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Abertay University – Streamlining grades recording within SITS and D2L Brightspace

Abertay University in Dundee, Scotland, is the vibrant and cosmopolitan academic home to around 300 teaching staff and 4,500 students. Named UK University of the Year for Teaching Quality in The Times & Sunday Times Good University Guide 2021, Abertay also has a reputation as one of the UK's leading tech universities. Maximising the potential of digital technology is among the University’s guiding principles. In 2021/22, Abertay successfully automated the grades data feed between Brightspace and the Strategic Information Technology Systems (SITS) to simplify the recording of grades, save staff time, ensure data accuracy and improve the user experience.

Client

Abertay University

Platform
  • D2L Brightspace
  • Two-way data feed between SITS and Brightspace
  • Assignments tool
  • Brightspace implementation team

Interviewees

  • Dr Scott Cameron, school head of teaching quality and learning enhancement, Abertay University
  • Brian Christie, information systems analyst, Abertay University
  • Tim Butterfield, senior web developer, Abertay University
  • Chris Merkel, senior project manager, D2L

 

Highlights

  • Automated pass back of grades between Brightspace and SITS
  • 20,000 grades processed in one term
  • Automated recording of grades saves staff time

Challenge

To Streamline Data Entry For A Better User Experience

Abertay University had wanted to integrate grades recording between the student records management system SITS and its virtual learning environment (VLE) for a number of years, before it introduced Brightspace.

SITS is the official student record used by Abertay to collate and provide data to assessment boards and for communicating results and outcomes to students. It must be updated with grade information, but the VLE is the core learning environment Abertay wanted staff and students to use for learning content, assessments, course information and grades.

The University’s aim was to reduce the burden on staff of having to enter grades information into both the VLE and SITS, and on students of having two places to look for their provisional module results. Duplicating data entry can introduce errors and isn’t a good use of valuable staff time.

“We wanted a consistent experience for students and staff without the problems associated with double data entry,” explains Dr Scott Cameron, school head of teaching quality and learning enhancement at Abertay University. “The request was always to have it in the VLE because that’s where work is marked, and the feedback is. So, grades would go in there and then pass back to the student information system.”

When Abertay looked to replace the VLE it was using, SITS/VLE grades pass back formed part of discussions during the procurement process.

“Staff ease of use and automation were also drivers for single data entry,” adds Dr Cameron. “It was largely driven by staff and student experience enhancement and, importantly, that single point of data entry. We needed a robust system that would be easy to use.”

One of our graduate attributes is digital, so developing digital skills for students and staff with easy to use, integrated, fit for purpose software is important. Where we can get efficiencies and simpler to use systems, we should be doing that. This very much feeds into that.

Dr Scott Cameron, school head of teaching quality and learning enhancement, Abertay University

Solution

Teamwork Delivers An Integrated Solution

Abertay chose D2L to provide Brightspace for use across the University in January 2019. It began using the learning platform in September of that year and, over the space of three years which included a period of fully online learning during COVID-19, blended online and classroom-based learning for all campus-based programmes.

The University formed a working team to automate the grades data feed between Brightspace and SITS. The team comprised academic staff, who use the two applications, and in-house IT professionals who would design and implement the solution. D2L assigned Jim Clink, senior implementation consultantr at D2L, as a consultant on the project.

“We looked at the data that needed to be brought back into SITS in order for the grades to work,” says Brian Christie, information systems analyst at Abertay University. “We recognised challenges with that early on. The grade objects were originally created via a grade template, and it wasn’t easy to identify those units and pull back the grades for them.”

Customer Story image1

The team needed to automatically create grade objects in Brightspace and retrieve results into a temporary holding area from where they could be imported back into SITS. It was a new challenge for Abertay and D2L and one that required strong teamwork.

Jim Clink says: “We worked with Abertay to understand the business processes required to pass grade information back to SITs from Brightspace. We discussed grade transfer challenges after demonstrating the detailed technical process for pulling the data from Brightspace. In addition, we highlighted the approach taken by other clients to the same problem.”

After three months of development and testing, Abertay piloted the new solution with one term’s grades. This was successful and so the team instigated a change management programme to rollout the new way of working to all academic staff. They sent emails explaining the change, videos showcasing the process, guidance documents with screenshots and put information online for staff to access.

The solution utilises various endpoints from the Brightspace API to query module identifiers and create or update grade objects. The extensive documentation and SDK from Brightspace provided a solid foundation for development and, even with this project, we have just scratched the surface.

Tim Butterfield, senior web developer, Abertay University

Result

Time-Saving Solution Transforms Grade Recording

Abertay recorded terms 1 and 2 grades in 2021/22 in the new way. For term 1, this constituted 20,000 grades across the academic schools. The new solution automates grade replication across the two systems at the time of marking, saving staff time, reducing the possibility of errors and simplifying the process.

University teaching staff no longer have to double check data sets for Brightspace based assignment grades in SITS. There is now no chance of a mismatch between the two systems.

It has streamlined the workflow. Feedback from staff who use it is wholly positive.

Dr Scott Cameron, school head of teaching quality and learning enhancement, Abertay University

Throughout, the team appreciated D2L’s input and the chance to discuss the challenge and ways to achieve what they wanted to do. “D2L was always happy and quick to respond whenever we had any queries about the process or the design choice we’d made. They were very helpful,” says Brian Christie.

Abertay continually reviews assessments to ensure they have the right approach, including that they help equip students with employability skills. As Abertay continues to evolve its blended learning pedagogical model, digital advancements, accelerated by the pandemic, will be harnessed and automated grades recording fits within this strategy.

Abertay University identified an opportunity to improve the grade recording process to make it simpler, less labour intensive and more integrated. It successfully removed the need for duplicate data entry by enabling grades information to pass between Brightspace and SITS. Throughout, Abertay University and D2L worked successfully together, learning from each other and drawing on their collective expertise and experience to achieve a successful solution.

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