Putting Students First
To achieve its vision of being a global leader in applied education, SAIT places great emphasis on the student experience. Its focus on participatory learning aims to give graduates the qualifications and hands-on skills they will need in their careers.
For students to succeed, they need to complete their courses, so student success is always on SAIT’s agenda. When research indicated a strong correlation between students’ ability to access SAIT’s Brightspace learning management system (LMS) instance and their chance of graduating, the organization acted immediately.
Kevin Kowal, Manager of the Education Technology Services department at SAIT, explains: “Research showed that the more students interact with our LMS, the more successful they are—almost across the board. That sparked a whole new initiative around making our Brightspace platform even more useful for our students.”
Bradley Ackroyd, Manager of the Center for Learning and Teaching adds: “We started by asking students for ideas to enhance our LMS. The most common feedback was that they didn’t want one system for course management and a separate system for grades—they wanted Brightspace to be a single hub for digital learning.”
The data also showed that the main obstacle wasn’t getting students to use the platform—many of them were already fans of Brightspace because their previous schools had used it at a K-12 level. Rather, the issue was to persuade faculty members of the value of putting Brightspace at the center of the teaching and learning experience.
“I used to be an instructor, so I understand why they can be reluctant to adopt a new system—particularly if they think it will distract them from teaching. We had to find a way to show our faculty how Brightspace could both improve the student experience and reduce instructors’ administrative workload.” Matt Karns, Education Developer, Center for Learning and Teaching, SAIT
Research showed that the more students interact with our LMS, the more successful they are—almost across the board. That sparked a whole new initiative around making our Brightspace platform even more useful for our students.Kevin Kowal, Manager, Education Technology Services, SAIT
To drive change, SAIT decided to combine two complementary approaches: a top-down, data-driven strategy to set appropriate goals, and a grassroots, community-led strategy to promote engagement and adoption.
The Education Technology Services team used the Brightspace Data Hub to gather historical data about student and faculty interactions with the LMS, and then worked with senior leaders to define appropriate metrics around utilization and establish a baseline. They then began using the Data Hub to monitor changes in utilization, and evaluate the success of different improvement initiatives.
Meanwhile, the Center for Learning and Teaching took the lead in establishing a community of practice—bringing faculty members together to share institutional knowledge and best practices around utilizing the Brightspace platform. As a result, SAIT now has a team of 60 faculty advocators, who volunteer to provide support and training to other members of their departments on how to get the most out of the LMS.
Matt Karns comments: “Our faculty advocators really benefit from some of the new tools that D2L provides for Brightspace. For example, we gave them early access to subscription training, provided by D2L, which allows faculty to sign up to receive new training content as soon as it gets published. We got their feedback. Now, when a colleague wants to learn about Brightspace, one of the first things their faculty advocator will do is encourage them to subscribe.”
“We’ve been able to utilize subscription training very successfully to create just-in-time support and training. To push the whole institute forward in a very short timeframe, we needed a way to scale our training and help faculty accomplish what was being asked of them. Subscription training filled that niche—it’s been extremely beneficial in terms of both the costs and the quality of the deliverables.” Bradley Ackroyd, Manager, Center for Learning and Teaching, SAIT
To boost adoption, SAIT also worked with D2L to improve the integration between its systems. For example, some instructors were initially resistant to the idea of uploading students’ grades to Brightspace, because they already had to upload them to SAIT’s Ellucian Banner ERP system. D2L helped to integrate the two systems, so faculty members can just upload the grades once, and the data is automatically populated in both systems.
Bradley Ackroyd comments: “D2L has been very responsive in terms of meeting our emerging needs. 88 percent of our instructors now put grades in Brightspace, up from 38 percent in 2015—so students can access both their course content and their grades in a single place.”
D2L has been very responsive in terms of meeting our emerging needs. 88 percent of our instructors now put grades in Brightspace, up from 38 percent in 2015—so students can access both their course content and their grades in a single place.Bradley Ackroyd, Manager, Center for Learning and Teaching, SAIT
Driving Continuous Improvement
SAIT’s data-driven approach has enabled senior leaders to verify that the initiative to increase LMS adoption has been a major success. The data shows that instructor engagement has increased from 58 percent to 73 percent in just 18 months— an improvement of 15 percentage points.
Kevin Kowal comments: “For the first time, we have accurate, quantitative data that proves that our initiatives are making a difference. It’s not just about the analytics and it’s not just about the work we’re doing— you need both to drive continuous improvement.”
Anecdotal evidence suggests that faculty have come around to the idea that Brightspace is not “just another system”—it reduces administrative work and helps them focus on teaching.
“The time I spend managing my classes, marking assignments and prepping my lessons has decreased by at least 30 percent since I started to use Brightspace.” Dan Stephenson, New Media Production & Design Instructor, SAIT
And according to Lisa MacDonald, an instructor in broadcast news: “What I like most about Brightspace is that you can put in a due date for an assignment and the program sends a student a reminder 48 hours before. You can’t tell me you didn’t know the assignment is due when you get a reminder sent to you with the link to the assignment!”
Crucially, students are engaging with the platform too. One comments: “Having access to course materials in Brightspace at any time is helpful.” Another adds: “I can’t imagine learning without Brightspace. Everything I need is on there, so I can be paperless and know that I can access my content whenever I need it.”
“The partnership between SAIT and D2L has played a critical role in helping us increase student engagement with our digital learning platform, and we’re excited to see the impact on retention rates. Above all, I’d like to acknowledge the tireless volunteer work of our 60 faculty advocators in driving the whole initiative forward— they have been an essential element of our change management strategy here at SAIT.” Bradley Ackroyd, Manager, Center for Learning and Teaching, SAIT