The only downside of teachers at the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) loving their new Web 2.0 tools was that they loved a very wide variety of them. They all had different usernames, passwords, and URLs. While the Board used a standardized blogging platform built in-house, they were also branching out in different areas to use different Learning Management System (LMS) tools. That meant they were unable to support one another and, since they were being hosted in a variety of spaces, it was next to impossible for the Board to provide guidance.
One System to Address Everyone’s Needs
To bring teachers back into the fold, the HWDSB needed a single learning platform that would make every one of them happy. At the same time, the learning platform also had to link to other Web 2.0 tools and provide a single sign-on solution. “Ideally, that would allow us to create a student portal where all the necessary learning resources are located,” says Paul Hatala, Blended Learning Instructional Coach of HWDSB. “We wanted students to have a seamless experience as they moved from tool to tool. We also wanted a strategy where our teachers and parents could see what resources students are accessing—and how they’re progressing through content.”
Technology that Makes Blended Learning Possible
While the immediate goal was to implement a stronger and more unified approach to their online learning solutions, the Board’s long-term goal was to deploy a blended learning strategy. At the end of the day, the HWDSB wanted a learning platform that would help expand on the face-to-face experience.
It Takes Communication to Achieve Customization
Although HWDSB already had access to the Brightspace platform through a program with the Ontario Ministry of Education, they were looking for a solution that would meet their specific school board needs. Before anything else, a meaningful conversation was needed to establish the Board’s requirements. “We worked closely with our Brightspace account manager and project specialist,” says Hatala. “They understood our goals and were able to advise us on the best strategy without trying to include everything under the sun. They were great. They listened to our ideas and came back to us with a plan to get started.”
The plan? The first step was integrating the board’s active directory so that students would be able to log in to the Brightspace platform using the same username and password they use to access school computers. Next, they had to apply Student Information System (SIS) integration. By pulling course information, teachers no longer needed to request a course shell and didn’t have to manage their own class lists. The final step, leveraging Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI), would allow key user information to be passed to third-party applications and used to authenticate the user.
Together, these three components of the Brightspace platform create a seamless environment that affords students across the Board easy access to a variety of tools and resources—both in the Brightspace platform and beyond.
Hosting Content is Only the Beginning
According to Hatala, teachers expected a new space to post their content and no more. Instead, they gained the ability to link all data objects, integrate lessons, and learn from other teachers. Now, they can monitor students’ progress and track their success online rather than doing it manually—and they can enrich their classroom content with other sources.
The change affects parents, too. Teachers can use the system to keep parents in the loop by reporting back with constructive information about their child’s progress. Parents can also go online themselves to see the actual resources being used by students.
“The transition was really easy. D2L did most of the legwork. Our job was getting content ready, then testing and reporting back with problems. They did everything in the background to make sure it was working the way we wanted.”
Paul Hatala, Blended Learning Instructional Coach, Hamilton Wentworth District School Board
Classrooms are Going Online in Record Numbers
Before implementing the Brightspace platform, less than 20% of secondary students across the Board were using the online resources offered. Now, 70% are actively using the Brightspace platform and there is no sign of that adoption slowing down.
What’s more, fewer than 100 elementary students were using the platform at the start of the year, and by the midway point, that number skyrocketed to 1,000. Hatala notes: “Because of the easy access and the convenience of having all the resources in one space, teachers were comfortable with getting their students started. Students are getting the benefits of blended learning early.”
Students and Teachers are Pushing for Growth
“Students are actually asking their teachers to use Brightspace as their learning platform,” he says. “They tell us they like the fact that it’s one-stop-shopping for classroom resources.” Teachers are enthusiastic, too. Hatala reports that the board is seeing an increase in requests for information and support—and they’re happy to provide teachers with what they need. “Now, we offer regular after-school webinars and training sessions to further develop our teachers’ online skills. The more they know about the learning platform, the more students benefit.”
 Results Courtesy of Hamilton Wentworth District School Board