Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Reflecting on Learning Management Systems and our first lil' #LMSchat

On Tues, Feb 26, a small bunch gathered on Twitter for an #lmschat about what we really *need* out of a learning management system (LMS).  Do we really need built-in forums and gadgets and widgets that are so popular in many formal LMSs?  What is the core functionality that we need in the classroom, and what is the overall purpose for a whole school?  It was an amazing conversation, and I look forward to learning more with these amazing educators!  (@tieandjeans, @reth1nk, @montysays, and my lurking colleague Santosh)

The single most important element we all agreed was needed for an LMS was:
clear, intuitive, and flexible communication with students.  

Ideally, it should facilitate communication with parents and with other teachers as well, and integrate fully as an "SIS" (which, I learned, means "Student Information System," including contacts, grades, attendance, everything!)  This makes a lot of sense to me, as my school currently runs multiple different platforms for different types of communication... an LMS for teacher/student communication, a portal for PR-ish parent communication, an attendance and narrative reporting / "transcript" system, and of course email.  Tying all of these together would support parents in tracking their child's progress, teachers in finding patterns in student skills and needs, and students in keeping/sharing/tracking all of their learning in one place.

*But* we voiced concern about having ONE single system for all of that locking teachers in to ONE way of supporting online learning and communication.  A difficult balance: streamlined but constrictive, or rigged together but free/open?

Which leads to our second big topic of conversation...
Should a tech-forward innovative teacher encourage the use of a simple LMS that will be successful for most teachers in the school, or create the best DIY LMS for his or her own classroom?

There was not a clear consensus here... My school has had great success with getting everyone on board with a very simple, straightforward, and not-very-exciting LMS, and the consistency between all teachers is great for our students.  And others have created truly innovative and amazing LMSs for themselves, and they are the only teachers in their buildings able to use those systems.  (@capohanka at St. Christopher's School is a great resource for a DIY wordpress-w-plugins LMS!) This is a truly unanswered question!  I believe that our boring LMS has been a "gateway-technology," and am anticipating more teachers being ready to move to more exciting options now that they've cut their teeth.

Finally, @reth1nk had a brilliant idea... Someone should make a portal that allows teachers to test a number of LMSs at once and track their personal pros/cons for each, without creating a new account on every single system!  #edtech, hop on that!

This doesn't begin to solve my own school's current dilemma of "what LMS update should we go for next?" but it's definitely some excellent food-for-thought in deciding how we should focus our exploration:
  • easy and highly flexible communication with/between students
  • intuitive for teachers to use and NOT restrictive in reaching out into other platforms
  • supports communication with our other systems, especially from ongoing feedback to summative narrative reports
We're currently looking at a whole range of pro LMSs (Moodle 2.0, Canvas, Edmodo, Haiku, Evernote, Schoology, OpenClass) and I'm also doing some investigating into how to pull off more DIY approaches, like continuing our use of Google Apps for Education and harnessing it all together using home-made and scavenged scripts.  Input and suggestions certainly appreciated! Wish us luck!

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