UVic launching new website and Brightspace online learning system

Campus News

Brightspace to replace Coursespaces ahead of term where 90 per cent of undergraduate courses will be online

Brightspace and UVic new website will premiere this fall, screen capture of UVic.ca
Screencapture of UVic.ca

The University of Victoria will not only welcome a new President this fall, but also a new online learning management system and website. 

Brightspace, created by Desire 2 Learn (D2L), and also used by Camosun College, is set to replace Coursespaces as the university’s predominant learning management system (LMS).  UVic’s official website, uvic.ca, rebranded on Aug. 3 to include a more mobile-friendly and streamlined service for students. 

“About 40 per cent of our audience now is mobile-only, and when we met interviewing students — especially high school students — the phone is their primary device, a lot of them don’t even have laptops,” said Len Collins, Information Architect & User Experience Specialist, when asked about the mobile-first approach to revamping UVic’s website. 

Collins spent a year researching other university websites and over 150 interviews with students, alumni, and community members about what they wanted to see from a new website. 

Robin Sutherland, Manager of Internet Studies, said the plan to revamp the university’s official website has been in the works for about three years and echoed the idea that UVic wanted to make it a collaborative effort while renovative their website. 

“We went out to the people who use the site and said, ‘how would you like to use it?’ and then [we] tried to build it that way,” says Sutherland. 

Among the new features, the new uvic.ca has a new page specifically for undergraduate and graduate admissions with information about each UVic program and how prospective students can apply. Also, Collins says he was surprised by how many students didn’t know the support systems available on-campus, so he focused on finding ways to highlight various mental health and academic resources for students. 

The new website will rely on analytics to see which tabs are most used by students. UVic will continue to interview students for their input and undergo annual reviews of the site. 

UVic swaps CourseSpaces for Brightspace 

In June, after experiencing difficulties with moving courses online during the COVID-19 pandemic in March, the university announced they were replacing Coursespaces — which has served as UVic’s LMS since 2008. 

“We knew we needed to review and invest in our technology to provide the best possible online teaching and learning experience and took steps to prepare for the fall term when we’ll have the most online courses our university has ever seen,” said Laurene Sheilds, executive director of Teaching and Learning Support and Innovation, in an email interview with the Martlet. 

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, UVic will shift 90 per cent of undergraduate and 60 per cent of graduate courses online for this term. 

She adds that review was instrumental in helping UVic decide they needed an update to their LMS ahead of the fall term. Specifically, Sheilds says, the consultation process aimed at providing features that were more accessible to both students with disabilities and mobile device users, along with allowing the university to implement other teaching services such as Zoom and Crowdmark. 

“Students who have been using CourseSpaces can expect Brightspace to be far more stable, with a 99.99% up-time. We know how frustrating outages are, especially when they occur in the middle of an exam, and the up-time was a major factor in choosing Brightspace,” says Sheilds, who adds that Brightspace will be an easier-to-use platform that Coursespaces with drop-down features and a mobile-first design. 

Sheilds says the short timeframe to prepare Brightspace for this fall has been challenging, but about 400 courses had been migrated and returned to instructors as of early August and about a third of instructors have opted to have their courses developed from scratch in Brightspace. 

The university hired co-op students to help with the migration of courses from Coursespaces to Brightspace, and training for faculty to get familiar with the new system began in August. 

Sheilds says the university regularly reviews their technology systems, and previously conducted a LMS review in January of 2020 with community input to decide if Coursespaces was meeting the demand of faculty and students. 

Sybil Harrison, Director of Learning Services at Camosun College’s Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, has overlooked the department that works on D2L since 2012. She says that when Camosun implemented Brightspace in the fall of 2007 the main priority was to find an accessible online system for both students and instructors. 

“These are big decisions for institutions, they are huge changes and ones that institutions don’t want to do very often. It’s like you’re starting a semester with a whole new building or closing all the buildings and moving the entire institution to another building,” said Harrison over the phone.

Now, she says, the majority of online learning use a “cloud-based system,” but Harrison says Brightspace’s early adoption of cloud technology was another factor why Camoson chose and has successfully used D2L for over a decade. 

At the end of the day, Harrison says students and instructors should remember Brightspace is simply a tool and cannot replace good teaching. However, on a personal note, she’s excited UVic made the transition to Brightspace. 

“From a Camosun perspective, we’re thrilled UVic went this way because many, many of our students go to UVic so now our students will be well prepared and share some of their experiences [with Brightspace].” 

Over 4 500 students have registered for UVic’s “Pre Arrival Online Orientation Program” to help new students prepare for the fall term. A full student-support system to introduce the campus body to Brightspace will be released at the end of August or early September. 

More information about online learning for faculty and students is available at  oac.uvic.ca/teachanywhere and oac.uvic.ca/learnanywhere.