Photo: Keith Capstick

Ryerson instructors look to improve D2L

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By Noushin Ziafati

It’s been a year-and-a-half since Ryerson switched its learning management system (LMS) from Blackboard to Brightspace by D2L. Now the university is working to improve Brightspace.

Ryerson launched a consultation in March to see what instructors like and don’t like about the system.

Instructors suggested Brightspace provide the option to create documents based on templates and to share them more easily across course shells. They also suggested more options for communications and collaboration, group work, peer review assessments and surveys.

They expressed their opinions on different tools and features, stating which ones they think are better in order to focus on understanding why certain tools are preferred over others, according to Brian Lesser, chief information officer at Ryerson.

Staff getting used to Brightspace

Lesser said he did not see big gaps in this phase of the consultation, just aspects that could be improved or tools that could be added to Brightspace.

“I think most people have sort of settled in with Brightspace. We had problems at the beginning, and so I didn’t see in this survey that kind of red hot, ‘Oh, it’s horrible and it’s driving me crazy,’  which we certainly saw in the first term,” Lesser said.

He added that the goal of the consultation was to get input about what Ryerson instructors need and to focus on the tools and services that might need to be upgraded, replaced or added.

We get requests from faculty for things like video conferencing, peer-review systems, better integration of services like TurnitIn and D2L and so on. So we are trying to better understand what you might call the bigger picture of what people need,” Lesser said.

“We are trying to better understand what you might call the bigger picture of what people need.”

So far, only instructors have been surveyed as part of the consultation.

Lesser said the Learning and Teaching Systems and Services Committee has to analyze the results before planning their next steps, but they will share their results during Ryerson’s Teaching & Learning Conference in May.

The consultation may expand to surveying students, but Lesser said the committee received a lot of student suggestions from conducting student surveys after Brightspace’s launch.

Biology professor Nagina Parmar has been teaching at Ryerson for 15 years and she said transitioning from Blackboard to Brightspace was a challenge because she was used to using Blackboard.

Parmar said her main challenge with D2L is sending emails directly to students.

“I think we’ve had hopes that [D2L] would take us a bit further. And the battle to get a little further was a lot harder than we thought it would be.”

She said students have a hard time finding each other when they are trying to coordinate for a group project, so they must ask an instructor for another student’s contact information.  

Despite these problems, Parmar said D2L is better than Blackboard because it has features such as uploading multiple documents at the same time, which was not possible on Blackboard.

Susan Cody, associate professor at the school of professional communication, said she doesn’t use all the functions of D2L but she still likes the system.

But some challenges Cody pointed out, are that D2L allows her to email one or three classes, but not two. As well, D2L changes the font of some uploads to Times New Roman, which she said defeats the purpose of her teaching the differences between serif and sans serif fonts.

Blackboard not open to changes, Lesser said

Lesser said that as long as D2L can upgrade the product, then things are looking up. Representatives of Blackboard did not address complaints regardless of how many times they were asked to, which was “maddening,” he said.

In terms of switching over to D2L, Lesser said his gut instinct is that it was worth doing, but he has “mixed feelings.”

“I think we’ve had hopes that [D2L] would take us a bit further. And the battle to get a little further was a lot harder than we thought it would be. We really had to watch D2L very closely for the first year,” he said.

“We did a lot of work to help them to fix their problems, so I would really like to have that year back. And probably if we hadn’t been through that, I would be much more positive. But I kind of feel like until they fix some of the irritations, we’re not quite there where we can declare a victory.”


  1. Ryerson refused to upgrade Blackboard and take new features and fixes. It was pretty clear towards the end the version was very old.

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