LMS Showdown – Which Is The Best Fit?

Teachers, schools, districts, and higher ed institutions have a wide range of platforms to use as their online “home base” for their students.  Companies like Blackboard, Desire2Learn, Moodle, Edmodo, Schoology, and more recently Canvas by Instructure are all vying for the chance to become your Learning Management System (LMS) of choice.

LMS Smackdown

With all of these options (along with dozens more) available, how do teachers, administrators, and tech coordinators decide which platform is best for their students?  As a middle school educator and instructional coach, Here are some of the areas that need to be considered when evaluating which LMS is right for you:

1.  Straightforward Set-up and Maintainance

In order for any LMS to be successful, it needs to be fairly simple for teachers to set-up and maintain their classes/courses in the online environment.

While additional training and professional development is almost certainly required for any new system, the administrative interface of the LMS needs to be intuitive.  Teachers will not buy-in to the system if it is not user-friendly, and will be less likely to implement the system to its full potential if roadblocks are continuously encountered.

Additionally, maintaining class rosters and posting updated content for units and lessons needs to be as streamlined as possible.

2.  Simple Student Access and Navigation

Although the learning-curve for a teacher to learn any new LMS is integral to its adoption, the ability for a student to pick it up easily is exponentially more important.

Students need to be able to join groups/classes, access content, and submit assignments with as little interference as possible.  You will also want to keep in mind how content is presented from the student’s point of view (is it presented linearly in a “playlist,” as a page of multiple entry-points, etc.) and if it allows for students to easily explore related content on their own.

With this in mind, even the LMS with the most intuitive user interface may be challenging for students who are not as tech-savvy.  Whatever LMS you end up deciding to use, a system of support for students (and parents) needs to be set up.

Whether this is by a help-center or FAQ section developed by the LMS company or a series of lessons/screencasts that you develop yourself, students and parents need somewhere to turn when they have questions about the learning system.

3.  Ability to Embed Various Content 

Most learning management systems can easily embed video and images, but any other content (interactives, ebooks, etc.) need to be tested to make sure that they can be embedded into the system easily.

I have been using Edmodo this year with middle schoolers, and for the most part embedding content has been successful.  Some more complicated content did not successfully embed, and I had to post it as a link instead.  While this worked out for me, I had to preface this to students and remind them to read the post and follow the link accordingly.

4.  Connectivity to Student Information/Grading Systems

The biggest selling point of many learning systems and applications today is complete, back-end integration with student information databases and grading systems (such as Power School or Progress Book in the K-12 realm).

Having information about student enrollment, scheduling, and grades continuously connected and updated makes any learning application or program that much more effective.  It allows for almost instant feedback and communication between the instructor and the student/parent, and aids in the analysis of data to make important instructional decisions.

What is even more rare to find among web-based learning platforms is the ability to link all student performance and assessment data into one central hub.  While many companies are working toward this goal, finding a perfect combination of LMS with compatible learning tools and programs is somewhat challenging.

5.  Universal Hardware Compatibility

Depending on the hardware that you school or organization has adopted, this is crucial to successfully implementing an LMS.  While most of the popular systems tout cross-compatibility, there are some major differences in the user experiences of, say, the iPad app versus using the LMS on a desktop.

It is important that you know what features of your selected LMS will function of each hardware device that your learners may be using, and having foreknowledge of this before signing on to using one for a specified period of time will be very important.  Testing out the experience of the LMS on all possible devices – from the administrative and student perspective – is extremely important.

Next Steps – Further Investigation

Over the next few weeks, I will be spending time researching some of the best Learning Management Systems available to educators and blogging about them as  go.  I will be looking at the feature-sets of many LMS platforms and evaluating them in the mentioned categories, and will note any major features that set each apart from the rest.

If anyone would like to share their own thoughts or experiences about a specific LMS, I invite you to comment to this or any of the future posts.  Knowing exactly what you get from each system is very important, and getting a more complete picture of each available system will help educators and administrators make more informed choices for their students.

Also, any representatives from LMS companies are welcome to comment and leave their own feedback or add more information about the features that I may overlook.  You can also follow me @EdTechToolkit on twitter to let me know what you think and keep up to date on my venture through different learning management systems in the coming weeks.

OETC Day Two – Recap

OETC

Day two of the conference for me had an eerily similar beginning:  Brisk drive into the city, application of scarf/gloves in preparation to walk from the garage, followed by a never-ending screaming of “Holy hashtag it’s cold!” in my mind as I walk to the Convention Center.

My first session was all about blended learning, which was presented by Marcia Kish of DSD Professional Development (@dsdPD).  The workshop-style session featured a lot of useful tools that either I could use in my classes or, more importantly, share with other teachers in my district.  Here’s a link to the applications and websites that were focused on.

Screenshot 2014-01-29 at 1.38.02 AM

It surprised me how many web 2.0 tools are still unknown to many people in education.  Socrative, Padlet (formerly wallwisher), Today’s Meet, and Voki avatars were all things that I was introduced to years ago (and some of which I have phased out of implementation).

Other more recent offerings were welcome (BlendSpace, ShowMe, ThingLink), and Marcia did a nice job of implementing these tools into her workshop session materials.

 

After meeting up with a former colleague during the keynote, I headed to the session that I was most excited for today:  The LMS Smackdown!

This was a participant-driven session with volunteers promoting their Learning Management System of choice in successive rounds answering the “What, When, Where, Why, and Wish” of their selected LMS.  Blackboard, Schoology, Desire2Learn, Moodle, Edmodo, Google Apps, and (at the last minute) Canvas were all represented.

LMS SmackdownThe session was upbeat and fun, and led to some great discussions with the LMS advocates afterwards.  In my classroom, I have been trying a combination of Edmodo and Google Apps for a one-two punch of communication and collaboration, and wanted to know what other options could work just as well or better.

Christopher Deis (@christopherdeis), who represented Google Apps during the Smackdown, shared with me that he was using Schoology and Google Apps very successfully.  Guess what I researched a bit more after that…

I finished my day with a session titled “Beyond 21st Century Skills,” which was presented by Edward Hill from the Ohio Resource Center.  Expecting to find a session locked and loaded with more tech firepower, I was pleasantly surprised when this was a more “fundamental question” discussion.

Although technology may be a part of what we do, Mr. Hill encouraged us as educators to “be brave enough to fail” when trying new things.  Focusing heavily on incorporating the design process into lesson planning and having students help develop the ways in which they learn, a lot of the undertones were reminiscent of Kevin Honeycutt’s (@kevinhoneycutt) keynote and sessions from Monday.  Mentioning the likes of Sal Khan and Sugata Mitra really drove the student-driven aspect home, and was an uplifting end to my time at EOTC on Tuesday.

There were many other sessions that I would have loved to attend on Tuesday, but it’s just not physically possible to get to them all.  If anyone would like to share their experiences (or presenters, any of your resources and handouts) tweet them @EdTechToolkit and I’ll share some of those in a future post.  Thanks to everyone who made day 2 of EOTC great!

OETC Day One – Afternoon

My first day at the 2014 OETC is coming to a close, and it’s been an overall motivational and uplifting experience.

I can’t praise Kevin Honeycutt enough for his keynote (and his afternoon session that was a continuation of it).  I think his tagline on his website (kevinhoneycutt.org) explains his overall theme the best:

Screenshot 2014-01-27 at 2.09.28 PM

He celebrates the natural curiosity and entrepreneurship of kids, and how we as teachers and/or parents should celebrate these things.  We should encourage students to develop skills and talents that they do well, but also teach them things that may not come as naturally to them.

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More specifically, he repeatedly iterated the idea that students need to be aware of the “digital legacies” they continuously are adding to and modifying as they interact online.   Along with digital literacy and netiquette skills, Kevin offered multiple free resources that are available to teachers and students to develop 21st century skills.  (Link available here to his list of tools and resources)

He is a great advocate for students and their development, and believes that students should be able to utilize their strengths to develop their own creative ideas that they can use to create their own businesses.  While I’m sure his background in art and music may influence this a great deal, it is a mindset that is fresh in the K-12 education realm and is somewhat rare.

Thank you Mr. Honeycutt for encouraging me to continue doing things that challenge students and motivate them to be creative, innovative, and responsible in today’s digital world.

Ohio’s Educational Technology Conference – Day One Preview

OTEC is the third largest state educational technology conference in the country.

Despite the cold and snowy conditions, many people in the education industry will be attending the Ohio Educational Technology Conference this week.  The three-day event will be filled with a plethora of innovative individuals, groups, and companies who are looking to leave their marks on the EdTech industry, and on education in general.  

For those of us who have the opportunity to meet up at OETC, the choice of sessions, workshops, and participant-driven meetups (OETCx) is impressive.  I have a feeling that after registering and going to my first 8:00 session I’ll adjust my plan for the day.

I’ll be attending Monday and Tuesday, and look forward to seeing what other teachers are currently implementing in their classrooms successfully to being back and share with my colleagues.  Hopefully I’ll have a lot to share tomorrow after day one.

Google Glass Explorer Invite

When I applied months ago to be a part of Google’s Explorer program for their wearable Glass, I didn’t think I’d hear back anytime soon.  I assumed that they would be selecting from a pool consisting primarily of developers and media folk who would give some positive early previews of the device to feed into the hype continues to build for the platform.

I had the chance to try Glass in December of last year when I ran into Brad Griffith, President and Web Strategist of Buckeye Interactive.  An Explorer himself, he was more than eager to share his Glass unit with me and let me test it out for myself.  The initial “wow” factor was undeniable, and I was eager to have more time with the product to experience its potential.  (read his experiences with Glass here)

An Unexpected Invitation

That being said, I was pleasantly surprised when I received an invitation email a few days ago from Google that I now had my chance to become a Glass Explorer myself.  After trying unsuccessfully to wipe the grin on my face that was my initial reaction to reading this, I clicked the link titled “Get Glass” and started to reflect about my current situation:  Is this new wearable smartphone accessory really worth the $1500 price tag?

My biggest concern with jumping the gun and shelling out over a grand for a cell phone accessory isn’t whether I’d actually use it or not.  While some Explorers have mentioned that wearing Glass in public can be a bit strange and awkward, I’d relish in the attention and would enjoy explaining the contraption on my face to onlookers.

Rather, I am worried that becoming an Explorer and paying for an unfinished version of the product will come back to haunt me upon Google’s official release of Glass.  How much will it cost?  When will is be released?  How much MORE will I have paid to get it earlier than others?

To Explore or Not To Explore

While I am leaning more toward declining the offer to pay to be a part of the program, I am curious to see what others have to think.  If you were in my shoes, would you take a chance to try out Glass up to a year before others?  Or would you ride it out and wait for the public release to (hopefully) nab it at a much lower price point in the near future?

Google Glass Explorer Edition

Having the chance to own Google Glass (even with the high price tag) is tempting – but is it worth it?

When I initially received the invite, only the Tangerine and Sky colors were available for purchase.  After checking again today, however, I’ve noticed that their other color options are now in stock (I’ve had my eye on Cotton from the beginning) which makes me reconsider giving it a go.

Leave a comment below or tweet @EdTechToolkit with your opinion, as I’m having a hard time convincing myself to make the transition to Glass right now.