Picture this: Student scores in third-grade science have been low in your district, and all elementary school teachers have been asked to focus on helping students make authentic connections between the science curriculum and real life. As a district leader, you’ve heard that many teachers are using technology to achieve this goal and decide to visit a third-grade classroom to see this in action. In the class you visit, learners have been exploring the surface of the Earth, but it’s been hard for them to visualize what is meant by landforms, and this has been evident in their test scores. The teacher has found a great interactive activity online that will help students understand the concept, and when you walk into the classroom, students have just been asked to log in to the class computers and go to the website URL.
And then? Chaos. About 10 hands in the room go up, with students saying the URL doesn’t work. One student says her computer isn’t working—she’s run into a software update for the internet browser. A few students get to the correct website but start working on the wrong activity. The teacher is running around the room dealing with technical issues. By the time class is over, the teacher has no idea how many students have finished the activity or what they have really learned. And worse, a lot of valuable teaching time has been lost, reducing the future ability of the class to complete the curriculum. The teacher asks the students to write the URL in their agendas and work with their parents at home to finish the activity.
Technology in the classroom is an amazing thing—it opens new windows into authentic learning that previous generations of students never had. But it also can be a challenge to do well. If we reflect on the scenario above, there were several problems with the lesson, including:
- student challenges in navigating the technology, which caused the teacher to spend more time doing technical support than assessing active learning
- a lack of insight into student online activity, resulting in the teacher having to guess what learning happened
- a complicated way of bringing parents into the learning journey that didn’t respect the different abilities of families to support the students from home
- a loss of valuable class time
So, what could have been done differently?
A learning management system (LMS) has a lot of benefits, but one of its key value-adds is how much it simplifies technology-enabled learning. An LMS is an educational technology platform that incorporates multiple learning tools within one space, including tools for content and resource sharing, assessment and data, and communicating with students and parents. With an LMS, the scenario in our hypothetical third-grade classroom would have gone like this:
- Students are asked to log in to the school LMS (maybe using a quick link right on the computer home page, and likely using the same username and password they use for their school computer access).
- Students see the URL the teacher wants them to access on their class home page and click on it, landing right on the activity.
- Students complete the activity while the teacher moves around the room, checking understanding and answering learning questions.
- Students complete a quick reflection activity when they are done, built right into the LMS, which is automatically shared with the teacher to check individual and class understanding.
- The teacher can share the URL directly with parents through the LMS if they’d like to continue the learning at home.
Much, much simpler! And this is one core goal of an LMS: to simplify all the workflows and resources an educator needs into one learning platform that has its own built-in and easily accessible tools. But at a district level, there is an even more critical goal that an LMS supports: consistency and scalability. We want to celebrate teachers’ professional judgment and the unique needs of students, but with every teacher using a different tool, resource and approach to support learning, how do you really know what’s working? How do you support teacher professional learning in a scalable way? And how do you collect the data across your district to analyze best practices and impacts?
Of course, not every LMS is the same, but the benefits of using an LMS like D2L Brightspace are enormous:
- For the students: An LMS puts learning right into their own hands and allows them to take ownership of their learning. Navigation is made simpler, with every learning resource and tool all in one place. (This is also a place that students can come back to every year, instead of having to learn new digital tools and workflows.) Some LMSs, Brightspace for example, also open up new ways to personalize learning for students, improving their educational experience and success.
- For the parents: An LMS provides streamlined communication with teachers and a window into the classroom, allowing parents and guardians insights into the learning happening in school and how to support their children from home. Class announcements, student grades and assignments can all be shared effortlessly with guardians.
- For the teachers: Simple and effective teaching tools, all in one place, are available. With an LMS, teachers can focus on teaching instead of the administrative tasks that can eat up a day. The ability to collect assessment information all in one place also gives teachers new insights into student progress and success, and built-in accessibility and safety features can give teachers confidence they are using the best tools for their students.
- For school or district leadership: Using an LMS across a school or district creates amazing avenues for collaboration and sharing. Teacher training can focus on specific ways to use technology to support learning instead of wasting time training teachers on technical workflows for numerous digital tools. Student performance data can be rolled up to a school or district level, allowing leaders to better support the student community. And finally, incorporating all district-licensed tools into one space allows for easier maintenance, security checks and accessibility reviews.
Technology is a fantastic way to expand the walls of our classrooms, provide new opportunities for students and improve the ability of teachers to be successful in their roles. But not all technology is created equally. Having a centralized LMS is a great way to support all types of learning in a classroom, school and district.
Want to learn more?
Whether you’re evaluating LMS solutions for the first time or reevaluating your current LMS, it’s critical to listen to the specific needs of your teachers, students and staff. Download our free LMS evaluation guide to help select a vendor that best meets everyone’s requirements.
Kassia Gandhi (née Kukurudza) is currently the academic affairs director at D2L. She has worked in education for over a decade, beginning as an elementary teacher. Specializing in technology-enabled learning and teaching, Gandhi helps education organizations around the globe create effective learning ecosystems that put teachers and students at the center. Gandhi has a Master of Education with a research focus in Haitian school systems and the role of education in fragile contexts. In her free time, she acts as a mentor for Faculties of Education and volunteers with Family and Child Services, working with foster children.
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