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At Pellissippi State, all course sections are provided a unique online space within our learning management system (LMS), Brightspace. Brightspace allows the opportunity for students to have online access to course content, submit assignments, participate in discussions, communicate with the instructor and classmates, take quizzes and exams, and more.

Why Brightspace?

The Brightspace LMS is a cloud-based application developed by Desire2Learn (D2L) used by educational institutions around the world. Its responsive design allows users to access their Brightspace courses on any device (but be aware that the nature of some features such as quizzes can be challenging for students to use on small, mobile devices). Through a competitive process, Brightspace was selected from multiple proposals for use across the TBR system. Our most recent five-year contract with D2L began January, 2022.

Distance Education is responsible for the maintenance, support, and training for Brightspace. If you ever have a question about how something works in Brightspace, or you run into any problems, please do not hesitate to reach out to right away. Help tickets can be submitted at

The Common Brightspace Experience

In support of the college strategic plan, Distance Education encourages all faculty to utilize the Common Brightspace Experience (CBE). The elements of CBE described below apply to all courses regardless of delivery modality.  


The Common Brightspace Experience is comprised of four layout and navigation practices intended to reduce the learning curve required of students as they move from course to course within the college. These four practices are:

  1. The use of the Pellissippi Course Default homepage.

  2. The use of the Pellissippi navigation bar. 

  3. The use of the Grades tool for course grades.

  4. In Content, the use of a “Getting Started” module, using the ‘classic’ Content experience rather than the ‘new’ Content experience, and use of one of the recommended organization methods for modules. 


The goal of the Common Brightspace Experience is to create a more user-friendly experience for students, increasing ease of navigation and “findability” within Brightspace courses across the college. Findability is the "the degree to which a particular object is easy to discover or locate, [as well as] the degree to which a system or environment supports navigation and retrieval" (Morville, 2005). Other than the degree of prior experience in online courses, research has found that findability is the most significant predictor of both self-efficacy and motivation among students, more important than factors such as student age, rank in school, GPA, or comfort level with using a computer (Smunich, Robins and Kelly, 2015). 


Use of the course default homepage – The course default homepage displays a banner with the course image (selected by the instructor) and course title across the top. In a right-hand column below the banner, college resources widgets are displayed (set at the college level). The left side below the banner contains the announcement tool where instructor announcements are displayed.  


Use of the Pellissippi nav bar – The Brightspace nav bar, has been set and non-editable by instructors for a number of years. Over the year, we will be collecting feedback regarding adjustments to the contents of the nav bar. 


Use of the Grades tool – We are asking all faculty to use the grades tool in Brightspace. While you may desire to also keep your class grades in other locations, use of the grads tool provides: 

  • Students with ready access to their standing in classes 

  • A secure site for the storage of grades should course records need to be accessed 


Use the CBE Content elements - The Common Brightspace Experience for Content requires a little more explanation. It involves:

  • Use of the ‘classic’ content experience - In Content, use of the ‘classic’ experience rather than the ‘new’ Content experience from D2L. These two Content experiences appear drastically different to students and navigate differently, especially for students using screen readers. Currently the vast majority (>90%) of Pellissippi courses use the ‘classic’ experience so it is recommended that all courses adopt the ‘classic’ experience in Content. 

  • Use of a “Getting Started” module - In Content, the Common Brightspace Experience recommends that all courses begin with a module titled “Getting Started”. This module serves as the initial introduction (in Content) to the course and its expectations. Within the Getting Started module, the first documents are: 

  1. An “Instructor Information” page/file 

    • At a minimum, this page would include the instructor’s name, office location, phone number, email address and office hours. 

  2. A “How To Begin This Course” page/file 

    • A brief explanation of your course, how it was designed, initial activities to be completed, where students can find things, course expectations, etc.  

  3. The “Course Syllabus” page/file  

    • For effective readability online, the syllabus might be divided into multiple pages/files (chunked). 


Following these three items, instructors should add additional pages/files as appropriate for their course. If appropriate, additional modules may be added after the Getting Started module to organize additional ‘setup’ activities required of students prior to delving into the course learning material and activities.  


Module structure - After the Getting Started module (plus any additional setup modules), the course learning material and activities should be organized into content modules that follow one of two organizational models:

  • Weekly Modules (Each week’s learning material and assessments are within that week’s module.)

  • Unit Modules (The learning material and assessments span multiple weeks. If appropriate, weekly submodules may be included within Unit Modules.)


Regardless of the organizational model used, modules should be given descriptive names to help the user distinguish among these. For example: 


Week 6: Rational Expressions rather than simply Week 6 


Unit 3: Between the World Wars rather than simply Unit 3 



Peter Morville, Ambient Findability, O'Reilly, 2005, 3. 

Bethany Simunich, David B. Robins, and Valerie Kelly, "The Impact of Findability on Student Motivation, Self-Efficacy, and Perceptions of Online Course Quality," American Journal of Distance Education, Vol. 29, No. 3, 2015: 174–185. 

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