The Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) in the Netherlands recognized it needed a new learning management system (LMS) for its on-campus and online courses to replace the one it had been using since 1999. TU Delft is a campus-based university specializing in engineering, science and design with 24,000 students.
As described by Willem van Valkenburg, Manager Teaching & Learning Services, the choice, implementation and use of a new LMS was structured as an educationally-focused process, rather than centered on information technology, with the goal of improving educational quality.
As a first step in the European tender process, about 1,000 system requirements were identified; it was quickly realized no system could meet all of these. Instead, a process called Best Value Procurement was adopted, with TU Delft providing a description of its vision, mission, strategies and conditions. Suppliers are then asked to offer their best possible solutions, with their written response restricted to six pages so only the most important characteristics are described. The next step is an interview to which each chosen supplier sends only two representatives with the first question being why each is the appropriate attendee. Suppliers commented that this process is more demanding for them as they need to carefully plan a solution that matches the University’s strategy; the focus moves from describing the capacities of their products to analyzing their match to the client’s needs.
As a result of this process, the Brightspace Learning Platform from Desire2Learn was chosen as the new LMS, branded as Collaboration and Learning Environment to emphasize its key roles.
Process Guidelines: The emphasis on educational quality improvement meant implementation was neither as fast nor as cheap as an IT-focused project. The Director of Education, Timo Kos, stressed a gradual implementation rather than a “big bang” resulting in a two-stage plan:
- During the first stage, all courses moved from the old to the new LMS ; and
- The second, and ongoing, phase focuses on improvements and innovations.
In the previous LMS, faculty had complete freedom with the result that course designs differed considerably, resulting in many student complaints. For Brightspace, a consistent structure and templates were developed. Willem van Valkenburg notes: “after 17 years with the previous system, there were lots of surprises and unexpected uses in existing courses, requiring a very skilled team to facilitate the transfer”.
As consistency was the guiding principle, changes to templates were not made to accommodate one particular use – if a template changed, it was a modification to be used by all faculty. Any changes to templates proposed by a professor had to be reviewed by the faculties – who often disagreed in their recommendations. The Director of Education acted as the arbitrator, the “friendly dictator”, and was very strict in maintaining consistency. Unless advice from faculties was unanimous, a change was not accepted. The templates, practices, rules and regulations concerning the structure of courses on the LMS are to guide all course transfers and developments.
Project Leadership: The Project Management team consists of a project leader, with four others responsible for technical implementation, change management and communication, functionality and the migration process. The User Group includes faculty, staff and student representatives from all eight faculties as well as members of the Project Management team. Both groups provide advice on all major decisions to the Steering Committee.
Change Timelines: The decision to change learning management systems was made in 2014, with Brightspace Learning Platform chosen in Summer 2016. Eight months later, the first phase of the project, the migration process began, with the transfer of courses to be offered in September started in May 2017. In September, courses to be offered in November were moved and in November, courses for February. Each stage consisted of the migration, a first run and then evaluation and improvements. This rolling migration allowed all courses to be moved within a year.
Phase One – Course Migration: Four priorities guided the process of migrating courses from the old to new LMS: improve educational quality, unburden teachers during the process, use of one platform by teachers and high-quality support for teachers and students. Forty student assistants worked with teachers, guided by instructional designers and learning developers. The assistants were from all faculties, so they were familiar with the courses and those teaching them. Teachers were offered training and as much support as requested; they could also choose their own level of involvement in the actual transfer process. In most cases, student assistants did the major work of course transfer, with the teachers responsible for the final quality check.
Many factors contributed to the success of Phase One:
- Connections to educational leadership across all faculties;
- Involvement of teachers and students in all major choices;
- Use of the opportunity to “clean house” in reconsidering rules, regulations and policies and other organizational aspects which were tightened or modified to reflect new practices;
- Consistency achieved through implementation of the same templates for all courses; and
- The extensive availability of support for teachers, migration team, staff, and administration, based on the belief there can never be too much support.
Phase 2 – Improvements and Innovations: Many projects to adopt a new LMS stop after the first phase of having all courses integrated into the new system. At TU Delft Phase 2, started in April 2018, has equal importance as it incorporates extra steps to improved quality. Among the initiatives under study for implementation are learning analytics, peer assessment, collaboration tools, and e-portfolios. Some changes are also being made to the LMS itself as TU Delft gained experience in its use.
Benefits and Outcomes
Clear and consistent organization of all courses is a significant achievement.
The process for the selection and implementation of Brightspace is cited by all faculties as an example of how a project should work.
Student response is positive as they appreciate the clean and consistent structure providing what they need, with a modern look and accessibility on all devices including mobiles.
Teachers need time to get used to Brightspace, but some are expressing appreciation of the new structure, commenting that it helps them get better organized for teaching.
The University Executive Board is satisfied with the results as a model of effective project management. In addition, TU Delft is now much better positioned to move ahead on its ambitions in online and blended learning.
Challenges and Enhancements
Willem van Valkenburg uses a nautical analogy to characterize one of the greatest challenges in a project that is changing the educational environment. “A university is like a container ship in that it is not easy to turn, but once it starts turning, it will continue. You have to sure you have the right direction at the right moment, and that it does not overturn.”
Unexpected issues, whether technical, pedagogical, or organizational, require a continued focus on the initial vision and strategy so decisions continue to be aligned.
A few tools available in the previous LMS, such as the tool for creating and running groups, were not available in Brightspace. TU Delft built their own tool for this application, requiring extra time and creating difficulties for users.
TU Delft is committed to an expansion in blended learning courses, with a call for proposals for faculty wanting to modify their classroom-based courses. As well, more online learning offerings are to be developed to serve learning needs of professionals.
For Further Information
W. F. (Willem) van Valkenburg
Manager, Teaching & Learning Services
Delft University of Technology
Delft, The Netherlands