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Southern Alberta Institute of Technology

LaunchPad to Success: Focus on student onboarding helps drive engagement and retention 

The Business Administration Diploma Program at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) sought to create a virtual onboarding program to better equip students for success. Using interactive tools in D2L Brightspace, SAIT created a holistic pilot program, evaluated engagement through data and used the insights to iterate. Its efforts resulted in increased student engagement and retention rates.


Southern Alberta Institute of Technology


10,000 (2,137 Learners with LaunchPad)

  • Creator+
  • Performance+
  • Homepage Widget Expansion Pack
  • Badges, Intelligent Agents, Assignments, Discussion Boards, Checklists, Calendar


  • Charissa Lee, Faculty Member
  • Courtney Johnston, Student Engagement Officer
  • Rose Campbell, Academic Chair



  • With rapid growth in the Business Administration diploma program, from 760 per academic year before LaunchPad to 1,400 new students this year, and expected growth of 20%–30% next year, higher engagement and retention levels are particularly impressive
  • Increased semester 1 to semester 2 retention rates of 6% and 7% since introducing LaunchPad
  • In the fall semester of 2022, student engagement in LaunchPad was a record 81%, with over 1,100 students posting in discussions and over half earning badges. Fall 2022 semester 1 to semester 2 retention also hit a record high of 94%.
  • Nurtured the growth of an engaged community of diverse learners and provided a network of support and opportunities


Transitioning to Post-Secondary Education 

The Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) School of Business is dedicated to supporting a diverse student body with a wide range of programming. The institution is proud to equip students with the skills they need to succeed in their careers. The School of Business is committed to providing action-based learning, solution-focused work-integrated learning opportunities and industry partnerships, resulting in a 92% employment rate for graduates and a 96% recommendation rate for the institution. Fostering innovative approaches to applied learning education, the School of Business has been recognized by CEO World Magazine as the second-ranked business school in Canada and 51st in the world for three consecutive years. 

In order to help students transition successfully to post-secondary, lay a strong foundation for academic success, foster persistence, and co-create inclusive learning communities it was essential to connect with students early in their transition and provide them with the necessary support and resources. The School of Business recognized program growth, and an increasingly diverse student body with a wide range of needs and support requirements, would require a new approach. An accessible, adaptable, and scalable solution that would give students access to all necessary resources from registration through program completion was needed. To address this need, Academic Chair Rose Campbell, initiated the LaunchPad pilot in the Business Administration Diploma program and enlisted faculty member Charissa Lee in 2020 to lead the development of the pilot within D2L Brightspace, later joined in 2022 by Courtney Johnston, student engagement officer to help with development, data collection, and administration. 

Team photo SAIT


LaunchPad to Success

The LaunchPad initiative aimed to develop an online and holistic student onboarding course, launching first in SAIT’s Business Administration Diploma program. The directive was to design and deliver a course within Brightspace and leverage student data and feedback to inform future iterations. It was key to ensure the solution was adaptable and accessible to support a diverse student body with a wide range of needs and also that it could be easily scaled to accommodate growing enrollments. 

To create interactive course experiences, the LaunchPad development team leveraged widgets in Creator+ to drive engagement with course activities, Discussion boards, and Assignments. The team also utilized Intelligent Agents for communicating and pulling engagement reports to inform an iterative, evidence-based development approach. Students earn badges for completing activities within Brightspace and can then win prizes. LaunchPad has become a communication hub that considerably lessens reliance on emails and provides engagement and support for students year after year. 

My experience with LaunchPad so far has been great. I think it’s an amazing way to get us involved, keep us in the know, and overall just a great way to connect with classmates and connect us with the information we will need in the near future to help us one way or another. I especially liked the fact that we were given access to LaunchPad before our program even started. It was really helpful, especially for an international student like me.

Fall 2022 LaunchPad Survey Respondent.

Through Brightspace, students can access resources and support at the program, school, and institutional levels, register for workshops and connect with other learners. Data and feedback are used to better understand the student experience, determine the most effective program orientation, and develop workshops and engagement opportunities that are important to them. 

As a result, LaunchPad is an innovative, data-driven and continually evolving course that supports learners at every step of their journey. The course begins when the student registers for their program and remains in their Brightspace shell until graduation, evolving each semester as they progress. 


Setting Student Engagement Records

Since its introduction, 2,137 students have experienced LaunchPad. SAIT’s Business Administration Diploma program has seen enrollments grow 86% in this time, with an expected increase of 20%–30% next year. New learners are from an increasingly diverse demographic, with an average of 60%–70% being international students. With this rapid growth, the Business Administration Diploma program has realized an overall 6.5% increase in semester 1 to semester 2 retention rates across three semesters since LaunchPad’s introduction. 

As a direct result of the LaunchPad program, SAIT has been able to foster the creation of a community of engaged learners supported by a network of resources, many of whom have positive things to say. 

“I had fun using LaunchPad since everything is accessible and easy to understand. The content of LaunchPad is all relevant, and I truly feel valued in SAIT.” — Fall 2022 LaunchPad Student 

“I love how LaunchPad forces us students to engage with one another. This helps me slowly integrate with the SAIT community.” — Fall 2022 LaunchPad Student 

Beyond receiving glowing reviews, LaunchPad has had a measurable impact on student engagement and retention. In the fall semester of 2022, student engagement in LaunchPad was a record 81%, with over 1,100 students posting in discussions and over half earning badges. Fall 2022 semester 1 to semester 2 retention also hit a record high of 94%. LaunchPad also provides an accessible portal that connects students to SAIT’s academic advising, learner and academic services, and instructor stakeholder groups. LaunchPad provides support and opportunities for personal and professional growth by connecting students to these resources. 

SAIT aims to continue improving and iterating LaunchPad as the institution introduces it to new programs within its School of Business. However, SAIT also sees it as an opportunity for higher education institutions to collaborate and build on each other’s learnings. 

“The insights and experiences gained from developing and implementing LaunchPad, within the D2L platform, will be valuable for other institutions looking to develop similar initiatives in support of increased student engagement, success, and retention,” shares Rose Campbell, Academic Chair. 

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