Australia’s top public university for overall student experience, Deakin University, has successfully transitioned its 60,000-plus student body to online learning, and migrated its Brightspace learning management system (LMS) to the cloud.
In March, as COVID-19 shut down its four physical campuses, Deakin rapidly transitioned its entire cohort of students and staff to its digital campus, Cloud Campus. The digital campus’ online learning environment, CloudDeakin, is built with the Brightspace LMS at its core and enables students to actively learn anywhere, anytime, and on any device while learning remotely.
Associate Professor Chie Adachi, Deakin’s Director, Digital Learning, said CloudDeakin offers a signature digital learning experience which has helped contribute to the institution’s decade-long leading position in Victoria for overall student satisfaction as confirmed by the Graduate Outcomes Survey.
“Prior to COVID-19, about 25 per cent of our learners were already in our Cloud Campus but the pandemic forced the rest of our students and teachers to transition their blended learning experience to wholly online learning and teaching,” A/Prof. Adachi said.
As part of a cloud-first strategy that had been in place, June 2020 had long been earmarked as the date for a planned migration of its on-premise version of D2L’s Brightspace platform to the cloud. The migration was a pivotal point in Deakin’s digital transformation journey, designed to allow the university to further enhance its premium digital learning environments.
“Undertaking such a significant transition while all of our students and teachers were heavily relying on our core platform was something we couldn’t have foreseen when we began planning the migration years ago. The stakes were high,” A/Prof. Adachi said.
“This large and complex project involved migrating 48 TB of course content and safely securing student data to the cloud version of Brightspace – a difficult feat in normal times, a monumental task in the midst of a pandemic.”
“With so much disruption to their study, work and personal lives during the COVID-19 isolation and lockdown measures, we wanted students to take advantage of improved data analytics, continuous development, and seamless integrations and upgrades as they studied or worked from home.”
A/Prof. Adachi said the migration was completed over one weekend in June right after an intense two-week exam period, with all students and staff able to successfully log-in the following Monday without any issues.
“This was incredibly gratifying from both a technical and learning experience perspective. To deliver on such a large and complex project without any hiccups for our students and staff – on time, on budget and in the middle of the pandemic – is testament to Deakin’s agility and the amount of collective effort that went into it,” she said.
“There was close collaboration across the University and beyond. D2L and Deakin’s highly talented, cross-disciplinary project team, drawn from faculties and divisions, worked together to ensure it went smoothly. It was a real partnership evidenced in how responsive Deakin’s project team and D2L were to any issues that arose and trouble-shooting on the fly throughout the migration.”
With the ability to now seamlessly integrate additional cloud-based applications into the platform, Deakin is exploring how more than 20 third-party education technologies , such as Microsoft Teams, can be interwoven to support the pedagogical practices of educators and provide the best possible learning experience to students.
By migrating to the cloud version of the Brightspace Platform, A/Prof. Adachi said Deakin was setting the strongest foundation for a premier digital learning environment – one that would enable the university to respond even more rapidly to the needs of its students and faculties.
“At Deakin, student learning experience is everything – we take the title of ‘most satisfied students of all Victorian universities for ten consecutive years’ seriously. We wanted the ability to create a signature learning experience and release new features, functionalities, and upgrades in a seamless manner. These are just some of the benefits we gained by moving to the cloud, which bolster the CloudFirst learning design initiatives already in place across the University.”
- Data-driven future. With the cloud version of the Brightspace Platform, Deakin plans to take advantage of learning analytics data to gain greater insights into the behaviour of its students and faculty: “Previously we’d have a lot of data points but they’d exist in different places so it was difficult to put these pieces together to make up the puzzle. Looking to the future, we’re able to paint a holistic picture of student and teacher experience. Integrating all these data sources and extracting actionable insights enables teachers to personalise support and empowers students to self-monitor and improve their own progress through active learning,” A/Prof. Adachi said.
- Continuous delivery. The ability to seamlessly roll out new updates enables Deakin to ensure its students always have the best possible learning experience. “Think about how social media platforms can instantly release new updates and the entire userbase immediately has access to the latest user experience upgrades – we now have that ability,” A/Prof. Adachi said.
- Interoperability. Using APIs, Deakin can now easily integrate third-party tools to constantly improve and evolve CloudDeakin’s ecosystem. “This migration is merely the foundation – the blueprint for our next-generation digital learning environments. We wanted to have a plug-and-play architecture that allows us to be more agile and quickly adapt to new technologies and the evolving digital world,” A/Prof. Adachi said.
- Partnerships. A close partnership between Deakin and D2L was key to overcoming the challenges of both COVID-19 and the cloud migration itself. “For us, the partnership component was critical. Experimenting with new practices such as online assessment and exams, collaborating when pressure was high – like adapting to the pandemic and catering for 60,000-plus students and 5,000 staff working remotely – and problem solving together as we did before and during the migration meant all the diverse needs we have as a university could be met,” A/Prof. Adachi said.
- Student Success. Despite the unprecedented disruption, Deakin’s focus on the student experience has seen academic achievement continue. “As an institution we’ve all put a lot of work into supporting our students during the upheaval of the pandemic. We’ve seen student success rates increase by two per cent on average in Trimester 1, which is testament to the hard work our faculties and students have put in. Now we’re looking at ways we can use the new platform to further improve our practice through data-driven, evidence-based approaches, and provide premium student experiences that reflect digital-first design,” A/Prof. Adachi said.
“Deakin University is a trail-blazer in providing a signature digital learning experience that puts student engagement, experience, and – ultimately – success at its core,” said Tony Maguire, Regional Director APAC at D2L. “COVID-19 changed entire industries overnight, but it shook higher education to its core and demanded a rapid transformation. Deakin was already ahead of the curve, and now they’re poised for a digital future as bright as those of its students.”