anything that we send them,” she said. “So, besides the normal communication channels, we turned it into an opportunity to have a little bit more fun. We gave out cookies with Brightspace stickers. We had a draw for Brightspace loot bag. We took the D2L Moose and did an Instagram takeover.” 

Planning and implementing a strong communications and engagement strategy sets the tone for your campus. Russell noted that it’s important to erase the fear, the unknown and the doubt, and replace it with timely and factual information that you can serve up again and again. By being proactive and following up consistently, both universities were able to minimize the negative sentiment around change.

Navigating Change Management in Higher Education 

Gain an in-depth understanding of how to successfully approach change management for your institution.

Read the Guide

Stand-Out Features and Functionalities in Brightspace 

Burt asked both panelists if there were any feature or functionality highlights that stood out to the institutions during the evaluation and/or transition process.   

“One of the things that really stood out is the accessibility of Brightspace,” Galka said. The University of Windsor team were impressed with how D2L addressed their accessibility criteria and demonstrated their commitment to incorporating accessibility into the product. “It definitely makes my workshops richer. I can point out that it’s possible to incorporate accessibility features right away as opposed to needing to do it at another time.” 

Galka also shared that Brightspace’s user interface has won over faculty and students alike. “Particularly for those just getting started, it’s something that we hear about over and over again. It’s easy to use, they get it and they don’t need my help, which is wonderful.” 

At Binghamton, Russell cited ease of course migration as a highlight. During the transition, faculty expressed fear about moving course content from one LMS to another. Russell and her team worked hard with instructors, enabling them to move the content independently.  

“In the fall of 2021, we had 9,981 courses that needed to migrate. Only 116 of those courses were migrated by ITS, which was an option we provided to the faculty that they could do it for them or they could do it themselves. So that speaks very highly for how easy it was to do that. By the spring of 2022, 97% of the courses were migrated. That ability to migrate courses easily with minimal support was huge.” 

Russell also called out the accessibility being baked in as a huge benefit. Lastly, she mentioned intelligent agents. 

“I also teach using Brightspace and the intelligent agents are fabulous,” she said. Knowing how many logins you have and how much time a student has spent in a course is so useful, she explained, because it’s a proactive way to help students who may not be showing up for class. By using intelligent agents, she can get out in front of a potentially problematic issue before it becomes bigger.  

Words of Wisdom 

Both Galka and Russell shared that once the transition from Blackboard to Brightspace was complete, they didn’t need to ask for much help.  

“The transition went very smoothly,” Russell said. “But that’s due to working with D2L and having the mechanisms in place to make it a really easy transition for the campus.” 

Galka agreed. “I actually had to think about that time period and what conversations we had at that point. When the implementation was done, no further help was needed. In all the various software vendors that I’ve used or dealt with in my career, this was probably the best experience I have had.” 

Burt asked for any parting words of advice before the session wrapped. Galka said using the resources of people who’ve gone before you is key. Most people are very willing to share.” 

As for Russell, she emphasized communication. 

“Communicate, communicate, communicate. Don’t wait. If you’re not sure, do your research and take the time to actually look at what’s available. What you’ll find with D2L ,” Russell continued, “is they have really good answers to your questions and they’re able to deliver on what they promise. To me, those are really important aspects to any long-term contract because this isn’t going to be something that you implement and then turn around a year later and go in another direction. This is something that is one of your core enterprise systems at your campus, so you really want to think about what you’re doing. D2L is your partner, and they go down the path with you into happy LMS land.”  

Interested in learning more practical tips about switching from Blackboard to Brightspace? Watch the full webinar here.  

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Table of Contents

  1. Look Before You Leap 
  2. A Desire to Change Learning Management Systems 
  3. A Lengthy Evaluation Process 
  4. Communication Is Key for Successful Change Management 
  5. Stand-Out Features and Functionalities in Brightspace 
  6. Words of Wisdom