As a faculty member, even when your institution’s learning management system (LMS) decision is well researched and carefully thought out, you might still have a “now what?” moment once you get that much-anticipated access to the system. This is when the process of a reflective transition commences. So, what exactly does that mean?
A reflective transition should involve a careful review of all aspects of your current course offering; this may include the course’s reading schedule or planned content delivery, the type and timing of assessments, the synchronous and asynchronous connection opportunities, and more. As you reflect on past course offerings, what seems to have worked particularly well and how do you know that to be true? Are there other areas of the course that you think could be improved, or are there some topics that students seem to struggle with more than others? Taking the time to reflect before a big change can be such a valuable exercise!
You have probably heard some version of these words before (perhaps they have even escaped your own lips): “Taking on and teaching a brand-new course is a lot of hard work. It will take some time to iron out any kinks and develop best practices. But then, the magic happens: once you have taught the course [insert random number here] times, it becomes much easier. Simply reuse the same material, lecture slides, assignments, and you’re all set.”
Does that advice sound familiar? These words provide a source of encouragement to educators as they embrace the unknowns of a new course offering, and the old phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” certainly applies within academic circles as well. However, there’s an important idea to consider as you transition to a new LMS and migrate your coursework over: we don’t need something to be broken to spend the time determining its overall value or considering how it could be strengthened. Making a transition is one thing, but making a reflective transition to a new LMS may look entirely different. What aspects might you want to keep in mind?
When it comes to facilitating a course with the aid of your school’s LMS, there are five elements that contribute to effective online learning and teaching, and reflecting on how you might incorporate just a few of these can support a strengthened course offering.
Provide Choice Options for Students
It’s important that we provide choice to students in an initial effort to engage them in the course. This choice might be afforded through offering multiple assignment options, more than one discussion prompt or reading choice, various ways to interact with course material, or even the opportunity to “build your own course/grade”, as detailed by Katy Herbold in a 2011 article in the International Journal of Technology, Knowledge & Society.
Providing multiple ways to interact with course material is one way to offer choice to students with a diverse set of needs. This can be achieved simply by posting asynchronous lectures in video, audio or written (transcript) form. Students can choose when they want to interact with course material and select the means that best supports their personal learning preference.
Granting the opportunity to pick assignments from various available options also satisfies the fundamental characteristic of choice. In an LMS, this can be realized through the use of Release Conditions, a setting that can be applied to learning materials that controls release of content based on a condition being true (or untrue).
For example, students may choose between two assignment options: a presentation or an essay. Once selected, additional content would release to students based on their choice. For the students who choose presentation, they might have access to a folder with best practices for clear focused presenting at a post-secondary level; for the students who choose the “essay path,” they might then have access to a folder with information about essay structure and developing a clear thesis. This choice can be further supported by organizing the Gradebook to “drop the lowest grade(s) within a category.” This empowers students to pick assessments that spark the greatest interest within them or the ones that best support their personal learning goals and future aspirations.
Give Students a Variety of Assessments
Including a variety of both formative and summative assessment opportunities is a valuable part of learning that doesn’t have to be limited to the physical classroom. Within the LMS, students should have the chance to participate in assessment-as-learning throughout the term as they prepare for higher-stake assessment-of-learning opportunities.
In an LMS, educators can set up short knowledge-check quizzes throughout the term by offering non-graded quizzes that enable multiple attempts. Choose to use question pooling to ensure that students are presented with any variety of questions per learning objective on their subsequent attempts at the quiz. Alternatively, provide students with multiple attempts on only the questions they got wrong on their first try so that they focus their efforts specifically on competencies they have not yet achieved. Other types of formative assessments might include facilitating groupwork and peer assessment opportunities through discussions with star ratings or upvote/downvote enabled.
Summative assessments might include items like quizzes, video assignments, group work, discussions or written assessments. Though some assessments might not lend themselves well to the same choice afforded in other areas of the course, students should frequently be offered a choice of questions or submission options. In each assessment instance, offering powerful, personalized feedback will help support student learning. All assignment types can easily be initiated within D2L BrightspaceTM and can be explicitly tied to learning objectives as well, ensuring no outcomes are overlooked.
Support Learning Through Community
Encouraging the development of an online community can be a powerful way to engage students in their learning. To humanize online learning (or add a human element to the time between course meetings), attempt to regularly connect with students through video announcements. This assures students that there is an invested educator on the other side of the computer and helps forge a connection that can be more difficult in an online setting. Creating short video announcements at least weekly is a great way to start building a relationship that could be integral to the students’ investment and growth.
Features like the activity feed widget within an LMS can also help initiate collaborative threads that allow students to quickly post short comments and reactions to written, audio or video messages. This interactive option mirrors a social media experience for students and offers the opportunity to conveniently engage with their educator or peers.
Prioritize the Sharing and Receiving Personalized Feedback
Prioritizing the effective exchange of feedback is another way to support the personalization of a course.
Like asynchronous lectures, feedback might be offered by video or audio means or simply by relying on a more traditional approach to feedback (written, for example). If class size makes such a practice reasonable, you might even connect with students to ask about what type of feedback best supports their learning and growth and attempt to deliver this preference throughout the term. Within an LMS, the way to deliver assignment feedback is up to you: assignment feedback can take the form of video, audio or written or even include the use of images to support the message. Additionally, clarity of feedback can be supported by making use of system tools like rubrics that can help ensure that students clearly understand expectations and whether their work is meeting core competencies.
Not only is it important for educators to provide timely personalized feedback, it’s also important that educators seek feedback from their students. This helps ensure that students have advocacy in their education, but also that educators have an opportunity to consider how they might make changes at a point in the term when they can affect the remainder of it. An LMS can help facilitate this through tools like anonymous surveys, which can be created quickly and delivered in line with other content. An important subsequent step will be to implement collected feedback, so there may be a need for a slight pivot throughout the term to incorporate student feedback into your practice.
Reflect on the Learning Process
Reflection is a valuable part of the learning process, regardless of the environment in which the learning takes place. Prompting students to reflect on their learning through use of the LMS is a positive strategy to keep students in the same place for all learning-related activities.
Some LMSs afford students spaces in which to reflect upon their learning. Educators can simply direct students to this space (in the case of Brightspace, the Portfolio tool), and students can add learning artifacts to reflect on their own learning and choose to share with educators when they are also seeking feedback. Tools like Portfolio not only encourage reflection, but they also support the important notion of self-regulation in online learning as they offer learners opportunities to curate a collection of learning artifacts independently.
Reflection might also be encouraged through thoughtfully designed discussion forums where students are tasked to reply to educator-created prompts along with the posts of their peers. Alternatively, Brightspace supports the creation of smaller group (or even one-on-one) discussions that enable students to share their own thoughts in what may be deemed a more comfortable or safer setting.
It’s important to remember that a new LMS comes with a lot of exciting opportunities, but it also inherently comes with a learning curve. Lean on your colleagues as you learn and experiment with the new features available to the teaching community and feel good about making subtle, but meaningful, changes to your course as you make the transition and get settled in your new LMS.
Learn About the Nine Things to Consider Before Making an LMS Switch
Your LMS functions as the heart of your academic institution—it not only hosts and manages learning material but also helps students successfully hit learning outcomes. However, if your LMS no longer serves your institution’s needs, it’s time to consider switching to a system that works for you. This switch may seem as daunting as selecting your initial LMS, but with careful planning and the right approach, you can have an efficient and smooth switch.
This eBook covers nine key considerations you need to be thinking about before making an LMS switch.
Lindsay Shipman is on the Solutions Engineering Operations team at D2L, where she is focused on strengthening the first-time user experience in Brightspace. Lindsay came to D2L after about a decade working in educational publishing and she has also been a part-time instructor at a Canadian college using Brightspace for several years now. Lindsay holds a Master of Professional Education degree (Curriculum and Pedagogy).
Stay in the know
Educators and training pros get our insights, tips, and best practices delivered monthly