Over the summer a committee of middle school teachers and the library and technology departments gathered to evaluate two different learning management systems for use with the iPads in our 1:1 initiative with our grade 7 and grade 8 students.
Wikipedia defines a learning management system as "a software application for the administration, documentation, tracking, reporting and delivery of e-learning education courses or training programs." After much evaluation and discussion, we selected Schoology as our learning management system. We liked the use of operation, the similarity to Facebook, and the ability to export grades straight to Powerschool, our grades management software. Course material can now be accessed around the clock and on the weekend as well, and students can submit assignments and tests from home or anywhere there is an internet connection.
The middle school faculty embarked on this new adventure of e-education and we began implementing Schoology in phases. We created classes for all students, and we began posting homework and other calendar dates. Teachers with an adventurous mind took off with it and started exploring what the software can do. Others took it slow and picked up one feature to explore and use with their classes.
In November we opened Schoology to parents as well, so that they can see the assignments, the calendar, and other information posted by the teachers.
"Schoology is easy to use both for students and teachers and it's very helpful, showing me everything I've assigned to all of my different classes in one unified interface," says Latin teacher Matthew Katsenes. He uses Schoology in his class to assign and collect homework and to distribute material to his students. He also employs the calendar feature to make them aware of what's coming up, and he plans to investigate how he can use the test/assessment feature.
"Schoology allows students to be more independent with their learning and more accountable for what teachers want them to do," says Language Arts teacher Jeff Hussman. By posting assignments and quizzes on the calendar, and with the date stamp feature, there are no questions as to when something was submitted or accessed. With the information accessible to students outside of school, our students are able to complete assignments outside of the regular class time if needed.
"I use Schoology as a central location to keep track of the students' ICT portfolio," says librarian Etienne Vallée. "Students submit projects to one of six standards, along with a reflection. Their grades are immediately sent to their gradebook, and they can see the comments I left back on their documents. Best of all, no paper was used or exchanged, avoiding the loss of documents." He also uses the calendar and distributes library related information through Schoology.
"I am using it for tests and quizzes and homework," says Social Studies teacher Judy Perry. "I like the fact that it's accessible, that you can easily get to the work. The difference in the amount of paper is incredible. I like the authentic grading to that I can look at preliminary grades then adjust them and comment on them before returning them to students. I like the crispness of the graphs, maps, and charts on tests." Just as paper-based tests and assignments, however, Mrs. Perry says there is one problem that Schoology does not address: "I can't grade it unless they've submitted it."
Now as we complete our first semester, we look back to lessons we have learned. First, we need to take it slow. Not everyone is on board right away. Some people have a high comfort level with technology. Others will need some support to get started, and yet others will need significant assistance. However, once the basics are mastered, teachers report successful activities, and this encourages more use and more elaborate lessons. Students, however, quickly adapted to Schoology.
Second, we learned that when students upload documents to Schoology from their iPads, they must share them from other apps such as Pages, Keynote or Notability as pdf files. Proprietary formats can be uploaded, but they then must be downloaded and viewed by the teacher instead of being viewable inside Schoology.
Third, we need to provide significant technological support to help teachers and students succeed using this platform. The learning curve can be high, but the rewards are great when teachers realize that they no longer need to grade things twice, once on the actual project or activity and the second time when grades are entered in the grading software. Commenting is immediate, and everything is date stamped. Another advantage is that though setting up assignments and quizzes require significant amounts of time, these activities can be easily replicated and transferred to other classes and saved into a resource folder for future use. Once built, lessons only need tweaking and modifications to reflect how the assignment went and any changes in material.
With a new semester starting, here are some things we are looking forward to:
(1) More teachers using Schoology everyday in engaging and supporting activities;
(2) Calendar events posted for every class;
(3) Better use of the functionalities of the software.
(4) Continued parent awareness of Schoology and what it can achieve.
Here's to a successful second half of the school year!