CUNY SPS to transition to Brightspace May 29 with trainings for students

Still from the Brightspace introductory video.
Still from the Brightspace introductory video.
Still from the Brightspace introductory video.

Blackboard is a dying star whose light is about to go out, at least for CUNY SPS students. The learning management system (LMS) the School has used for classes since it was founded will be officially replaced by D2L Brightspace on May 29 for summer courses, making this the last semester CUNY SPS uses Blackboard.

As the instructional design and multimedia manager for CUNY SPS, Matthew Lewis has been immersed in Blackboard admin for more than a decade. “When I first started at SPS, our Blackboard admin had a fun saying that Blackboard was a dying star,” Lewis said. “It was a massive thing. It was just slowly and surely dying because it wasn’t staying up to date with the latest and greatest. Some new tool comes out and we all want to use it and it’s like, ‘Oh, Blackboard can’t support it.’”

Now, Lewis is working on communications and faculty training for the final stages of the transition to Brightspace, a more modern LMS with a clean design and intuitive interface with several new features.

“It’s almost endless the amount of little tweaks we’ve been making behind the scenes, making sure the grading works,” Lewis explained. “And just every little thing you could think of when you’ve taken a course, we’re testing it, we’re touching it, we’re making it, breaking it, and fixing it.”

New features in Brightspace

Still from the reporter's Brightspace page.
Still from the reporter’s Brightspace page.

In Brightspace, students can expect to see the main menu across the top of the screen as opposed to being on the side in Blackboard. The new platform allows students to search anywhere in a course, including readings, quizzes, and posts, to find specific keywords. They can also bookmark readings and other course materials to keep better track of them. Brightspace integrates with more multimedia tools than Blackboard, allowing for more content options for faculty when creating courses. Brightspace also has a virtual assistant chatbot that can help students search the site and answer questions.

For students who need help navigating the platform, CUNY SPS will hold a Brightspace Day on May 15 via Zoom, where students can log in and explore the platform and see demos while asking the transition team anything during office hours. For students, Brightspace Day office hours will be held from 12-2 p.m. and 4-6 p.m.

The transition team created a dedicated website for the Brightspace transition, which has numerous demos and videos for those who can’t attend Brightspace Day, including an introductory video that walks through everything from discussions and assignments to quizzes and checking grades. And for those who learn by doing, students already have access to Brightspace, where they’ll be able to use some of the features even before classes start. On Brightspace, students can also enroll in a more in-depth, optional course that explores the platform in more detail, “Getting Started in Brightspace for SPS Students.”

The first students who use the platform for their summer classes are considered part of the pilot program before the rest of the School logs on for the fall semester. One of the main goals for the team is to make sure those students are aware of the transition.

“I think the thing that keeps us up at night is those students that didn’t see the email that maybe enrolled like a few days before the class started and they weren’t sure they were gonna do it,” Lewis said. “Now they are, and now they’re like ‘What?’”

Overall, the student, staff, and faculty response has remained positive, said Ruru Rusmin, assistant dean of faculty development and instructional technology at CUNY SPS.

“There is, of course, some fear with letting go of something that you’re familiar with,” Rusmin explained. “There’s always that. I would say overall, the response has been, ‘Oh, this is a nice looking system. This is cool.’ And some people are very enthusiastic about it. So I think that bodes really well.”

CUNY SPS has been using Blackboard as its sole LMS since the School opened in 2003. It’s also among the first cohort of CUNY schools to make the transition, with some colleges not beginning their transition until Fall 2025.

“We were supposed to be group two, but now we’re technically group one,” Lewis said. “So, it was kind of a bummer because we wanted to make sure all the things like student enrollment and CUNYfirst … were integrated and that ended up taking a lot longer than what we had originally thought. So all of our development kind of got pushed. We’re in this last month now, kind of like crunch time.”

Despite the overnight change, Blackboard will not be ancient history, Rusmin said.

“Our focus for summer is really to make sure that the courses are functional, and we’re not going to be able to take advantage of all the great things that Brightspace can do because there’s so much and it takes time to learn those and figure out what works best for us as well,” she explained. “In the fall and in the spring and probably even past that we’re going to continue making improvements as we learn how to best use some of these features. So I think it will be a longer transition.”

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