Recently, I spoke with a fellow teacher about some of the functionality of the on-line learning management system (LMS) Schoology. He is an elementary teacher and I am currently teaching middle school. At a certain moment in our conversation, he paused and said “At some point, you have to ask yourself if this is necessary.” I believe he was pondering at what grade level an LMS would and would not be useful. I’ve in turn, asked myself why I use an LMS. These are my reasons:
- To be paperless
- Always available
- Foster independent, self-directed learning and a safe digital space
- Communication, Communication, Communication
1. Go Paperless
Perhaps the start of any LMS endeavor is to digitize your files. Simply converting all those paper copies into a folder on the web and allow student access. This, in itself, is valuable. Literally, hours of your life that were lost waiting for the copier to print your documents will be returned to you and you will be a happier person. Furthermore, it allows you to make changes to your lessons on the fly without worrying about printing materials and it saves money by reducing the use of paper.
2. Always Available
An LMS allows YOUR students access to materials 24 hours, seven days a week. I emphasize your students because an LMS is a walled garden. Only students enrolled in your course can gain the materials. This alleviates some concerns of posting copyrighted materials and it ensures that materials you created are shared with your intended audience.
More importantly, however, is that students cannot lose important materials. They are always available on the LMS. Furthermore, if students miss a class, they can access the lessons from their home or anywhere that they are able to access the LMS. It has greatly cut down on the amount of time I need to plan in advance for students going on vacation as well as discussions I have had to have with students who missed a day due to an illness or sporting event.
With most LMS’s, you can track how a student interacts with course materials. I can determine on what day and what time a certain student clicked and opened a certain material. Furthermore, I can quickly isolate deficits in student learning by looking at test and quiz analytics. There were many times last year that I could isolate student gaps in learning by breaking down the results of a test by questions and asking the students why they answered the way they did. This gave me a great opportunity to re-teach a concept. Without an LMS, it would have taken me too much time to even consider trying to isolate such information.
4. Foster Independence, Self-Motivated Learning and the Safety of a Digital Space
It has been a goal of mine to develop students who own their learning. Too often, we as teachers, control the what, where, when, and how students learn. An LMS allows us to provide students with the tools and materials necessary to learn but also give the freedom for them to select the path they take to learn the things they need to learn. This has always been a possibility, but an LMS makes it more manageable. For instance, in Schoology I can create self-paced modules based on student’s completion of tasks and scores they earn on quizzes, tests, assignments and projects.
Another element I have found an LMS to offer value is student’s voice. Some students find the digital space of an LMS more comfortable than the actual classroom. They will participate in discussion forums much more online than in class. I do not know the reason for this but welcome the new voices with glee.
5. Communication, Communication, Communication
Perhaps the most significant reason I use an LMS is the nature of communication it provides my students, their parents and myself. Early in my teaching career I learned about the golden triangle of communication: the school, the child and the parent. If information flows freely amongst these three characters, harmony is achieved. If one side of the triangle is uninformed, bad things can happen. An LMS allows for me to be very transparent. My students know in advance lesson plans and materials needed to complete activities. My parents, if they chose, can see everything their student sees within the LMS and monitor their student’s submissions and online discussions. Of course, I can communicate with both parents and student instantaneously through the LMS communication features.
- While there are many cloud-based LMS available, I love Schoology. Recently, I created a comparison of several LMS that educators in my school are using. Many LMS are not in this comparison and may prove to be more useful for you, however, these features are the ones I feel necessary to compare when considering what is the best (I pay close attention to the ability to export my materials in case I ever want to take them to another LMS.)
- This is a blog post by friend and fellow blogger, MJ Linane on Google Classroom. He looks at the improvements Google Classroom has made and compares them to Schoology. His conclusion is to stick with Schoology for another year.
- This is a video that I embed in my course guidelines to show students how they can be aware of what is going on in class or what has happened.
- This is a video I send to my parents to get them connected with Schoology
- Here is a handy playlist Schoology has created to inform users of common uses for their features
- The following are past posts I have written about how I use Schoology to amp up aspects of my classroom
Question: Do you use an LMS? If so, what are your reasons for using it? If not, why not? Do you have an LMS preference? Why do you use the LMS you use? As always, thanks for leaving your thoughts and questions in the comment section of this blog.