The verdict is still out on whether teachers prefer to use their school or district’s learning management system (LMS) in the classroom. Some have had great successes, while others have struggled to manage the technology and use it to its full potential. It’s no secret that using an LMS can be daunting for an educator especially if they are new to using technology in the classroom – it’s large, can hold a ton of content, and can be very intimidating to use without prior training. Furthermore, critics are even arguing that today’s learning management systems are antiquated and not in keeping with the type of collaborative and agile learning we wish to see in our classrooms. Is it that the systems are out of date or that the instructional strategies teachers use are out of sync with the technology? Perhaps it is a combination of both. However, while vendors and educational technologists investigate this issue further, teachers need to ensure their usage of their district’s LMS has a positive impact on student learning. Below are five common mistakes teachers should avoid:
- Not using the platform collaboratively
A common mistake some teachers make is using their LMS as a simple input and output platform. Teachers push content to students and students upload completed work to teachers. As many of us know – this is not real collaboration. There are a number of collaborative features common to most LMS platforms that can help remedy this issue. For example, encouraging students completing group work to show their thinking by using the LMS chat threads to communicate is an excellent way to assess the learning and work processes. Teachers should also feel free to add ideas or comments to posts when they feel it is appropriate. It is important that educators don’t get caught up in simply assessing non-stop, but work towards making bigger strides in teaching and learning with their students.
- Using the platform for storage and not instruction
One of the draws of using an LMS is storage. As teachers scramble to complete their unit plans for the upcoming year, some are still trying to fish out an old photocopy or book that may or may not have made it through the summer. While there are clear benefits for being lean and clutter free educators, it is imperative that educators’ uses of LMS go beyond simply housing classroom resources. The instructional component is far more valuable.
Another key point is to know your students and the type of access they need. If you wish to scaffold your lessons, then make sure to time release your resources (most LMS platforms allow you to set a date/time for release to students) rather than bombard them with a whole semester’s worth of material at once. However, if you have a class that is more self-directed, make sure they have some wiggle room to go beyond the class schedule and access the following week’s lesson if they seem eager.
- Heavily managing your students’ learning
A big critique of today’s uses of LMS platforms is that they don’t necessarily allow students to work independently. This can be true when teachers monitor their class’ activity a little too closely. Students should feel comfortable knowing that the space is theirs to experiment and learn, while also being aware that they need to adhere to class and school guidelines. If those criteria are being met, then teachers should be more hands-off than hands-on. This is especially true in high school settings where teenagers need to get accustomed to using an LMS on their own (as is the case in higher ed) without relying on the active presence of an instructor to help them at all times.
- Swearing by the LMS and nothing else
Many school districts urge their teachers to only use applications that can be embedded into or delivered through the district LMS. While things like a single sign-on are definitely desirable, it is vital that educators seek out the very best applications – period. If a certain app or program is not compatible with the LMS, teachers should use their professional judgment to determine whether going outside the LMS platform is worth doing. Learning management systems are tools that help teachers provide students with a secure and personal learning experience – but they are just tools. Feel free to experiment and never feel as though you are bound at all times to your school platform.
- Ignoring technology training for your students
Despite some people’s adoration for the word “digital native” I have yet to experience a classroom (or scholarly) scenario where that term felt appropriate to be used. In every instance I have implemented a technology in the classroom (or witnessed a colleague doing so), there has not only been a steep learning curve but it took a great deal of training for students to use the technology efficiently and effectively. Do not assume because your students can quickly log on and message each other that they have a full grasp of the LMS platform’s entire potential. Going through simple features from the start like how to properly submit work on time or how to embed media in their comment thread posts will save you headaches later on. While it may be repetitive for some, students who have never had this kind of access before will be very grateful.
Despite the argument some educational technologists make that the LMS is antiquated, I don’t think it will be going anywhere anytime soon. In the meantime, teachers should look closely at how they have used this technology in the past and perhaps remedy some of their mistakes before the new school year starts. To learn is to grow after all.