I have been utilizing online learning management systems since 2004 both in a traditional classroom and in tutoring and homeschooling. Over the years they have become more sophisticated, user friendly, and helpful in a myriad of ways. I have utilized a number of different platforms and hope that you find my insights helpful.

Platforms

I have utilized Google Classroom, Edmodo, Blackboard, Schoology, Moodle, and a number of others that have popped up and filtered away over the years. Some have many bells and whistles (i.e. Schoology, Moodle, Blackboard) while others are bare bones (i.e. Edmodo, Google Classroom) meant simply for uploading and receiving assignments and administering basic format quizzes/tests. I taught in a traditional classroom setting from 200-2007; middle school science. Back then, I utilized Learning Management Systems, in their infancy, mostly as a tool to submit certain assignments. For example, rather than having a stack of papers to grade by hand, I had a folder of files that I would grade and return electronically. It reduced paper waste as well as reduced my grading time in that I could type faster and oftentimes, could copy and paste comments for common errors.

Since then, the LMSs I have gravitated towards are those that offer a wider range of tools that allow me to create lesson modules, assignments, and assessments capable of driving students to higher levels of learning as well as meeting the needs of various learning preferences. Another factor I take into account is the amount of work I am having to put in. Not only do I need to create my lessons, but grading and revisiting content is part of the process. In addition, I think it is important to encourage responsibility for self-learning in students. Thus, I look for tools that build this into the online learning process.

Moodle

Schoology and Moodle, both of which I currently use, are my favorite two platforms. One reason is that both offer free service plans that includes most of the functionality of a paid subscription. I favor Moodle over Schoology because of its lesson module functionality, an application that Schoology does not currently have. I can create lesson modules that deliver content and check for student understanding in small chunks. Not only does the student get instant feedback, but it also generates a report that I can use to gauge individual and class performance. This gives the student a good idea of what material needs to be reviewed and helps me identify specific strengths and weaknesses that I can address individually and/or as a class. Settings can be set where students must work on the lesson for a minimum amount of time and/or earn a minimum score. In addition, teachers can allow for unlimited attempts without penalty. Moodle also has this functionality for quizzes and tests whereas Schoology does not. In Schoology, a teacher must look at each quiz/test submission and make comments to help students understand what they got wrong.

Schoology

Furthermore, teachers can facilitate discussions in Moodle in a manner that holds each student accountable for an initial individual response. A teacher can require a student to contribute to the discussion before seeing other student submissions. This forces the learner to individually reflect and come up with their own response without peer influence. Once a response is submitted they can see other posts and comment. While Schoology has a discussion feature, it is paired down to simple posting much like a social media platform. In addition to these features, Moodle has other functions such as learning groups where students can work on projects and participate in peer review activities.

It is also worth mentioning that as with all things, not just online technology, a bit of patience is required. There is a learning curve and no program comes without glitches. In my experience, the wide array of applications in the more sophisticated Learning Management Systems have been worth the minor bumps in the road.

 

Classroom Use

There are several well respected and effective pedagogy techniques in education. While I have preferences for certain ones it is important to have variety in ones bag of tricks. Between 2011 and 2016 I ran a homeschool program for ski racers. I had multiple students ranging from first grade to tenth grade. All were enrolled at schools in the Los Angeles area and spent the winter in Mammoth Lakes, CA training. I worked with their individual schools making sure that students were keeping up with the curricular standards that were being taught while they were away. I had up to 10 students in the program. Teachers that are reading this will understand that this is a lot “preps”. The way I was used to teaching in my middle school science classroom, was not going to work well in this setting.

The “flipped classroom” was extremely beneficial in this homeschool environment. It allowed me to work one on one with each student in rotations. Learning Management Systems made this possible in that students could work through lessons online. This freed me up to work with students one on one or in small groups each doing something different; math problems, science experiments, essays, projects, and small group activities. I was able to combine use of the LMS to deliver content and use other preferred pedagogy techniques such as utilizing hands on math manipulatives. When possible, I coordinated group activities when students were learning similar material. I was even able to do this across multiple grade levels where core concepts were the same, but adjusted certain elements of an assignment to meet the standards of higher grades.

Source: University of Washington Center for Teaching and Learning

It is worth noting that while I am not anti-homework, I am not a huge fan of it even in middle and high school. I believe that education in general has tilted to the other side of the pendulum and a typical hour per subject per day of homework is too much. It is also my opinion that current societal norms encourages a constant need to stay busy and schedule out each hour of the day whether it be homework or extracurricular activities. This is a topic to be discussed more in a separate blog. This being said, it is important to keep in mind that the brain needs time to rest, reflect, and process. As such, if using a “flipped classroom” format, I suggest limiting the amount of homework assigned in the LMS. Try incorporating this style of teaching during school hours. I believe that some of the strategies I utilized in a homeschooling environment can be effective in a traditional classroom especially given the access to the technology we have today. In speaking with educators that utilize online learning platforms, they have had great success with individualizing learning and meeting students where they are at.

 

Remote Classroom Learning

The COVID-19 pandemic provides us with a unique opportunity to experiment with different ways to educate. This predicament will force less tolerant individuals and institutions to be more accepting of innovation and experimentation. We have no choice in the matter. If educators, parents, and students wish to succeed we all must think outside the box. Despite the difficulty and in some ways anxiety that comes with navigating the unknowns, I believe this will have a positive impact on education. The more enhanced Learning Management Systems combined with online conferencing tools will help teachers immensely in delivering curriculum in a way that can drive higher levels of learning in an engaging manner and at a pace appropriate to each learner.  In the end, teachers will have developed strategies that can be adapted and applied to the physical classroom setting. Stay tuned for more on this topic. I will be sharing ideas for remote classroom learning as well as insights from colleagues as they adventure on this journey.

If you are an educator that needs help with your school’s LMS or wish to get set up on a free LMS to facilitate learning, please reach out. I am offering free education consulting services to all educators in the Eastern Sierra during the COVID-19 pandemic school closure.

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