With its responsive and user-friendly mobile experience, the Brightspace platform stood head and shoulders above the rest.Dr. Elizabeth Yost Hammer, Director, Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Faculty Development, XULA
Targeting Academic Excellence
Founded in 1925, Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA) is a Roman Catholic university in New Orleans, Louisiana. XULA is recognized as one of the nation’s top historically Black colleges and universities. With a 93% placement rate, XULA remains Louisiana’s top institution for graduates successfully entering the job market. XULA offers a wide range of programs in medicine, science, and the humanities, and has maintained its high-ranking status in sending African American graduates on to successfully complete Med School. Xavier also remains ranked among the top ten in sending African American graduates to medical school.
Dr. Elizabeth Yost Hammer, Director at the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Faculty Development at XULA, explains, “Our mission is to prepare our students for positions of leadership in creating a more just and humane society. We strive for student attainment and success in everything we do, and in recent years, digital tools have become an increasingly important part of our approach to teaching.”
For more than a decade, XULA relied on a learning management system (LMS) from Blackboard to provide digital tools for its learners and faculty. However, as the popularity of mobile devices exploded, the university saw an opportunity for a new approach that offered a responsive and user-friendly mobile experience.
“After considering a number of leading LMS vendors, we decided to build our new digital learning capabilities on D2L’s Brightspace platform,” continues Dr. Elizabeth Yost Hammer. “We engaged our students throughout the evaluation process, and their feedback was very clear. With its responsive and user-friendly mobile experience, the Brightspace platform stood head and shoulders above the rest.”
For example, one junior biology pre-med major wrote: “I actually enjoy the Brightspace platform a lot better. I feel like it’s just more efficient; it’s easier to navigate, and I also like that they have the helpful videos to find where everything is at.” Similarly, a sophomore public health major wrote, “I like the Brightspace platform… it’s easier to work; everything is right there at your fingertips. You can see everything, and it looks really good—I like the design of it.”
Tackling An Unprecedented Crisis
When the COVID-19 crisis hit Louisiana in early 2020, XULA realized that the Brightspace platform would need to play a critical role in enabling students to continue their education despite the restrictions imposed by the pandemic.
Dr. Jason Todd, Associate Director at the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Faculty Development at XULA, comments, “Some of our faculty had been using the Brightspace platform to share class materials and create quizzes for their students—but many of them didn’t have firsthand experience in building entire courses on the platform. We knew we had to act fast to equip our people with the necessary skills.”
Building New Skills Rapidly
To tackle the challenge head-on, XULA decided to use the Brightspace platform itself to build an intuitive, quick-start course that would help its faculty learn how to teach effectively online. The new course, named “Learn Everywhere XULA” (LEX), covers everything from the most basic user journeys, such as logging in and setting up student grade books, to more advanced capabilities, such as accessing analytics data or using release conditions (a feature that releases new content to students when specific conditions have been met—for example, after a certain date or when a student has completed all the introductory modules of their course).
“Historically, only a few of our faculty had run fully online courses, so we knew that this would be a completely new way of teaching for many of our staff,” says Dr. Jason Todd. “The clock was also ticking for the start of the new semester, and we’d set ourselves the ambitious target of training all of our teaching staff before students resumed their studies in the fall.”
Janice Florent, Technology Coordinator at XULA, comments, “When we were designing the LEX program for our faculty, quality was always at the forefront of our minds. As a team, we worked together closely to determine a consistent approach to building the training modules for LEX so that we’d be presenting information to all our learners in a consistent way—making the material easier to digest.”
She continues, “We knew that the Brightspace platform offered powerful features to make online learning more engaging, such as quizzes and multimedia course content. To allow our faculty to explore these features at their own pace, we launched a blog and a podcast to serve up bite-sized guidance and practical information on using the Brightspace platform.”
We knew that the Brightspace platform offered powerful features to make online learning more engaging, such as quizzes and multimedia course content.Janice Florent, Technology Coordinator, XULA
Driving University-Wide Adoption
As part of the university’s reopening plan for the fall, XULA’s administration asked each full-time faculty member to convert one of their courses into a fully online synchronous course using the Brightspace platform. Thanks to the success of the LEX training program, XULA’s faculty passed the test with flying colors.
“Of the 217 full-time faculty members who enrolled in LEX, 96% have completed the course and received their certificate—an outstanding achievement given the tight timeline.” – Dr. Jason Todd, Associate Director, Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Faculty Development
Janice Florent adds, “Our teaching staff can now create online courses on their own, with minimal support from the technology team. As well as helping XULA to accelerate the shift to online teaching, we’re reducing the volume of support requests to our team, which helps us focus on enhancing the Brightspace platform and introducing new features.”
Feedback from faculty members has been positive; for example: “The Brightspace platform is a tool that made my class more dynamic and fun. I am able to include videos with detailed instructions on how to complete each assignment, share my lectures, make announcements, send emails, record attendance, connect to our Zoom virtual classes, have online discussions, and allow students to turn in their assignments using video recordings of their work.”
Moreover, more faculty now see how the Brightspace platform adds value to their in-person courses. One teacher commented that by using the platform, they have “created a permanent source of for students, since many of them are overwhelmed the first week and often miss what is said in class… Students have commented that they like the ways I have made material accessible through the Brightspace platform.”
Ready For The Future
Building on the success of the LEX initiative, XULA is preparing to take its use of the D2L solution to the next level.
“Going forward, we’re offering everyone who’s completed the LEX course additional training so that they can use the Brightspace platform at an expert level,” continues Dr. Jason Todd. “For example, by using intelligent agents in the Brightspace platform, our faculty will be able to set up automated email alerts if students haven’t logged in for a specified period, or when new class content is released on the platform. And by setting up achievement badges for course milestones, our teachers will be able to drive student engagement with their programs.”
“Today, around 99% of our faculty are now actively using the Brightspace platform to engage with their students, and their level of expertise will continue to grow in the months and years ahead. Thanks to the D2L solution, we’re delivering high-quality teaching despite the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic.” – Dr. Elizabeth Yost Hammer, Director, Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Faculty Development.