As a software-as-a-service solution, we knew that the Brightspace platform offered the robustness required to support the move of all our classes online.
Vanessa Cox, Director of Online Learning, University of Dallas
Building a contingency plan
With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing students to stay at home rather than visit campus, the University of Dallas needed to find a way for its faculty members to continue to deliver world-class education. To solve the problem, the University aimed to move all learning online—but with four academic units each providing a wide range of courses, this would be a complex task.
“We have offered digital learning resources for many years,” explains Vanessa Cox, Director, Online Learning. “Recently, we implemented D2L’s Brightspace learning management system, which provides great capabilities and fantastic support via their helpdesk. Every month, we meet with D2L to give feedback and plan for the next semester. But when COVID-19 struck, we realized we had to accelerate our adoption of online learning.”
To achieve its objectives, the University would have to overcome several key challenges. First, it needed to bring faculty members up to speed with the online tools as quickly as possible. Second, the University had to make sure that students would be able to access the same course content, lectures, and discussion sessions that they would normally experience on campus.
“Inevitably, there were complicating factors,” adds Vanessa Cox. “Many faculty members were still hesitant to adopt online courses because they feared it would detract from the learning experience. Moreover, we had only three people in the e-learning team tasked with leading this transformation, one of whom had joined the University just a few weeks before the crisis hit.”
Moving all learning online
The initial implementation of the Brightspace platform had been a big success, so the University decided to scale up its use of D2L’s learning management tools and support services to help it handle the new requirements created by the COVID-19 crisis. From the outset, the University was confident that the Brightspace platform would be able to cope with the sudden increase in user numbers.
“As a software-as-a-service solution, we knew that the Brightspace platform offered the robustness required to support the move of all our classes online,” explains Vanessa Cox. “With a cloud-based platform, we don’t have to worry about our own network handling the massive rise in traffic, or the risk of infrastructure failures on campus. We knew D2L had us covered.”
As the first step in the switch online, the University built websites for remote learners and faculty members. The sites include quick access to the Brightspace platform and guidance for educators on how to use the online tools, in addition to advice on sharing PowerPoint presentations, notes, and prerecorded lectures.
Next, the University created a new shell in the Brightspace platform for virtual tutoring, enabling the academic success team to run virtual classroom sessions. In total, the University has 68 tutors running classroom sessions in just one shell, where they can use their chosen videoconferencing tools to conduct tutoring sessions.
The University also stepped up communications with its D2L End User Support Manager.
“Any time that we raise an issue, we know that our D2L contacts will either solve it or escalate to ensure we receive a quick fix. The quality of support has been fantastic; we could easily have been overwhelmed as such a small team, but we never feel alone with the D2L support team on our side.” – Vanessa Cox, Director of Online Learning, University of Dallas
As we work to overcome the challenges of COVID-19, one positive outcome is that more and more of our educators are discovering the power they have to leverage distance learning as a valuable way to reach students.
Vanessa Cox, Director of Online Learning, University of Dallas
Continuing a rich educational experience
With the help of D2L, the University has successfully transitioned its traditional on-campus courses online. Using the Brightspace platform, educators can continue to interact with their students and deliver high-quality learning experiences. Feedback from faculty members has been highly positive—even from those who initially had doubts about the value of online learning.
“One educator was concerned about the number of students that she would be able to add to a virtual classroom. But when she tried out the tools, she quickly overcame her reservations; in one day, she ran three group sessions, and now plans to add even more to her online courses.” – Vanessa Cox, Director of Online Learning, University of Dallas
The University believes that the flexibility of the Brightspace platform and D2L support services have been integral to the success of the move online. Vanessa Cox adds: “The D2L solution really empowers students and faculty to embrace online learning at their own pace. Any time of the day or night, they can find guidance on using the Brightspace tools via email, chat, or phone from the help desk, or consult one of our experienced online educators.”
With the Brightspace platform, the University makes sure that students can continue their studies and have the best possible chance of finishing their degree programs on schedule. For example, many undergraduates were due to spend one semester studying in Rome, Italy, before the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to complete that experience at home in the United States. To compensate, the Rome faculty quickly moved their course materials online, which meant that students could still complete their studies, even though they had to miss out on their semester abroad.
Moving forward, the University believes that the experience of teaching online during the COVID-19 pandemic will showcase the value of online learning tools to faculty members and lead to more widespread adoption in the future.
“Online learning creates deeper, richer discussions than traditional classes—and although faculty may be resistant, when they understand how it helps students—you can win them over,” explains Vanessa Cox. “A few years ago, one of our professors was convinced his leadership course would not work online. But when he tried it out, he found that students who did not normally speak out in class were much more engaged online. He now realizes that by teaching online, he’s able to reach more people than ever before. His courses are available to students who may not be able to attend on-campus sessions.”
She concludes: “As we work to overcome the challenges of COVID-19, one positive outcome is that more and more of our educators are discovering the power they have to leverage distance learning as a valuable way to reach students.”