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How Dutch university quickly connected thousands of students to new learning management system

Dutch university TU Delft is replacing its legacy learning management system after 17 years

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After 17 years, Dutch university TU Delft will say goodbye to its legacy learning management system (LMS). Starting in May 2017, all courses will be migrated to a new system every quarter.

A learning management system is one of the core systems of a university. It’s not a system you change easily, according to Timo Kos, director of education and student affairs at TU Delft. However, the university decided to replace its existing Blackboard LMS, which it had used for 17 years.

Before the university put out a tender, it did pilots with four different systems. These pilots had interesting outcomes, revealed Kos. “[Although] the systems all had a lot of functionality, we wanted so much from the new system, that none of the systems answered all of our criteria,” he said.

“Some of our wishes weren’t possible yet. For example, digital examination is a challenge for us as a technical university. In our exams, there are a lot of mathematical graphics and most of the software doesn’t support that yet.”

The new learning environment also had to offer good integration with other educational software, such as software used to practice solving mathematical problems, but also with tools from student startups on the Delft campus.

“[It has to work with startups] such as Feedbackfruits, which offers professors and students interaction possibilities inside and outside the classroom in an innovative way,” said Kos.

Selection process

TU Delft opted for a best value procurement approach to the tender, inviting suppliers to propose the best software to meet its strategic goals.

It placed far greater emphasis on evaluating the quality and proven performance of suppliers and their systems rather than traditional requirements used in a more standard procurement method. Eventually, it was a supplier’s approach that made the difference.

Kos said it chose D2L Brightspace because the supplier worked in a very innovative manner that showed it understood what the university was aiming for.

“The Brightspace product is excellent – it’s the top product based on innovation and development capability. But the other products we were choosing from in the last phase were also very good. For us, the supplier really made the difference.”

One of the ways D2L showed it understood TU Delft’s strategic goals was by offering modules the university didn’t ask for, but that fitted its educational vision.

“D2L offered the predictive analytics module to us. We never asked for this tooling, but we did say we wanted to renew our education based on data and analytics, and this module fits this need,” said Kos.

First pilot migration with 2,000 students

In February 2017, the university did a pilot migration in the industrial design faculty. “All 2,000 students and 150 professors of this faculty are now working with the new system. We are happy with how the migration went so far,” said Kos.

In September, the university will start a rolling migration of the other seven faculties. Staff already have access to a sandbox environment to look around in Brightspace and students will gain access during the summer.

“This way instructors can already get used to Brightspace. After September, every educational period of 10 weeks, we’ll migrate all courses of all faculties in that period to the new system,” said Kos.

“We have four quarters per academic year, which means we’ll have four migration cycles in a row. This will be an interesting and exciting time. We are now preparing the migration of the courses that start first quarter in September.”

It is not only Kos who is eager to migrate to Brightspace. Delta, the independent magazine of the university, writes that it will be a relief to some students that they no longer have to make use of Blackboard. The website said: “Many of them think Blackboard is user-unfriendly and confusing.”

Careful communication

There is a constant communication with stakeholders about the migration with particular focus on the staff, Kos said. 

“They worked with the system for many years and are used to it. A lot of their educational tools and documents are in the system, it’s sort of a big archive. To migrate this all takes time and a lot of effort. The staff are pretty busy, and all professors teach and do research. We have to prepare them carefully and support them well.”

But Kos said some of the staff have to be held back. “One of the lessons learned during the pilot is that it is really important to inform educational staff of the choices that are made. Some are eager to try all the new features, but we need to make sure the basis works well and people are used to it before we start adding features. It’s advice we took from D2L.”

In May 2018, with the start of the fourth quarter all courses and subjects will be migrated to Brightspace. The next challenge will then be how to keep the staff involved in taking it to the next level.

“For us, the migration is not finished in September 2018 as we see the migration in two steps. The first step is the course migration and all users getting used to the system. The second step is to work with the professors to see if and how we can help optimise or innovate the courses to offer our students a good learning experience. After all, that was one of the reasons to make the change to a new LMS.”

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