College gears up to replace Blackboard



Adam Aguilar shows Karl Kashfi how to use Brightspace.

CARMEN GUZMAN, Managing Editor

When students log into courses for the fall semester, the name Brightspace will be tacked onto their new learning software. Returning students will no longer see the familiar, beige layout bordered by class elements in black sidebars and headers.

Dallas College is sunsetting Blackboard after nearly two decades of use. Its successor boasts a centralized user interface with mobile compatibility. The new learning management system also simplifies setting up courses, which will be migrated over to Brightspace.

Technical and interface issues present in Blackboard were considered when shopping for its replacement, said Jason Busbin, associate dean of faculty onboarding and support.

“There’s a lot less clicks to get things built, edited, modified or removed,” he said. “The ease of use is a lot better than what we have on Blackboard.”

You open it and everything is already there. It’s easy for students to access as well. Everything is literally one click away.

— English instructor Shazia Ali

Brightspace’s modern user interface is the biggest difference, reducing the amount of menus needed to access content rather than making instructors manually organize their courses.

“You open it and everything is already there,” English instructor Shazia Ali said. “It’s easy for students to access as well. Everything is literally one click away.”

Ali, who used the platform while teaching classes at other institutions, praised the centralized course elements.

Brightspace was selected for its responsive design; screens will resize according to a student’s device. Assignments can be uploaded and accessed directly from one’s phone, contrary to Blackboard limiting users to a personal computer.

“Brightspace is way ahead of Blackboard in terms of layout,” Ali said.

An activity feed is a new collaboration-based feature that has a layout similar to Blackboard’s announcements and combines it with the discussion board, which used to be its own menu.

“I think students will be more comfortable using Brightspace and finding the things they need, as opposed to Blackboard, where there is a lot of clicking to get what you want,” Ali said.

For specific actions, such as emailing and video calling students, Ali said she currently uses Microsoft Teams. However, the lack of connection between the management system and extensions can make it difficult to keep track of her class.

Brightspace removes the middleman by integrating video calls, recordings and more. 

“If I have to give feedback, I have to record an audio or video, then insert it into that feedback box with Blackboard, which is quite cumbersome,” Ali said. “It’s extra steps.”

Gradebooks in Brightspace clarify how grades are weighed. Faculty had to build that in with Blackboard, but the new software takes control of the math.

“On the student side, it gives a lot of great insights on where you stand in the course,” Busbin said. “On the faculty side … it’s really efficient and easy to use so faculty don’t have to spend so much time building the gradebook.”

Instructors will no longer have to set up tabs for coursework or contact information. Most Blackboard courses have tabs for student resources, but those have to be plugged in by instructors. The results vary depending on how much work an instructor puts in.

Brightspace widgets allow instructors to build detailed profiles, complete with a profile picture and social media links if they want to add them.

“Like a digital business card,” Busbin said. “As soon as you load up the course … it’s right next to the announcements. It makes it easy for you to contact them.”

The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting shift to online learning revealed limitations in Blackboard’s ability to set up and manage coursework.

“I’ve had to ensure students don’t fall through the cracks with multiple reminders, orientation videos, all those things,” Ali said. “If anything goes a little haywire, they’re lost. And with Blackboard, things do go haywire.”

There’s consistency in the course navigation, which makes it easier for students to access content or the syllabus from course to course.

— Pamela Luckett, chief digital engagement officer

The learning platform needed a modernized replacement, said Busbin. One of the reasons Brightspace shined was by putting course reminders front and center.

“I’m not saying Blackboard is bad. All I’m saying is Brightspace is better,” Ali said. “[Blackboard] worked for us for so many years … but Brightspace is better equipped to deal with this particular time.”

Brightspace was chosen for its “robust features” that met student and faculty technology needs, said Pamela Luckett, chief digital engagement officer.

“There’s consistency in the course navigation, which makes it easier for students to access content or the syllabus from course to course,” Luckett said.

As the spring semester comes to a close, faculty are already getting to experience the new platform. Students can log into Brightspace starting Aug. 16.

Emails have been sent out to students reminding them of the incoming replacement, and detailed announcements about the switch will be released over the summer.

“We don’t want to say ‘this is coming’ and then something happens where we push the date back,” Luckett said.

A training module for students will be released in May. 

Dallas College will also send out quality assurance members to assist faculty and students with any issues.

“It’s another way we are making sure that students know exactly what’s coming,” Luckett said.

When thinking about how Blackboard fared, Ali pointed out a difference between the two systems: familiarity. 

Despite all its kinks, Ali managed to make do with Blackboard, she said. The instructor said students could have trouble learning the new platform.

“Anything new is uncomfortable, even if designed for the better,” she said. 

However, even Ali had to adjust to Brightspace’s novelty before preferring to the new learning system.

“There’s the learning curve … But I think our students will adapt to Brightspace very easily,” Ali said. “They will love it.”