California State University, Long Beach
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New BeachBoard Learning Management System Coming

Published: December 15, 2010

Since 1996, CSULB faculty, students and staff have been using the online learning management system (LMS) called BeachBoard to access everything from course rosters, assignments, grade books and multimedia content to classroom and organization communications and documents.

Behind the scenes, BeachBoard has been powered by software from Blackboard Inc., but newer programs that are more reliable, offer greater capabilities and meet the CSU’s Accessible Technology Initiative compliance have come on the market, so to in order to be diligent, the university determined a need to establish a comprehensive review of the available LMS systems.

After a thorough evaluation and campus-wide input based on 114 criteria, the CSULB Learning Management Task Force selected software from Desire2Learn (D2L), which will still be called BeachBoard, said task force chair Leslie Kennedy, director of Instructional Technology Support Services (ITSS).

“We’re in the implementation phase of Desire2Learn,” which includes configuring it for various user roles including faculty, students, staff, help desk and others, she said. “Also, we’re in the process of working out the integration between PeopleSoft and D2L,” which provides daily information feeds between the two systems. “That’s a major undertaking.” They also have turned on the login portion of the new system.

“Now, we’re concentrating on course conversions,” Kennedy continued. “We currently keep five semesters active in BeachBoard, so the plan is to convert at least five semesters’ of courses, which is about 50,000 courses. D2L has an automatic process that will convert the course materials from Blackboard for us.” She reiterated comments by Roman Kochan, dean of the University Library and interim associate vice president for Academic Technology, that the transition will be as seamless as possible.

The pilot phase occurs this coming spring semester, with full implementation expected next summer, she said, so Academic Technology is paying for release time for two faculty members to serve as e-learning consultants and faculty trainers — Casey Goeller from Family and Consumer Sciences, and Ebony Utley from Communication Studies. It also has a Tech Squad of four students who are highly proficient with BeachBoard and other instructional technologies.

In addition to one-on-one and workshop instruction, “We’re developing help files and videos so that we have just-in-time training. Faculty and instructors can learn based on their schedule and their learning styles. Some people don’t want to come to workshops or don’t have time, so we’re providing training information in various formats,” Kennedy said.

Terre Allen, professor and director of the Faculty Center for Professional Development and professor of Communication Studies, said the center also will play an integral role in training faculty on how they can integrate Desire2Learn’s broader capabilities into teaching and learning activities. “We try to help faculty understand what the pedagogical implications are in using any technology so that when they invest time in learning how to use it, they know whether it’s going to be sufficient for what or how they want students to learn,” Allen explained. “Learning management systems have become rather ubiquitous in teaching and learning over the past decade, largely due to student demand. I use the learning management system heavily for faculty training. Faculty are not required to use it, but students really expect it.”

This includes integrating other software such as the “i>clicker” student response device; and Elluminate, which helps faculty incorporate multimedia content in hybrid courses that include both in-person and online sessions, and fully online classes.

The new BeachBoard will have a more sophisticated look created in collaboration with Jorge Hurtado, lead art director for new media in the Office of Public Affairs. Some functions will look different and will be called by different names; for example, Announcements in Blackboard are called News Items in Desire2Learn.

But it’s Desire2Learn’s robust technology that will make the largest impact.

New Beachboard logo

“Faculty are going to benefit from an updated (or a popular phrase is ’21st century’) environment that is reliable and includes many of tools to support teaching and learning,” Kennedy said. “There’s a drop box where students can deposit their papers so that they don’t have to e-mail them to instructors, which also helps with the assessment process. There’s a grade book; students like to see their grades updated on a regular basis. There are a number of communication features. Everything we had before is there and then there are more.”

Paul Boyd-Batstone, professor of Teacher Education and chair of the Academic Senate’s Faculty Advisory Committee on Technology, also praises the new system. “Something I thought was really nice is when you look at the main D2L page every posted item is readily available. In contrast, when I open up the Blackboard system, I see the Announcements page and buttons, and that’s it. When I open up Desire2Learn, I see the News Items (new term for Announcements), the assignments that are due, links to lecture notes for that day, discussion board prompts — I see everything on that one page and I click to it.” The new BeachBoard reduced the bothersome layers of screens, making it easier to reach desired functions.

“I found the Blackboard-based system’s grade book arcane and difficult to use,” he continued. “You have to open up multiple screens to input a grade and then wait while the screen closes and reopens with the new insertion, but with the Desire2Learn system, it opens up like a spreadsheet and you just enter the grades and save your work. It’s much more intuitive.”

This same kind of intuitive design goes for posting and submitting assignments and personalizing communication. “I can post assignments and lecture notes with the same view that students see, and there’s a greater capability to handle applications such as PowerPoint presentations. I’ve put up PowerPoint presentations on the current system and they work sometimes, but other times they don’t.” He said D2L also can better handle a variety of document file formats including Microsoft Word, PDF and others without changing the original intended layout of the documents.

Additionally, faculty can personalize e-mails to students with names that D2L draws from class rosters; or, for example, set up automated messages to students who don’t meet certain grades on assignments to encourage them to get additional help.

One of its important features is meeting federal and California State University requirements for Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance, Boyd-Batstone said. “I think that’s a crucial piece when we’re talking about making Word documents accessible and using Styles to enable screen readers. The Desire2Learn system is designed to work with screen reader technologies that facilitate the whole CSU Accessible Technology Initiative,” that enables persons with disabilities to read or hear Web pages, digital documents and other media posted online.

The BeachBoard update effort began several years ago when former Provost Karen Gould established the LMS Task Force chaired by Kennedy, which also included Allen; Boyd-Batstone; Jill Horn of ITSS; Dustin Thoman, assistant professor of psychology; Wayne Pierson of Information Technology Services; and Don Gardner, former associate vice president for academic technology. The CSU Chancellor’s Office provided campuses with a list of vetted software vendors to choose from based on their own needs and criteria.

Members of the CSULB LMS Task Force hope that faculty will embrace the updated BeachBoard to enhance student success. “One of the things that Desire2Learn has is a step-by-step process where it asks faculty questions and then helps them in designing their course based on what their intended outcomes are,” Allen said. “It’s a very powerful tool and I hope people will make use of some of the new features and functions.”

–Anne Ambrose