Brightspace, the website used by students to submit assignments and check grades, removed a font setting that was easier for dyslexic students to read in August 2019.
“There was a font called the Open Dyslexic Font, that students or faculty could set up in their user settings in Brightspace,” Laura Osborne, faculty training and certification coordinator, said. “That went away in the early fall.”
According to Osborne, the company said that there is no evidence that the font actually works, but that students can still find ways to use it if preferred.
“The documentation that the company provided said that they couldn’t find any empirical evidence, any research-based evidence, that the font made a huge difference,” Osborne said. “They quoted a fair amount of literature and studies that said the results are really inconclusive. Sometimes it helps. Sometimes it doesn’t. Users have so much control through their browser settings, so they can still use the font if they want. It’s just Brightspace doesn’t support it anymore. There are other major companies that made the same decision. Google being the primary one, but there is still a plug in for Chrome. If users really want the font, they can absolutely have it.”
Students also have control of a dark reader and things like the line and character spacing.
“We did have some people that preferred the dark reader,” Andra Floyd, Brightspace by D2L support specialist, said. “It provides a dark to light contrast. So, we did a bit of research on that last year and found out that the tools are out there. You just have to dig a little deeper to find what you need and implement them for you. We’re finding that with browser settings, you can virtually customize just about any look and feel you want.”
With the changes on the website that everyday users can see, there were also changes happening behind the scenes within the server.
“About a year and a half ago, Brightspace required of us that we no longer host our own copy of Brightspace here on campus,” Megan Weatherly, interim director of the Center for Teaching and Learning, said. “So, it no longer resides on a server here on campus. It resides on a cloud-based server. We no longer have control over when changes are pushed down. So, those changes come from D2L, which is the company that owns Brightspace.”
Without as much control over these new changes, updates were put into place by Brightspace to keep the software up to date.
“They have what they call a continuous delivery release model, [or] when schools get updates on a monthly basis,” Osborne said. “So, our school gets updates, small updates, once a month, usually towards the end of the month. We know a month in advance when changes are going to be made. We don’t have control over most of those. Usually, it’s just things like little fixes, most of which are only on the faculty side. Occasionally, those changes are a little bit bigger, in which case they make announcements, such as when they changed the faculty’s rubric tool. We had control over when we started making some of those changes. But mostly, it comes from the company, and we just roll with it.”
The staff of the Center for Teaching & Learning explains why changes get made to the Brightspace website.
“They have extensive technical documentation that explains why changes are made,” Osborne said. “Often, those changes are just in response to usability concerns. They’re always looking to make improvements.”
Brightspace also takes suggestions
from the institutions that use the program, according to Weatherly.
“Brightspace is usually very transparent,” Weatherly said. “They also have an incredibly active online community of institutions that use Brightspace. People [in the online community] are talking to Brightspace saying, ‘Well, this doesn’t work. You might want to think about this,” and they are very responsive. To me, they’re the most responsive of all the companies we have worked with about user input.”
Weatherly’s opinion of Brightspace and their customer service is also shared with Floyd. With any problem, according the Floyd, Brightspace is very helpful.
“I usually get same-day turnaround when I issue a ticket or a case,” Floyd said. “It could be big. It could be small. I’m really pleased with the amount of support we get from the company.”
D2L has a conference every year that the staff of the Center for Teaching and Learning attends. It is an opportunity for them to see what the company will be doing, understand the direction D2L is taking and what their institutions are telling them.
“For any student that may have concerns about the fact that this font went away, that may not be familiar with the browser options or how to set the font up in their browser, come see us,”
Weatherly said. “That’s part of what we do. We are here to support students and make that learning management system work for you guys. That’s something that we take very seriously.
“We are all teachers at heart, and we want that learning experience to be robust for our students.”