PSU launches Desire2Learn

Spring term at Portland State kicks off this year with the anticipated launching of Desire2Learn (D2L), the university’s latest online learning management system.

Spring term at Portland State kicks off this year with the anticipated launching of Desire2Learn (D2L), the university’s latest online learning management system. D2L is now fully installed and operational throughout campus, and Blackboard is well on its way to being finally decommissioned.

According to Ellen Weeks, D2L’s project manager, D2L switches this term from the “implementation phase” to the “maintenance phase,” which means that the system now functions like many of PSU’s other online systems, such as Banner.

J.D. Gillis, the systems administrator for D2L, said that the reception of D2L has been mixed, which he believes is because the system is simply new and different from Blackboard.

“Some folks need to familiarize themselves with [D2L’s] user environment in order to grasp its capabilities,” Gillis said. “However, the majority of the feedback that I have received has been positive.”

According to Mark Jenkins, associate vice provost of Online Learning Services, the response to D2L has generally ranged from “good to very good.”

“I’d say that D2L is definitely a ‘best-of-breed’ product and that users recognize that,” he said.

Weeks explained that PSU students and faculty need to get over the initial learning curve before there can be an accurate evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of D2L.

This learning curve has varied among D2L’s users, according to Jenkens. For PSU faculty, the learning curve has been fairly steep; for students, less so.

Still, the transition period from Blackboard to D2L has been far smoother than Jenkins and his team had hoped for. The “days of dread” they were expecting during the first week of spring quarter have simply not occurred, he said. Because of the wide base of user support and training materials, the PSU faculty has managed to successfully acclimate to the new online learning climate.

According to Weeks, many improvements in D2L have been made since fall’s “pilot phase,” including a system upgrade that took place over winter break.

“We have made numerous adjustments to D2L’s system settings based on student and faculty feedback,” Weeks said.

D2L will be updated twice per year, according to Weeks. These updates are scheduled between terms and may include bug fixes and improvements in functionality.

“As with any software product, there’s never a ‘final’ version,” Jenkins said. “There are always bugs to clean up and new features to add.”

In an effort to “future-proof” the system, Desire2Learn, Incorporated is currently developing a handful of tools to enhance the system’s accessibility to mobile devices. But new features themselves often result in new bugs, Jenkins said, so the effort to keep a system such as D2L updated is an “iterative, evolutionary process.”

Since the pilot phase, D2L has upgraded its user environment to 9.1 and revamped its support structure and online documentation, according to Gillis.

Jenkins said that PSU is looking at a new release—version 9.2—for July.

Melody Rose, vice provost for Academic Affairs and Instruction, explained that D2L won out over the other competitive products for three main reasons.

First, the functionality of its tools is more diverse andintuitive than Blackboard, particularly with respect to its discussion board features. Second, it suffers less “downtime” than Blackboard, which had greater difficulty bouncing back from system failures. And third, D2L is cost-effective for the university.

“At a time like this, it’s really important for us to be efficient with our resources,” Rose said.

According to Karla Fant, senior instructor in the  Maseeh College Computer Science Department, there is virtual unanimity among faculty and students that D2L is far superior to its much-maligned predecessor.

“Blackboard seriously was not supporting our needs,” she said. “It needed to go.”

Fant even went to the trouble of designing her own website just to avoid Blackboard, which in the end she used mostly to post grades.

While Blackboard is still technically available for such things as posting syllabi and discussion boards, its contract with the university is slated to expire on June 30, the end of PSU’s fiscal year. By then, university faculty must have transferred all Blackboard materials to D2L, Rose said. ?