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Successful start of e-learning skills platform in Brightspace

For the first time, students were able to develop their skills using a digital platform in Brightspace. It turned out to be a success: on average students who actively used the platform on achieved higher grades than students who used it less. But above all, the students themselves were pleased with their acquired skills.

‘The practical information on the platform was very useful.’ ‘We got a lot of information on the platform and really worked on our skills.’ ‘I am sure that the platform will come in handy in the future.’

From face to face to digital

These are some of the reactions that first-year bachelor students of Bio-Pharmaceutical Sciences gave during the evaluation of their course on research skills: Academic Development 1 project weeks. The course was not organised in the traditional way, as in the past six years, with lessons and instructions in a lecture hall. 'This year we replaced all face-to-face lessons with online training via the digital e-learning skills platform in Brightspace,' says Marjo de Graauw, assistant professor of educational innovation at the Leiden Academic Centre for Drug Research (LACDR) and project leader of the Brightspace e-learning skills platform. Her team also consists of Wybrigje de Vries and Lisann Brincker. With other Faculty of Science colleagues, they are developing the platform with the intention of making it available to all lecturers within the Faculty.

Applicable in all courses

The team developed the platform to improve student skills quickly and permanently. De Graauw: ‘Although students have to write, collaborate and present a lot, they are not always specifically instructed how to do this. For example, how do you learn to cooperate professionally, how do you use an agenda during meetings, what are the tasks of a chairman? Teachers may, for example, give the assignment "Search literature, summarise and present." But they might not always explain how students are supposed to do that. All this is explained in the platform, which is accessible to students throughout their entire study programme. Unique and applicable everywhere, in all courses.’

Faster than trial and error

A digital learning environment is ideally suited for this type of education, says De Graauw. ‘Students also learn skills in regular courses, but often they waste time with trial and error. For example, they make an attempt to write a scientific report without supervision. If that is not entirely successful, they often forget to use the feedback they have received in their next assignment. Sometimes it takes years for them to master a certain skill. With this platform students can achieve a very high quality basic performance, because, amongst other reasons, they can look up the relevant information throughout their studies.’

295 first year students go digital

The platform consists of a series of skill modules that include background information and step-by-step plans, enabling students to develop specific skills. 295 first-year students used it to develop a research plan in research teams of six. They received an information package and research goal from their supervisor, a researcher at LACDR.

Each team started by creating a team profile, including team roles, challenges and strengths. For this they could use supporting tests and templates from the platform. They then read up about the research area and did a literature study to come up with research questions and core objectives. They also developed a research strategy, for which they also could use templates and how-to's from the platform.

Feedback during the project

The teams worked on their research plans for two weeks, meeting several times and being encouraged to switch roles in the meantime (secretary, secretary, chairman). During this time they also received feedback from their supervisor on their collaboration, based on a specially developed collaboration matrix. The course was finished with a presentation and a written plan, for which students could use digital presentation and writing modules in the platform.

Using the platform pays off

Using the platform was not mandatory for students, and did not count towards the final mark. However, the development team made an analysis of which research teams had used the platform frequently, and which teams had not. In a report the development team states that all research teams that actively used Brightspace scored higher on average than last year’s teams, and higher than this year's research teams that did not use Brightspace actively. Comparing teams with the same teacher (each teacher had three teams) resulted in the same conclusion.

Positive students

The evaluation also shows that students are positive about the platform. No less than 92 percent of the participants used the platform. 77 percent of the students actively used the recommended modules, and 48 percent even used more modules than recommended by the teacher. 79 percent of the students thought the platform was a good addition to the course and 77 percent felt that the modules contributed to developing their skills.


Teachers who have used the platform are also enthusiastic, but also indicate that they need support, says De Graauw. Other teachers who want to start with the platform can therefore count on her and her team. ‘We offer support lecturers during the implementation and will discuss the redevelopment of their timetables. We also offer advice about communication towards students and help teachers implement the right modules, that suit their subject and / or assignments. In this course we replaced our regular education, because it was a skills course. Other teachers may not have to replace their courses, but can provide extra support by using the digital skill modules.’

The development team is available for questions via skills@science.leidenuniv.nl.

About the project

The digital e-learning skills platform in Brightspace is part of a project funded by Marjo de Graauw's Leiden Teachers' Academy (LTA) budget. The platformw as further supported from the quality improvement resources of the Faculty of Science and the Bio-Pharmaceutical Sciences programme. In addition to the core team consisting of Marjo de Graauw, Wybrigje de Vries and Lisann Brincker, the project actively involved the students Tirsa de Kluis (MSc BPS), Marinda van der Kuijl (MSc BPS), Minke Sijbrandij (MSc CML) and colleagues from the entire university: LACDR; Annelien Zweemer, Elke Krekels, Eveline Hoebe, Miranda van Eck, Erik Danen, Aesculapius, LION; Paul Logman, ILL; Harald van Mil, Karen van Wanrooij, CML; Ellen Cieraad, Rene Kleijn, Kiki Orchard, LIACS; Felienne Hermans, LIC; Marcellus Ubbink, Miriam Moester, UB; Rutger de Jong, HA; Eline Bergijk, Lucille Brakefield, Janna van Helden, HRM coaches; Kick Moors, Jasmine Mioch, FSW; Marc Cleiren.

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