By Aleksandra Sidorova
A new button appeared on the MyPlattsburgh portal over summer break — an orange circle with a white “B” in it. The icon is situated to the right of Moodle, the learning management system SUNY Plattsburgh has been using for 11 years. The icon leads to Brightspace, a different system the college aims to transition to by next fall.
“Few of us, I think, want to see Moodle go, but go it must,” Instructional Technology Specialist Peter Friesen wrote in an email.
The transition comes from SUNY’s decision to centralize its online learning management by having all schools move to Brightspace. Prior to the decision, most SUNY schools used a system called Blackboard, while SUNY Plattsburgh used Moodle for the majority of its classes, teaching only online programs on Blackboard. Faculty will see a message on Moodle prompting them to select courses they would like to be converted to Brightspace to use in the following semesters Oct. 17.
John Locke, coordinator of Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL), said, “Brightspace is slightly simpler and perhaps more user-friendly.”
Jason Lee, chair of the accounting department, who is among the first at Plattsburgh to teach courses using Brightspace, said the platform “is capable of doing many things Moodle and Blackboard cannot do.” However, some Moodle features are not present on Brightspace — an issue Locke said TEL is looking to find solutions to.
Lee felt that Brightspace is “not as intuitive” as Moodle or Blackboard. He explained the transition from Moodle to Blackboard using an analogy of moving from New England to Texas: “You are still using English, but just a different accent.” But moving to Brightspace from either of the two platforms is moving “across the border to Mexico.”
The biggest problems with moving to Brightspace involve faculty training and tech support, which are both currently provided by SUNY and not in-house at Plattsburgh.
Locke mentioned the SUNY-provided “generic training” was geared toward Blackboard users and not Moodle users. Lee said he received training in May, but did not get access to the system until July. With the college expecting class pages to be prepared a week before the start of the semester, Lee had a narrow time window to learn how to use Brightspace and set up his class pages. In the future, he hopes faculty can receive hands-on training and be taught more than one option to reach their desired outcomes.
Locke said the Spring semester will bring about two workshops for faculty: one about ensuring the converted class pages work as desired, and another about creating pages from scratch.
In the 11 years that SUNY Plattsburgh has been using Moodle, TEL has made many changes to the base code of Moodle in-house to better serve the college’s needs. Friesen listed modifications such as a console that allowed instructors to create course sites independently, a mechanism to report technical issues and the course listings block, among others. Brightspace does not yet have any in-house additions, and tech support will come from SUNY Central.
Lee stressed the importance of in-house tech support.
“It is very important for us to have our own technician in-house to provide assistance,” Lee said. “At this time, we feel that our technical support from SUNY Central is very limited. I say this not to complain, but to point out that when stuff gets centralized, the reaction to help requests might be slow.”
Neither Lee nor Locke expect students to “experience significant change.” Lee, however, shared some tips he had for faculty to ease their transition to Brightspace. The first tip was to copy as much of “the old stuff” as possible to save time. The second tip was to keep class pages as simple as possible when building them from scratch.
“Don’t make a jungle of tabs,” Lee said. “It’s just a lot of trouble. You end up confusing yourself.”
Locke said he is working with Jessamyn Neuhaus in the Center for Teaching Excellence to ensure support on “both the technical and the pedagogical” sides of the transition from Moodle to Brightspace.
“Change doesn’t have to be traumatic,” Locke said.