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Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana

Creating interactive learning journeys


UPB Virtual harnesses state-of-the-art technology to drive the evolution of learning

Platforms like Brightspace enable Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana to connect with the world—helping it not only carry out its institutional mission to provide holistic education for individuals, but also shape a national and international vision for both students and faculty that balances interactive and goal-focused approaches to learning.

At a glance

Client: Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana
Learners: 31,000
Industry: Higher Education
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Platform/Features

  • D2L’s Brightspace platform
  • Gamification
  • ePortfolio

Interviewees

  • Gloria Figueroa, Director of UPB Virtual

Highlights

  • 800% increase in faculty adoption of Brightspace for online programs (from 50 teachers to 400)
  • 5,000 students are now users of Brightspace, and the number of students who study online has tripled
  • Enabled UPB to establish a presence in remote areas of Colombia and reach out to more students from indigenous and afro-descendant communities
Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana Logo

The Challenge

Holistic education across the social spectrum

Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana (UPB) is a Catholic institution whose mission is the holistic education of its students, through cultural evangelism, a constant search for truth in the processes of teaching, research and social projects, and the reaffirmation of humanist Christian values for the good of society. The university has campuses in Medellín, Bucaramanga, Montería, Palmira and Bogotá, as well as a presence in the states of Putumayo, Meta and Amazonas.

The university receives undergraduate students between the ages of 16 and 23, who study full-time. Its postgraduate students are over 23 and typically study while working. The university’s online programs are mainly aimed at these students, who may want to make progress in their studies while working in different parts of the country or may only be able to come to the university at weekends to take classes. The students come from across the social spectrum, including students from both economically privileged and less privileged backgrounds.

In general, around 5,000 people per year enroll in UPB’s online courses, and of the 26,000 students who study on-site at the university, around 20,000 use UPB’s new Brightspace learning management system. Students can either use Brightspace to study 100 percent online or harness the platform as a learning experience and collaboration tool where they can communicate with their fellow-students and teachers.

students outside in a group

Providing user-centric learning experiences

UPB’s previous learning management system did not offer the functionalities that the institution needed. The university wanted a platform that would be more interactive and would make it easier for teachers to self-manage. In addition, it sought a platform that was more intuitive, that offered a more user-centric experience, and that would solve any issues around skills and ease-of-use for teachers.

With the goal of providing an exceptional digital educational experience, UPB decided to focus on immersive learning experiences. Gloria Figueroa, director of UPB Virtual, explains: “We believe that in overcoming the great challenges of education, the student has to play the leading role. The teacher’s part is to create an environment where students can develop independently through their own learning process.”

UPB wanted to use technology to offer new ways of learning, such as gamified courses, digital resources, and teaching tools that encourage experimentation and the use of different methodologies, such as flipped classroom and methods based on challenges, projects, or problem-solving. The university also had the challenge of analyzing courses from the perspective of the learner, and understanding what students need and how they learn.

teacher lecturing to class on board

The Solution

Finding a flexible platform

To keep pace with the changing world of education, UPB needed a platform that would be flexible enough to meet both its current and future needs. It decided to eliminate the risks posed by developing a platform in-house and running it in its own data center, and find a platform that could provide state-of-the-art educational technology.

After completing the migration of UPB’s online courses to D2L’s Brightspace platform, the UPB team focused on learning how to use the functionality of the platform to maximum advantage and design a better environment for learning. UPB learned a lot from working closely with the D2L team to develop courses that offer an interactive learning experience, with D2L helping them find the right solutions throughout the project.

The university discovered that it can take advantage of the Brightspace tools to drive innovation. For example, UPB developed a course that uses gamification to give students a different experience as they navigate the platform.

The university also helped its faculty gain personal experience of learning through the platform in a project called InnovaTIC, which provided workshops that gave teachers the opportunity to explore the platform in more depth. They learned how to upload their own videos, how to send feedback, and how to use rubrics. This experience alleviated teachers’ concerns about having to use a new technology and proved that the platform is easy to use.

According to UPB, students’ experience of online learning depends on three things: the design of the platform, the teacher’s input as moderator and tutor, and the content of the course itself. With the Brightspace platform, the university can achieve this combination, while intuitive functionality makes sure students can quickly navigate and master the new technology.

With Brightspace, UPB can expand into new regions and reach out to indigenous and afro-descendant communities in remote areas of the country. In isolated areas such as Puerto Asís, Putumayo and Meta, there are places where internet access is available and students may be able to access the platform from their mobile phones. This highlights the importance of using platforms like Brightspace that can connect students in rural areas to urban centers.

teacher teaching students outside on grass
“It’s easy to create content on the platform, or even set up a new course,” says Liliana Uribe, project manager at UPB Virtual. “We have a methodology where we work together with the teacher from the beginning to set up the course on the platform.”

UPB Virtual carries out a defined process of content curation for its virtual environment based on the university’s model of education, which covers the whole production process. Many different types of professionals are involved throughout the process, from teachers, communication specialists and designers to quality management and technology teams who make sure that everything works correctly. Content curation and course design are managed in a collaborative manner by both teachers and domain experts, who contribute their knowledge and expertise to help UPB Virtual bring the latest best practices in teaching to online education.

“One of the reasons why we chose Brightspace is that we realized D2L listens to our needs as they arise, whether they come from a student, a teacher, or the technical team,” says Gloria Figueroa. “That close relationship helps us adapt to developments in learning and deliver whatever our students need from us—that’s why it’s an advantage to have a tool like this.”

UPB has been able to combine its model of education with technology to offer a learning experience centered around the student. The Brightspace platform’s ePortfolio tool enables students to keep track of their learning and the results of their assignments. The platform also allows them to plan and arrange meetings easily. Moreover, it’s easy to integrate external tools that enrich the platform to create innovative learning experiences for all online courses.

"Brightspace supports the commitment to innovation that the university has made because it enables us to improve the learning process for our students. We can create a more interactive education journey and obtain continuous feedback about the experience of learning online."

Gloria Figueroa, Director of UPB Virtual, Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana

The Results

Innovation both online and in the classroom

The number of teachers who use the learning management system to support online programs has grown from 50 to over 400. Moreover, instructors don’t just use the Brightspace platform for online courses—they have realized that it is also a useful tool to help them with the assessment process, which has increased adoption significantly.

Meanwhile, around 5,000 students are also using Brightspace. Previously, about 1,000 students were participating in online courses; today, 3,000 are studying exclusively online. In addition, there are many more students who have experience of using the platform as a learning aid in classroombased programs.

“The platform gives us the opportunity to respond to the new requirements that technology brings in terms of learning,” says Gloria Figueroa.

Teachers have expressed their satisfaction with the new platform because it helps them interact with their students. They have commented that the Brightspace interface is clean, well-organized and easy to navigate. Students have also had a very positive experience of the platform.

Teachers appreciate the ability to communicate with students in a more personal way, not only via forums, but also by evaluating them more closely, by learning how to send a podcast or how to make a video of what they are sharing. It is easy for them to provide feedback or keep up with what their students are doing.

student raising hand in class
Previously, teachers were very reluctant to work with multimedia content, such as recording videos or podcasts. Brightspace helps them record video messages for students from their own computer with a webcam, without having to edit it.

“Another advantage of Brightspace is that it allows us to attract companies that want us to train their employees,” says Gloria Figueroa. “We can offer them a learning management system tailored to their needs and their business environment.”

Since implementing the Brightspace platform one year ago, UPB has designed 150 courses that are on-trend with current developments in the field of education, embodying diverse methodologies and teaching resources.

UPB has also established a presence in the more remote areas of Colombia. Thanks to Brightspace, students can achieve their learning goals even if
they are offline, which was unthinkable a few years ago. The platform enables students to access content without an Internet connection, and synchronize their data later when it is time to upload their assignments to Brightspace or interact with their teachers and fellow-students.

Liliana Uribe concludes: “Something very important to highlight in terms of innovation is our use of the platform is not only limited to students who are studying online—we’re also using Brightspace to enrich the classroom experience, and we’re also using it with our administrative staff. Employees at all levels of the institution use the platform to learn topics related to their specific role within the university.”

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