The University of Ottawa (uOttawa) is the largest bilingual (English-French) university in the world with faculties in social sciences, health, engineering, science and the humanities. The university is committed to upholding Canada’s vision of francophonie and bilingualism and offers outstanding programs in French, in English and in both languages. In 2015, uOttawa officially obtained designation for its services and academic programs in French under the French Language Services Act of Ontario. This designation guarantees the continuation of the Francophone character of uOttawa and protects its provision of services and academic programs in French. This commitment to bilingualism sets uOttawa apart from all other major universities in Canada. The campus’s duality ensures its students are uniquely prepared to shape the future of Canada and to live out its values.
A customer and user of Blackboard since 2005, uOttawa faced huge challenges in meeting its bilingual charter commitments. Language within the existing Learn LMS was not maintained to uOttawa’s exacting standards, and the lack of a full bilingual system was beginning to disenfranchise faculty and students. “We are a bilingual university governed by rules and regulations,” explains Michel Marcheterre, Manager of Learning Technology Systems and Network for uOttawa. “The system was lacking in that instance.”
With its existing contract with Blackboard set to expire in 2017, in mid-2015 uOttawa’s Teaching and Learning Support Service (TLSS) initiated a major project to search for, select and implement a new LMS. Consultations were launched across the university community and a request for proposal was initiated in the Fall of 2016, with 22 vendors responding to the tender. The candidate vendors and their platforms were then submitted to a rigorous selection process by a committee represented by professors and deans, students, computing services, procurement, and TLSS staff. Requirements encompassed seven main criteria (mandatory features) and 131 additional non-mandatory, rated criteria. “By far the most important criteria for selection was the platform’s ability to be bilingual,” says Marcheterre. “We wanted to be assured that if a French-Canadian student or faculty member chose French as their language, they would see nothing English in the solution’s user interface. Tutorials, error messages and legal information all needed to be fully available in French.”
Image Source: uOttawa
An inclusive selection process
“From the very start of the process we set out to make this LMS decision as inclusive as it could be by soliciting input from all stakeholders,” says Marcheterre. Over an eight-month period, TLSS staff contacted and personally met with all departments, with professors, and with students, to ask them ‘what do you like?’ ‘what should we keep?’ ‘what should we remove?’ More than 3,500 (2430 English + 1214 French) individuals also responded to a survey regarding the LMS migration. “Engagement was very good,” says Marcheterre.
Using the mandatory criteria, uOttawa was able to narrow down the decision from 22 to four platforms, Blackboard Learn, Canvas, Brightspace and Moodle. Instances of each of the LMS platforms were then installed in the TLSS lab, and a team of eight then ranked each platform using the 131 additional criteria.
In the end, Brightspace was selected, chosen for its great product fit, strong support for bilingualism, and D2L’s Canadian roots. “The fact that D2L was a Canadian company put our minds at ease,” admits Marcheterre. “However, the relationship also felt very open and genuine – D2L seemed to truly get what we wanted to do.” The fact that D2L also had a native francophone as part of the uOttawa account team also inspired confidence.
A rapid implementation and a hard cutover puts TLSS and D2L to the test
Originally in its implementation plan, TLSS called for a lengthy, one year transition period where the old Blackboard Learn and new Brightspace LMS would run in parallel. This would allow professors time to move content over to the new platform and users (Blackboard had a near 80% adoption among faculty and students) to migrate at a more leisurely pace to Brightspace. In the end, however, the opportunity to realize substantial savings directed TLSS to move to a plan that would require a hard cutover to the new system. This rapid migration from Blackboard Learn to Brightspace was accompanied by a major face-to-face and online training program in groups and one-on-one, in order to best meet the instructors’ different needs. The transition also called for TLSS and D2L to archive content from 54,959 courses available within Blackboard Learn and to create a brand new portal for professors, where they could request the creation of their courses on Brightspace, and to migrate the content of their old courses. “We had no option for them to stay on the old system or even to have content on the old system,” explains Marcheterre. “Literally one day you’d be on Blackboard and the next on Brightspace.”
Given the aggressive nature of the migration, the TLSS team opted to introduce their users to the core functionality of the Brightspace platform. “We focused on content areas of the platform first; features such as assignments, gradebook and discussion forums, those areas that professors are going to need right out of the gate,” says Marcheterre. “We wanted to keep it simple, allow them to learn how to use the platform slowly with not too many options.” While TLSS did early training of profs, anticipating they would call on them to mentor others, the team was pleasantly surprised that many users were able to get onto Brightspace and run through the basics with little to no training. Marcheterre credits some of this to the new Brightspace Daylight user interface. “It is clean, modern, responsive and tablet-friendly. It is what people expect today. We think it helped with adoption.”
Image Source: uOttawa
D2L’s team inspired confidence
D2L’s services team played an instrumental role in facilitating uOttawa’s 109-day migration to Brightspace. “The services team was pretty awesome. They were able to batch migrate content in the back end and wrote a script to convert Blackboard content to Brightspace content behind the scenes. This meant they could target courses with issues without having to get the prof involved to pre-empt any concerns that might arise. They were always available, always ready to help. They gave us a lot of confidence,” says Marcheterre.
Insights and more hybrid learning on the horizon
With the migration complete, TLSS will now start delving into more complex Brightspace features, such as Brightspace Insights™ for analytics. Short-term priorities are still being discussed, but Marcheterre knows that uOttawa is also keen to assess data on engagement. The university, while still very much reliant on face-to-face in-class learning, is also stepping into the world of “technology-assisted” learning. Of the university’s 15,000 courses per year, uOttawa now offers 302 online courses, 45 audio-conference courses, and 113 video-conferencing courses. The university adopted large-scale hybrid learning in 2013 to improve learning outcomes and productivity. In 2016, 159 hybrid learning courses had been designed and 360 teachers had been trained in the development and teaching of hybrid courses, with 6,000 students participating in hybrid learning between 2015-2016.
“The fact that D2L was a Canadian company put our minds at ease. However, the relationship also felt very open and genuine – D2L seemed to truly get what we wanted to do.”
Michel Marcheterre, Manager of Learning Technology Systems and Network, uOttawa
Throughout the migration period from Blackboard Learn to Brightspace, the TLSS kept up a highly focused communication campaign in order to prioritize the migration of the 4,000 courses offered in the spring/summer of 2017.
By May 1, 2017, TLSS had 379 professors trained and ready to go on the Brightspace platform. The Blackboard Learn platform was officially shut down on May 30, 2017. By the start of the 2017 Fall semester, another 695 professors were fully trained and ready to go on Brightspace and another 6,000 courses were migrated over to Brightspace. Despite the whirlwind process, uOttawa faculty and students continue to be very active users of their LMS platform. With adoption sitting at around 80% for Blackboard, utilization of Brightspace is comparable even at the early stages. “As a matter of fact, our adoption rate is increasing,” boasts Michel Marcheterre.
Image Source: uOttawa