The term learning management system (LMS) means many different things to teachers, administrators, students and parents. For some, it’s an essential part of their teaching and learning. Many others, however, feel their schools succeed despite their LMS – not because of it. Teachers, whose focus is on the practice of teaching rather than the use of technology, too often dislike or even resent the LMS they are forced to use.
What if, instead of evoking groans, frustration and headaches, a school’s LMS united students, teachers, administrators and parents around teaching and learning? At St. Andrew’s College, Canada’s largest all-boys boarding school, we set out to find an LMS that’s both useable and used.
St. Andrew’s has long believed that technology is an essential part of the teaching and learning process for students and teachers, as well as an effective way to enhance parental involvement. We implemented a full one-to-one laptop program in 2002, moving to pen-enabled tablet PCs in 2008, and implemented Edsby as our LMS in 2012. Instead of installing an LMS simply for the sake of having one, schools would be better off focusing on their unique pain points and on how an LMS can address them. The LMS is meant to streamline tasks and support all stakeholders. Above all, students, teachers, administrators and parents all need to believe the system adds value. Without buy-in – most importantly from teachers, every LMS is doomed to be “shelfware.”
Here are a few ways we can begin changing hearts and minds:
1. Put teachers first
There are thousands of software solutions available to teachers, but finding the right combination of tools that are useful, likeable and scalable is not an exercise for the faint of heart. Every teacher has different needs and a unique vision for his or her classroom. A one-size-fits-all approach is rarely the right choice and should always encounter healthy skepticism from the end user. In our experience at St. Andrew’s, the key is finding an LMS that is user friendly yet provides all the needed information in as few clicks as possible, together with a provider that is agile, flexible and able to meet customer needs. We have an LMS that keeps everyone on the same page and creates equitable learning opportunities throughout the school. Initial and continued discussions with teachers to learn about their needs is essential in finding an LMS that solves problems and facilitates open access to all course-, student- and parent-related data.
2. Focus on features that do the most good
This should be a no-brainer when it comes to classroom technology, but it’s often overlooked or hard to identify when a new tool becomes available. It’s important to find and incorporate technology that will serve a purpose for everyone involved in your education community. For example, at St. Andrew’s we use nearly every capability available on our LMS – attendance, school news, course planning, student/teacher collaboration, coordinating groups and extracurricular activities, class assessments, report cards, and much more. Our most used feature, the course Journal or Daybook, is the heartbeat of every class: students, parents and administrators know exactly what was done in every class and precisely what their homework is every evening. And yet this task takes teachers typically a minute per class per day. Our Edsby LMS is one of our core tools, but that’s not the case with every school and district. Spend time discovering your unique needs, and then match them up with an LMS that can adapt to your situation.
3. Make the connection
Communication is a good thing, especially between your LMS and SIS. Teachers, students and course offerings change each year, making it difficult to maintain school information systems with accurate data. But by syncing your existing platforms with the LMS, you’re able to quickly integrate directory systems to easily maintain information.
St. Andrew’s is relatively small – a microcosm of what larger districts can accomplish. We have approximately 600 students in three schools, over 400 courses and upwards of 1,500 parents hosted on our LMS. What was once a system not easily accessed or managed, especially by teachers and parents, is now providing St. Andrew’s with a much deeper integration system-wide. Tight integration to the SIS also allowed us to hit the ground running. What started out as a five-year plan to develop our own LMS quickly turned into a five-month process to approve and implement the system we have now. This wouldn’t have been possible without the ability to connect our LMS to legacy systems.
4. Push for customization
An LMS should provide a certain level of customization to match your needs. Speaking directly with the developer about your challenges can make all the difference. Oftentimes, schools go unheard and don’t have a say in how a product is shaped. But customization – especially in the context of learning and teaching – is becoming a necessary component for the success of a school and its academic programs. If the LMS provider isn’t willing to collaborate and offer individualized support, they’re not worth your time or investment.
The LMS is sometimes seen as the bane of many teachers’ existence, but its role continues to evolving. Although a laptop school for over 13 years, St. Andrew’s College purposefully delayed implementing a full LMS until we found one that fit our core requirements: Ease of use for all stakeholders, completeness, connectivity and customizability. Modern technology continues to do wonders across multiple industries and that’s no different within education. When incorporated thoughtfully and used to its full potential, a good LMS can significantly enhance teaching and learning.
Jon Butcher has been an educator for 25 years. He taught as a science and physics teacher for a decade within the public education system and is currently in his 15th year at St. Andrew’s College in Toronto, Ontario, Canada where he serves as Administrative Coordinator and science teacher. Butcher was Chair of the Information Technology Integration Committee throughout the rollout of laptop and pen-enabled tablets, and drove the implementation of Edsby. He is a supporter and advocate of education technology and believes it has an essential role in his classroom.