Corey Stephan

Colleges & Universities

How to make Brightspace Desire2Learn (D2L) a bit less undesirable

Corey Stephan

The Learning Management System (LMS) Brightspace Desire2Learn (D2L) was one of a number of popular software tools that I condemned in my free software manifesto for Catholic institutions. Ideally, nobody would use non-free, closed source institutional spyware, including D2L. In addition to the litany of ideological and security-related problems that come with D2L, it also has an oversized, counter-intuitive user interface (UI). In short, Desire2Learn is hardly desirable.

There are a few steps that us advocates of software freedom and UI efficiency can take to make Desire2Learn less frustrating. D2L (probably) never will be free and open source, and it (probably) never will sport a minimalist and useful UI. My aim with this post is to help the reader achieve a modest overall improvement to his/her experience with D2L—nothing more. I write this for both instructors and students.

  1. The most important improvement that anyone can make to her experience with D2L is behind-the-scenes—namely, enhancing her Web browser’s security. At least at Marquette University, D2L is ridden with social media links and trackers. There are several ways to block most of that nonsense, not only in D2L but across the Web. For example, here is how I recommend doing so in Mozilla Firefox:
    • Set Firefox’s “Enhanced Tracking Protection” to “Strict” and “Send websites a ‘Do not track’ signal'” to “Always.” Select “Block dangerous and deceptive content” and “Block pop-up windows.” Other “Security and Privacy” settings may be adjusted as one sees fit; I recommend choosing security over convenience.
    • Install the free and open source addons “Adblock Plus” (or another advanced advertisement blocker, such as “uBlock Origin“), “Privacy Badger,” and “HTTPS Everywhere.” Activate strict settings in each.
  2. Brightspace D2L’s default colors are too bright for long-term usage. Simple inverted color modes more-or-less work, but one should use the open source Firefox addon “Dark Reader” to set the proper dark mode for D2L that D2L should have for itself, seamlessly turning Brightspace into a dark space.
  3. Web browser font settings can improve the overall long-term usability of D2L. In Firefox, under “Preferences” and then “Language and Appearance,” I have my default font set to the open source serif font “ET Book.” Under “Advanced” (“Language and Appearance” settings), I have forced all fonts to be “ETBembo” by choosing the “Proportional” font to be “Serif,” setting the “Serif” and “Sans-serif” fonts as “ETBembo,” and deselecting the option “Allow pages to choose their own fonts, instead of your selections above.” All of D2L is now ET Book rather than the nasty sans serif font that the website tries to use by default.
  4. I find D2L’s default GUI text editing options to be clunky while writing lengthy posts. The Web browser and Thunderbird extension “Markdown Here,” which is meant to assist with efficiency while writing emails, also allows general Markdown editing inside D2L (since its core functionality is to convert a set of text written in Markdown into email-style HTML). For example, to make a bullet list, Markdown Here ends the silliness of tampering with D2L’s options. Instead, one can simply type “- ” (with the space) before each item with different amounts of tabs to change the level of an item in the list. The only thing that one has to remember before submitting a post is to click the Markdown Here icon to render the Markdown text into HTML.
  5. A handful of user scripts for D2L can be found on Greasy Fork, OpenUserJS.org, and GitHub. I have the following installed:
    • csm123199’s d2l-tweaks: This might be the most important of all user scripts for D2L. It is an actively developed set of minor quality of life tweaks for D2L course “Content” sections to make them more useful for both students and instructors. It is preset to work on all D2L subdomains. (Disclaimer: I am affiliated with the project.)
    • Cengiz Gunay’s BrightSpace Grade View: This makes D2L’s grading interface slightly less oversized for instructors. Be sure to edit the file to include your own D2L subdomain. I have tested it in Marquette’s D2L, and it does make a difference.
    • Ecco72’s “Brightspace-Pro” series of tweaks for students. Again, be sure to edit the file to include your own D2L subdomain. (Disclaimer: Since I have advanced beyond taking coursework myself, I cannot personally attest to the utility of the scripts in this suite.)
    • Here is an easy way to edit the user scripts quickly to include one’s own D2L subdomain. In Firefox with the Greasemonkey extension:
      • Click the Greasemonkey icon, then the name of the user script, and then “edit.” Underneath the default // @include line, add 2 new lines with the following:
        • // @include *d2l.*.edu*
        • // @include https://*.edu/d2l/*
      • Type CTRL + S to save. Continue browsing. While in D2L, make sure that the script is running by clicking the Greasemonkey icon again. If the script is listed underneath “User scripts for this tab,” then it should be running.
  6. A handful of terminal scripts for instructors can be found on GitHub, such as the suite of brightspace-scripts by Dr. Christopher Phan, pl-quiz-importer by monnin to convert simple text files into a quiz format that is able to be used by D2L, and brightspace2excel by alexyorke to download D2L grade books as spreadsheets. (Disclaimer: I have not yet tested these for myself.)
  7. D2L has a few built-in settings that the end user can change for herself to improve its usability. A few UI elements can be closed permanently by clicking on them. Further, while logged into D2L, one can go to “Account Settings” and change the following:
    • “Font Size” to the smallest acceptable size.
    • “HTML Editor Settings” to “Turn off rich text editor and view source.”
    • “Signing In” to “Always appear offline.” There is rarely a reason to appear online by default, and this option helps preserve one’s privacy while working.

After all this, Desire2Learn should be a bit less undesirable.

Deus vos benedicat,
Corey Stephan

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