Brightspace replaces Moodle as Jewell’s learning management system.

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Jewell’s Brightspace homepage at learn.jewell.edu.

As colleges and universities around the country reflect on online education following the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of an effective learning management system (LMS) becomes increasingly clearer to students, faculty and staff.

This academic year, following a partial launch over the summer, William Jewell College implemented Brightspace as the college’s LMS, ending Moodle’s several-year reign.

Director of Teaching and Learning Technologies Heath Hase led the initiative, announcing the planned departure from Moodle last fall.

“We have recently relied on Moodle more than ever because of the pandemic,” Hase said in a campus-wide statement. “While it provided us with an avenue to continue teaching and learning throughout the pandemic, we know it is time to look at our options and transition to a more modern and robust learning management system.”

As part of the initiative, Hase assembled a task force to evaluate several systems with both student and faculty experience in mind. The team ultimately decided on Brightspace — as opposed to other major platforms Blackboard and Canvas — with high hopes that it would be an improvement over Moodle.

According to Hase, the task force noted Brightspace possessed features that would benefit students who are already familiar with online systems. Alongside its clean web design, the team applauded the platform’s advanced tools for assigning and grading work, larger storage and upload capacity, ability for direct communication between users and mobile app functionality.

“Many new students enrolling at Jewell [have] experience using an LMS, [and]…express their disappointment in Moodle’s shortage of tools and its lack of intuitiveness,” Hase explained. “Brightspace, in particular, offers faculty advanced tools for creating and ensuring course content aligns with accessibility standards. And, more importantly, Brightspace provides built-in assistive technology, ensuring navigating the system is smooth for all users.”

Select students and faculty began testing the platform in spring 2022, and by summer, many online courses were delivered through Brightspace as a way to test its functionality in real time. Although some supplemental resources are still being transferred to the new system, the College completed its transition to Brightspace this semester.

Only a few weeks into the term, many students and faculty have yet to master the features that the system has to offer. Lilah Rahn-Lee, professor of biology and task force member, noted Brightspace as her favorite of the platforms she evaluated, and so far, she is impressed with its performance despite the learning curve.

“Learning any new system is an investment in time, of course,” Rahn-Lee said. “As I was preparing my courses this semester, I had to take extra time to learn to set them up in a new way, but I’ve been very happy with running my courses so far. For example, I tried the assignment grading interface for the first time last week; that went very well!”

On the student side, features such as navigation, accessibility of content and design are stressed. Garrett Washington, a sophomore theater major, stated he is “thoroughly enjoying” Brightspace for these reasons.

“Though I previously got used to Moodle, the user interface of Brightspace is easy to follow, shows your course progress and is far more aesthetically pleasing,” Washington said. “[The platform] just looks and feels so much better.”

While students and faculty progress through the fall semester, the platform’s limitations will inevitably arise. As Rahn-Lee explained, “every system [will have] its pluses and minuses.”

“My biggest challenge has been that I don’t know the system yet, but that will improve over the next few semesters,” Rahn-Lee said. “Some things, such as copying assignments, I found easier on Moodle. Overall I’m very happy with this change — the layout, the functionality, and the design are all much better.”

Increasingly so, learning management systems are an integral part of content delivery by faculty for students. As technology advances, online systems may adapt to better fit their needs, exemplified by Jewell’s switch to Brightspace.

“The inability to rely on Moodle as an avenue for communication was a significant reason for entertaining a new LMS,” Hase said. “Our LMS is one system that all members of our campus gain access to on day one. We want to leverage that immediate access for issuing global and direct communication with users.”

Brightspace introduction video:

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