The next phase in e‑learning at Dal

New LMS, Brightspace, begins initial pilot phase this fall

- June 25, 2015

Derek Tay, learning management coordinator with Dal's MBA program, and Adrienne Sehatzadeh, instructional designer with the Centre for Learning and Teaching. (Danny Abriel photo)
Derek Tay, learning management coordinator with Dal's MBA program, and Adrienne Sehatzadeh, instructional designer with the Centre for Learning and Teaching. (Danny Abriel photo)

E-learning is transforming several aspects of higher education. Using technologies to support in-class, online and blended approaches to teaching offers some noted advantages to both instructor and learner. These include the opportunity to “flip” instructional modes, especially in large classes, in order to enable many more conversations between and among instructors and students.

President Florizone’s 100 Days of Listening report outlined a series of emerging priorities for Dalhousie, one of which was the need for a comprehensive and coordinated strategy for online learning. This finding, along with the subsequent approval of Inspiration and Impact: Dalhousie's Strategic Direction 2014-18, led to a request for a review of Dalhousie’s Learning Management Service (LMS). The review was initiated by the Provost’s office, and led collaboratively by Dalhousie’s Centre for Learning and Teaching, Information Technology Services and the Dalhousie Libraries.

A new system: Brightspace

On April 20, the announcement was made that Brightspace had been selected as Dalhousie’s new Learning Management System. Brightspace is a platform developed by D2L, a Canadian company that has been in operation since 1999.  

Some of the features that Brightspace will offer to Dalhousie include a course builder, which will help make setting up a course easier and more intuitive for instructor; an ePortfolio tool that is integrated into the entire system for students, making it easier to add items as they learn; and Canadian data storage.

“I was very impressed with the mobile e-portfolio, which allows students to build a showcase of their learning, share it with others for informal feedback and then submit it for grades or formal assessment,” says Jennifer Adams, a reference librarian at the Sir James Dunn Law Library who took part in the LMS review.

“I also liked the ability to use intelligent agents in the system, which includes being able to send out pre-set emails when students haven’t logged in or having the ability to engage students by suggesting mid-course that their progress be at a certain spot.”

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Christian Blouin, an associate professor from the Faculty of Computer Science and Department of Biochemistry and a Faculty Associate with the Centre for Learning and Teaching, also participated in the LMS review.

“One of the things I liked about Brightspace that stood out from the others was the ability to tie all of the assessments to learning outcomes," he says. "Learning outcomes are becoming more and more common in course design and my experience is that students appreciate being able to make a connection between what we expect and what we actually ask them to do in terms of assessment.”  

The migration to Brightspace by D2L is happening at a key moment as the university develops a "clearer strategy and approach to e-learning that sifts through the hype and brings together best practices from inside and outside Dalhousie." (This falls under Strategic Priority 1.5 in the Strategic Direction: "Foster support and innovation in program development and excellence in teaching and pedagogy.")

“We would like to engage the community in discussing where they are now with regard to e-learning, how they would like to use the Brightspace LMS to advance their use of eLearning technologies in the future, and what kind of Educational Development Plan and supports need to be in place to accommodate their move forward.” says Adrienne Sehatzadeh, Instructional Designer, Centre for Learning and Teaching.

Implementation begins this fall

Phase 1 of the project involves a small pilot of the platform, which will include four “early adopters” whose programs will launch this fall.  Phase 1 members include:

  • The Faculty of Agriculture (all programs)
  • The Faculty of Management (mid-career graduate programs through the Centre for Advanced Management Education)
  • The Faculty of Architecture and Planning (all programs)
  • The Faculty of Health Professions (Social Work programs)

“We based our decisions about early adopters on a few different criteria," says Doug Rogers, project manager, technology enabled learning: LMS implementation. "We looked for self-contained programs to limit the amount of time faculty and students would spend teaching or learning on two systems. We also tried to choose programs with a decent amount of internal support, while achieving a broad range of representation.”

Educational development for these early adopter programs is underway, and is co-led by Adrienne Sehatzadeh, instructional designer with the Centre for Learning and Teaching, who spearheads the project’s Pedagogy and Course Design team; and Marc Comeau, director of Library IT services with the Dal Libraries, who leads the Technical Implementation team.

“This is an opportunity for faculty to assess how they use the LMS in their teaching and for them to explore the new features available through Brightspace,” says Ms. Sehatzadeh. “We are excited to consult within the community to determine the needs and future goals for the use of the LMS as a way to enhance student learning and engagement.”

Phase 2 will begin in the fall for courses that will begin in January 2016, and Phase 3 will be the campus-wide implementation of Brightspace thereafter.

The Dalhousie LMS Implementation Steering Committee provides regular updates on the project. Look for details at and by following the conversation on Twitter using #DalElearn.


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