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Brightspace Blues and Breakthroughs

By Arlenis Marmolejos


Tolin Baber logged in to the D2L Brightspace homepage. (Photo via Arlenis Marmolejos)


After a semester of adapting to SUNY’s transition to the unified learning management system, D2L Brightspace, students and faculty have navigated this change with diverse reactions.


Despite 15 years of relying on Moodle as the open-source academic software, Purchase experienced a significant shift with the State University of New York (SUNY) campus-wide implementation of Desire2Learn (D2L) Brightspace, enforced this fall semester.


“I hear countless students and professors air their grievances about how hard it has been to adjust and how much they miss Moodle,” said Jason Berry, a sophomore transfer and visual arts major.


The Director of the School of Humanities, Aviva Taubenfeld, shared what a “heavy lift” the migration was for faculty members who approached her with concerns about moving their course materials from Moodle to Brightspace and the workload of preparation they faced over the past summer.


Tolin Baber, a senior double majoring in political science and philosophy, finds Brightspace to be “a hell of a lot better than Moodle” regardless of the “largely negative” consensus. However, the “sudden platform transformation has fractured the entire professor base” on how to properly utilize Brightspace.


“As with any shift in learning platform, there’s an adjustment period that negatively impacts student and professor workflows,” Baber said. With adequate training, the platform can become effective since it offers numerous features, such as “live annotations, classroom updates, comparatively comprehensive article posting, and automatically updates assignments on a weekly basis.”


“We can move over to better platforms all we want, but a professor set up to fail is still a professor set up to fail,” said Jamie Simiele, a sophomore film major.    


Simiele’s “biggest struggle” when migrating to Brightspace was the insufficient training of some professors on the new platform. “It personally affected me with submission pages being set up late, readings being nowhere to be found, and pages being completely locked up because of poorly set up deadlines.”


Baber explained, “This is by no means the fault of the professors and students, but rather, the circumstances under which they find themselves – that is, being hastily forced to use an alien program to connect to their classes.”


Due to their lack of familiarity, Berry noted that some professors opt not to utilize the platform and “haven't even uploaded their material to Brightspace.”


The President of the SUNY University Faculty Senate (UFS) and Director of the campus Teaching, Learning, and Technology Center (TLTC), Keith Landa, described how the institution, to some extent, remains “agnostic,” granting faculty “academic freedom to use the resources that they feel best meet their instructional and student needs.”


The SUNY Brightspace login for students and faculty. (Image via D2L Brightspace)


While some perceive the implementation as an unfavorable shift, there are Purchase community members who recognize the positive aspects of the implementation.


“People are resistant to change,” said Isabella Araya, a junior communications major. She added, “I’ve used a lot of different learning platforms being a transfer student, and despite the lashback, I think [Brightspace] is more straightforward than others I’ve used.”    


Araya expressed her appreciation for the platform’s structural format, particularly highlighting the “weekly syllabus model” and the organized sections for readings.   


“Moodle set such a low bar; it gave off the vibes of a safari explorer page that refused to check itself into a morgue,” said Simiele.


While Simiele favors Brightspace for being “much more inviting and intuitive” than Moodle.


Marie Sciangula, the campus lead for the migration and assistant director of the TLTC, and Kim Detterbeck, the academic lead and coordinator of library instruction, were “surprised with how many faculty embraced Brightspace right away” despite not having a traditional pilot semester.   


Before the semester began some improvements were made to Brightspace’s grade book default settings and language clarity on a file feature that included all 64 campus migration representatives including Sciangula and Detterbeck who were pleased to have worked with SUNY and D2L on the changes.


The SUNY Brightspace faculty webinar series. (Image via D2L Brightspace)


Purchase subscribed to Tier 1 support from the SUNY Online Help Desk for Brightspace-related inquiries, if necessary, faculty and students may be directed to the appropriate campus department.


Sciangula and Detterbeck noted how the migration is a “big change” for Purchase, but with “extended operation hours and a well-trained, sizable staff, the SUNY Online Help Desk has been a valuable addition to our effort to support the entire campus with the transition to Brightspace.”


In collaboration with SUNY Online Services, an eight-part webinar series was developed on the effective use of Brightspace for faculty members over the course of the semester.


“We are not corporate worker bees,” said Elise Lemire, a professor of literature. “I miss being able to ask Marie Sciangula to help me with things. She understands my politics and pedagogy, she wants to support me as a person.”


Lemir participated in various training methods and experienced a loss of localism in no longer having a campus-operated platform when reaching out to the TLTC and being redirected to SUNY.


Sciangula reassured that she remains accessible to all faculty; however, “Brightspace is centrally controlled by SUNY which means the TLTC and by extension, I can do significantly less to troubleshoot and address certain issues and to customize Brightspace for Purchase.”


A visiting assistant professor of literature, Kerry Manzo, expressed that Brightspace does not create a “collaborative space” for students identifying with a name different from their legal or birth name.


“For students who are transgender, gender nonconforming, non-binary, or students who have trauma associated with their given name, Moodle was very nice because they could make the name show what they used and want to use in the classroom – Brightspace does not allow that,” Manzo said.


Landa elaborated on the system differences, stating that Moodle was an “open-licensed and openly sourced product, providing more flexibility” for campus administrators to make changes. However, with Brightspace, SUNY has migrated to a multi-campus commercial product that does not permit direct management by individual campuses.


“A lot of campuses have brought this issue up, it’s on the radar screen, but I don’t know what the roadmap is at D2L for developing a process for when changing names might be in effect,” Landa said.


“Unfortunately, this is something that we have no control over at the campus level,” said Sciangula and Detterbeck in a joint email.


According to the Purchase College policy, a student can either “Request a Chosen First Name” with the college or submit documentation for a legal name change by completing the name change form with the Office of the Registrar to then get updated on MyHeliotrope and Brightspace.


Sciangula and Detterbeck described this process as “problematic” and “unacceptable” stating, “It shouldn’t be this hard just to simply have your name reflected properly in the platform you use for learning; this workflow does not work for our campus.”


Lemire acknowledged how “Brightspace is supportive of students who might need to receive information in more than one way” such as those who are sight or hearing impaired.


“We need to be able at the local level to adapt Brightspace to our needs. At Purchase, it’s so important to us as a community to be a safe space and I’m really frustrated that my students can’t do that,” Lemire said.

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