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Four questions about the mega operation that is Brightspace

Over the next year, Blackboard will gradually be replaced by Brightspace, the new digital learning environment. The migration is a gigantic operation, but the advantages are immense. Four questions to Han de Winde, Professor of Industrial Biotechnology and chair of the Brightspace steering committee.

For anyone who might not know: why are we migrating to Brightspace?

‘We’ve been using Blackboard for almost 20 years now, and our licence is expiring. Brightspace is much more user friendly for students, and you can make lots more links. Soon students will only have to register in one place for courses – through uSis – whereas they now have to do this in two or even three places. You can also add links to the University Library, for instance, which will make it much easier for students to access the literature that they need for classes, and this is often free too. Brightspace is also clearer and more uniform in structure, making it easier for students to navigate through courses because they will all have the same format.’

Are there other new tools in Brightspace?

‘Yes, we’re currently focusing on the basic implementation, so on the tools that we are already using now, but it will be possible to use tools such as virtual classroom and video conferencing straight away. More tools will be available after the basic implementation. Students will be able to keep an online portfolio of information about their courses, special projects and any skills they have acquired, for instance. This should help them work more consciously towards the job market. If departments want, they can also use analytics and show performance curves, so that students can see how their performance compares with that of other students.’ 

Fifty courses will be migrating to Brightspace in the next academic year, and all degree programmes will have to have been transferred by September 2020. How do you plan to achieve this? 

‘We are starting with about 50 courses in the first semester. We are presently somewhat ahead of schedule, so it’s going well so far. It’s a gigantic operation, of course, and just like when you move house, it’s forcing everyone to have a good tidy up. There is or was a lot of outdated information about courses from years ago on Blackboard. That’s all being removed now. All the faculties have supporting teams that are helping migrate the information to Brightspace. It’s a user-friendly system, and many lecturers will be able to use it without outside intervention, but we are also offering training, and there is a central team of student assistants who can provide plenty of help and support.’

What is the role of the steering committee?

‘The steering committee consists of representatives from all the faculties, and we are managing the whole implementation process. We are making sure that agreements are kept and are monitoring quality. We are also a point of contact for the Executive Board, which we regularly update. A system such as Blackboard and Brightspace is one of the cornerstones of our teaching. The migration must be done with precision and care, which makes the support of the entire organisation crucial. That also applies to the students, of course. We got a group of students to test Brightspace and they are very enthusiastic.

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