Whole School Tech – to LMS or Not to LMS?

One of the exciting aspects of being a teacher in the 21st century (there I said it) is the constant stream of new tech and apps that are able to make arduous tasks quicker, our students more engaged, our learning programs more dynamic and our own professional development personalised.

Alongside the excitement is a frustration that, in most cases, the technology is moving so quickly that we can’t keep up. (Or do schools move so slowly that it just appears that way?) After we have discussed, planned and implemented a new tech strategy, software/app or piece of equipment something new and shinier appears. I liken it to clothes shopping – at the time of purchase you never can be sure if this is going to be your favourite, most comfortable fitting pair of jeans. It’s not until 6 months after you have worn them, tried them with your existing clothing and put them through the wash that you realize – yes, these are good jeans. Or you see another pair advertised and wish you could buy them instead but no longer have the budget.

Another issue is that over time we end up with a hotchpotch of tech. I love processes and systems that make our ever-expanding roles as teachers more efficient, yet in most schools I have worked in, technology has been implemented in stages. What teachers have ended up with is a range of places to hunt for information in order to complete their administrative duties. For example:

  • Professional development applications are via a link on the intranet to a Google Doc but then you need to also enter the information on PD Tracker
  • Excursion information is in a folder on the network but you also have to complete the printed forms from the office
  • Ordering materials is via a separate company through their website
  • Course outlines and materials are on the staff portal (but have been added to over years by a number of people so you end up with five different folders called variations of Year 10 Art)
  • Student information is spread between a student management system, the timetable/roll marking software and the reporting package
  • And finally lots of different information is disseminated via bulletin, email, newsletter, website, notices and meetings.

I wonder (I do lots of wondering) if my students experience the same frustrations. Is it an effort for them to get their head around the fact that for media their teacher is using Weebly, for maths it’s Edmodo, for philosophy there’s a Facebook Group, science is on Schoology and the English teacher is using a combination of EduCanon and YouTube. Or, I wonder, is this the world they live in and accept as normal? Are my frustrations born from remembering a time when I only had to memorise one password to access my online tasks. i.e. check my email. Are our students, these digital natives, accustomed and adept at navigating multiple online tools for their social lives and learning? Would they prefer a ‘one size fits all’ solution? Or is this an individual preference derived from learning style and not the year you were born? Also if every teacher were doing the same, for example using Facebook, would the ‘glow’ wear off?

For media their teacher is using Weebly, for maths it’s Edmodo, for philosophy there’s a Facebook Group.


It seems a Learning Management System (LMS) for schools is the obvious solution to streamlining information and processes for students, staff and leaders in schools. But I can also imagine that such a unified approach could be detrimental to both teachers who are highly skilled in educating with other tools and students who prefer to learn in other ways.

I would love to know about schools that have implemented an LMS or developed a whole school policy for using Edmodo or Schoology and hear from teachers, principals, parents or students. In your experience has a whole school approach to an LMS worked? What are some of the pros and cons?

9 Comments

  1. Hello Belinda. Interesting question leading your interesting post. Our schools have adopted Schoology through a grass-roots implementation that grew from using the LMS for professional development. Once our teachers saw the value of a consistent, collaborative, digital space, the transition to classroom application as part of our 1:1 learning initiative was rather seamless. Schoology offered digital workflow solutions, API capability, and an interface that our students were familiar and comfortable with. Our students appreciate having a consistent virtual meeting space that supports the organization, and 24-7 availability of their learning material. Here is my recent post discussing the virtues of consistency and economy when selecting digital tools to support learning.

    http://goo.gl/CiKZmm

    From what we have experienced, I would say having a school-wide LMS essential to supporting consistent communication, collaboration, and confidence. Thank you for providing this discussion forum. I hope others join this interesting conversation.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience Robert – I’d love to know more about Schoology in your school. I have just discovered it, after using Edmodo for a semester, and loved the functionality of locking off assignments until students have completed certain tasks or achieved a set result. So I am still new to finding out what else it can do but initial impressions are it’s intuitive and easy to use. The students certainly logged in and navigated without any trouble or complaints.
      Thanks to for sharing your post – I am off to check out those apps listed now! Cheers.

  2. Hey Belinda,

    This is a great question and one that is very important to struggle with. There is an added dimension to your question that needs to be a part of this that I’ll come to in a moment.

    First and foremost I think it is important for a school to have a school santioned/offcial LMS platform that they use but there has to be flexibility and allowances made for teachers to use tools that they need or feel suit their task better. No one platform is magical and can do everything everyone wants or needs.

    My recommendation is to have an official school LMS, let’s say Moodle for example, as a launch pad for teachers to link out to what ever resource or platform they want to use. A student, regardless of which class they are in, Media, Maths, Philosophy…knows when they walk in to the class they need to go to the Moodle course page for that teacher. This can be systematically set up so neither the student nor teacher need to do anything to make this part happen.

    From that Moodle course each teacher can place a link to their own preferred tool: Weebly, Edmodo, YouTube, Google Docs….

    There are additional benefits for the school with this approach. First it provides a single platform for all members of the school to center on allowing communal resources (announcements, calendars…) to easily be shared. Second, it reduces confusion about where people need to go. I don’t have to, as a student or colleague, learn your particular set of URLs. Third, there are features of a common VLE platform such as Moodle that allow activity tracking, grading and comments to be given back to students.

    The other factor that needs to be considered here are the teachers. As our teacher’s skills with and adoption of online tools increase we need to factor this in to our “school based online platforms.” If for example I have been hired by your school as a well rounded and tech-enhanced teacher I will come to your school with a package of tools that I have successfully been using. To be told by my new school that I “have to”use your platform will demoralize me as I basically would have to rebuild all my tools and resources inside of your platform. However, if you tell me, “Sean, all you have to do is go to your Moodle Course and put links to what ever tools you want to use”I will feel supported.

    Just a few thoughts.

    1. Great, thanks so much Sean – that is a great approach to ensuring that platforms that all educators wouldn’t be comfortable using, esp social media, don’t get thrown out. I think about it from the point of view of teaching style..some teachers can ‘chalk and talk’ and engage and inspire, others are better at encouraging dynamic classroom discussion and some like create amazing activities…I LOVED using Facebook, but I can see how it would just be the wrong tool for others. And you are so right – the way it’s framed for teachers is crucial – innovation just can’t occur in a place where teachers don’t feel supported and are told what they HAVE to do. Thanks for your insight!

  3. Hey thank you for a great post!

    http://preview.tinyurl.com/9l5f8de

    Above is a brief post from my blog some time ago. I have used several LMS since 1999 first in Higher Education and since 2007 in an K-6 school. Districts often want a single platform, but I think the cognitive demand on younger learners in particular are better served by blogs. Blogs serve a lot of elem. needs: kids practice their ELA skills while also becoming comfortable with being published authors. Far flung relatives get the opportunity to connect with grandchildren, nieces and nephews. In many instances, these tool also help our older citizens perceive and get connected to a digital environ that makes them part of something larger.

    I favor tools like Edmodo and Edublogs over the traditional LMS systems. That stated, well implemented, some LMS are expanding features, but if you consider how we learn ourselves, we use a hodgepodge of traditional and social media. Budget-strapped districts don’t do implementation well, and essentially just create a digital version of what goes in the backpack: not good for anyone and NO impact to teaching or learning.

    From a UI perspective, it is great to understand that all content has a commonality of navigation. We now ALL have shorter attention spans, so we abandon web spaces that are hard to move around in. A common user interface can resolve that, but as you note, may reduce the autonomy of the instructional practice. Using a social media type of system like Edmodo or Edublogs is desirable because it also mimics the social media that our children use.

    The understanding of, and embrace of tagging vs. traditional hierarchical file structures is a big skill that adult and child alike need to understand and employ to deal with the data onslaught, too.

    1. Thanks for your input Thomas – it’s great to hear from someone with such a diverse background and experiences.

      I worked in a school with an outdated (almost non-functioning!) LMS that the teaching staff found clunky and too hard too use – thus they invented their own solutions and everyone ended up doing different things…this was very confusing for the students as it was a distance education school. I think it would have worked better if the school had implemented a free tool such as Schoology or Edmodo to provide a certain structure and routine, and then teachers could have added a Facebook Group or blog or other additions as they desired.

      Now I am at a mainstream school and have noted only some teachers are investing in Edmodo or Schoology or Edublogs and the majority of classes still mimic the teacher-driven, paper-based classrooms of my teenage years. I am sure the teachers are using sound pedagogy and learning is occurring but it appears to me so far removed from the actual world we live in now, as both adult learners and social beings…so I absolutely agree with you that blogging and tagging are crucial components in the contemporary classroom!

      Thanks for contributing to the discussion :)

  4. Great question – we will be exploring this concept
    as well this year in our district. I’m always amazed at how we treat students
    in school with disconnected learning experiences each day. Now as we move into
    the 21st century we seem to be doing the same thing again with the LMS
    experience. Seems counter intuitive to allow each teacher to choose what feels
    best for them at the expense of students (and families). I realize that is
    not a popular point of you – but thinking of students should be first right?

    1. I agree Ned. As a parent of a child at high school I wish there was one place I could log in and see what assignments he was working on, see his contribution to online discussions, get some indication of his progress. It makes sense to provide them with one environment, just one ‘go-to’ place and then teachers could have the opportunity to add extras in this place such as embed eduCanon videos, Quizlet flashcards, a Prezi etc. The trouble then becomes choosing the LMS….any ideas?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.