This LMS provides new ways for students to communicate


For a large network of schools in Canada, a new learning management system (LMS) has enabled kids to move beyond just navigating and do more communicating and collaborating.

The District School Board of Niagara in Niagara Falls, Ontario, has been using the Brightspace LMS from D2L, an edtech company based in Ontario. And Robert Dunlop, a blended-learning resource teacher and member of the IT4Learning Team at DSBN, said students in K-12 log into D2L “as their hub for everything.”

“Students used to get frustrated with navigation, getting to certain sites in weird convoluted ways to handle folders in Dropbox,” Dunlop said in an interview. “Now, with D2L, we take out all that navigation and replace it with pedagogy. That allows us to do more small-group instruction and feedback, and it really changes the efficiency.”

The LMS — primarily used in higher education institutions such as Montana State University, Kennesaw State University and Minnesota State University — helps teachers create their own blended-learning experience using content from publishers, open educational resources and their own materials. Calendar and drag-and-drop features allow instructors to plan content and adjust or add materials.

The district serves about 43,000 students in 97 elementary school and 18 secondary schools. Many students take advantage of the DSBN online campus, also run by D2L, in order to take high school classes at their own pace. Students are able to take tests online and engage in online discussion boards, email and instant messaging.

DSBN has an 80 percent adoption rate of the platform, with almost 30,000 users. Dunlop especially praised its communication features.

“It’s that idea of looking at what teachers are struggling with and then figuring out what platform we can use,” Dunlop said. “And because D2L is so broad and has so many tools, teachers love that they’re not using multiple tools. They can simply use D2L to do all their communication and online discussions.”

He said students are also able to keep in touch with parents through the LMS, and the district is rolling out a new parent portal in September that will allow families to create their own usernames and passwords. The planning has taken about three months.

“That will be very valuable, because say you have three students in grades K to 12, the parent will log into one domain and have access to all three students,” he said. “So they don’t have to log in separately. They can see everything.”

The company is also rolling out a new documentation tool this month called ePortfolio, which will allow students to scan a card on their device that links directly to their student account.

“Once they do that, it takes a picture of whatever they’re doing,” said Dunlop. “Then they can send [their work] to the teacher and the teacher can approve it or not if a kid made a mistake. The teacher can also share it with parents.”

Dunlop, a teacher for 12 years, said it is still unclear when DSBN is launching that aspect of the LMS, but that “our teachers are so excited to get it.”

“Right now, all documentation is in the hands of teachers,” but the platform will “put documentation in the hands of the students,” he said.

Dunlop said the company has rapidly scaled to meet the needs of teachers and students in the district.

“Especially in the last year, their pace has been incredible,” he said. “The ability to listen to the needs of user and consumer is absolutely incredible. They’re consistent in making this tool so K-12 focused now, and our users are going to lose their minds when they see these new changes they have.”

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