What is a Learning Management System



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Using Learning Management Systems (LMS) to Enhance the School Learning Environment




Abstract

This paper will look at the following:



  • What is a Learning Management System?

  • What products are available - how do they compare?

  • How do you choose an LMS?

  • How can an LMS enhance the learning environment in a school?

Brisbane Grammar School has trialled a number of systems and has now implemented Desire2Learn. This experience will inform the presentation/paper and some examples will be presented.


What is a Learning Management System?

One could write many pages attempting to define a Learning Management System. It is more appropriate here, however, to provide a brief summary.


LMS provide each student with a portal so that s/he receives curriculum information aimed directly at the individual. A calendar is provided which may contain organization events, subject-based events and personal events. Sequential learning units may be created to guide students through content and concepts and discussion forums on subject topics may also be created by teachers to encourage collaborative learning. A quiz tool allows teachers to create quizzes that may be marked automatically and give immediate feedback to students. Digital file submission is managed to make the process of submission, drafts and feedback easy for both students and teachers.


Background

Over the last three years a small but dedicated group of teachers at Brisbane Grammar School has investigated the potential of e-Learning or Learning Management Systems. The focus has been on whether these systems can value add to the learning environment at the School rather than their potential for offering courses completely online. The group investigated and trialled a number of systems including Blackboard, WebCT, Moodle, Class Server, MasterFile, eduKate and Desire2Learn. The group decided that a course-based system had more potential than a class-based system. The Canadian Desire2Learn (D2L) system was chosen for implementation in 2006. D2L was installed over the 2005/2006 summer break and the trial group participated in training using Webtrain and Voice Over IP (VOIP) in January.




What can an LMS offer?

The LMS trial has shown that these systems have the potential to:



  • Provide more efficient management of digital file submission for students and teachers.

  • Extend the availability of subject documents and content outside the classroom in a much more organized and sequential manner than is possible via an Intranet.

  • Assist in providing equal resources and experiences to all students within a cohort, with less variation between classes.

  • Extend opportunities for collaborative learning.

  • Improve student involvement by engaging them in a one-stop-shop for all subject resources and activities and also possibly for extracurricular and administrative information.

  • Better individualize instruction via automatically marked quizzes, sequential learning units and feedback.

  • Help students to better organize their time by providing a personal academic calendar.

  • Assist in addressing the current homework agenda at BGS.

  • Provide parents with more information about their son’s academic progress.



The following table expands on some of these features:


File submission assignments

There are a number of existing assignments and activities at BGS where the work is digitally submitted. Compared with the use of the Intranet or email, an LMS makes this far easier for both the students and teachers and has been shown to reduce problems and errors dramatically.

An LMS may also do much more than is possible using other methods including management of a drafting process



File submission activities may also be used for homework activities – though there is an increased marking commitment outside of class time. A compromise might be to use a file submission activity to check that the work was completed at some level but still use class time for marking.

Content/document publishing

An LMS has advantages over the Intranet:

  • student access is personalized so that
    (a) only relevant content is available
    (b) all relevant content is available quickly and easily from one personalized home page.

  • Uploading content and documents is much easier for teachers. No knowledge of Web page development is required and it is realistic to expect every teacher to be able to upload files. Hence it may also be possible to have every document distributed to students also available via the LMS

  • Where appropriate, content may be presented sequentially, and if desired, with restrictions then force students to view the content in a particular order or even to “pass’ a test on one module before being able to proceed to the next

Learning Units

Learning units can be built that include content, Web links, quizzes, discussion forums and assignments. These may be sequenced and may be used both as consolidation/extension activities to complement classroom work and to duplicate classroom activities for students who are absent

Quizzes

In an LMS quizzes may be deployed to students. Provided there are no extended answer questions the LMS will mark these – but allow the teacher to override if required. This feature has been used effectively for homework exercises and is time efficient for teachers, especially if the workload for setting is shared between teachers in the cohort

Providing students with a personalized academic calendar

Events such as due dates are added to the student calendar automatically when an assignment or activity is deployed and may also be added manually by teachers to indicate an event outside the LMS. The result is a personalized calendar for each student that indicates all his, and only his academic “events”

Discussion forums

Discussion forums allow students to contribute to an online conversation. This has been used with some success in History, Science and Japanese. Teacher involvement means an extra time commitment. The trial has shown, however, that without a great deal of teacher involvement, discussion forums may be useful for students to share ideas and problems with each other – to learn collaboratively.

Chat

Real-time chat has not been used to any great extent in the trial. It seems that chat would require a significant time commitment from teachers to be used effectively. One could imagine, however, occasionally using a chat session for a special purpose. Perhaps, for example, inviting an outside expert.

Surveys

Surveys allow students to anonymously vote or comment on an issue. These may be used both in real time as part of a lesson or as an activity outside the classroom.

Parent Portal

Parents are able to observe the content and activities provided for their son, the calendar and the boy’s submissions and responses and results and teacher comments.



A broad cost-benefit schema
This diagram aims to present a summary of the advantages and overheads of implementing an LMS in a school environment. The arrows aim to represent a situation where some elements/instances of the object could be classified differently.


Existing operations where an LMS saves time/makes easier

Value add as well as saving time or time neutral

Value add but more time commitment required

Existing digital file submission assignments




New file submission assignments, activities & homework




Online quizzes (for homework?), marked by LMS










Sequential “Learning Units”




Discussion forums, student only

Discussion forums with teacher involvement, Chat sessions




Distribution of content/documents/assignments










Student Calendar




Email communication/messaging with students







Parent portal





How do you choose an LMS?

The choice of an LMS is a complex process. There are a number of systems available. These include:



  • Blackboard/WEbCT – These course-based products were among the first LMS. The two have recently merged and have a large share of the educational market. Microsoft has an interest in Blackboard.

  • Class Server – this class-based system is the Microsoft product aimed at schools. It now forms the LMS within the Learning Gateway product.

  • Moodle – this course-based product is open-source and free when hosted on school severs. Hosted solutions are also available.

  • eduKate – this Queensland product is a class-based system that was designed specifically for Australian schools.

  • MasterFile – another Queensland product that provides many features with an LMS as part of the system.

  • Desire2Learn – a Canadian system that combines class-based and course-based features.

The decision is an important one as the difficulty in changing systems means the choice is essentially final. There is not necessarily an LMS that is the best in all situations. Schools need to choose an LMS that suits their needs and will need to develop their own set of prioritized criteria. The following set, however, may be a useful starting point.




  • Quality of interface (must be clear and concise)

  • Activity/content/ lesson/test question editor that allows embedding of images, media content, flash etc

  • The ability to have “classes” within a “cohort” (groups within a course) where activities/lessons/etc/etc may be assigned to the whole cohort or to individual classes - Each class should have a teacher associated with it. Ideally there should also be a coordinator who can view all classes

  • Teachers able to view only own class for marking

  • Integration with Student Information System. The integration should include student details, staff details, subjects studied linked to courses, class information linked to class groups within courses, year group information

  • Synchronized logins with LAN or single sign in

  • Ability to create custom groups and courses across Year groups etc

  • Ability to import users external to the Student Information System

  • Flexible management of file submission assignments – including drafting process, individual extensions etc

  • Calendar with – automatic activities/assignments/ content notification but also the facility for teachers to add calendar items.

  • Calendar should include items from all courses the student takes.

  • Announcements on home page.

  • Transparency of content/activities between teachers of a course – ie if a teacher sets an activity for either the whole cohort, or for their class, all teachers in the course should be able to see it

  • Sophisticated test/quiz development and marking. (Multiple choice, Fill the Gap, Matching, True/false, extended answer etc

  • Ability to create sequenced Learning Objects with controlled release. The release conditions should be many and varied

  • Collaboration tools such as discussion forums and a chat tool with whiteboard/canvas

  • Internal messaging system

  • Survey tool that may be set to anonymous mode

  • Parent portal with own login and access to one or more students

  • Criteria for assignments – eg an assignment might be set with two criteria (such as Research and Presentation)

  • Teachers should be able to award grades separately for these criteria and also award an overall grade.

  • Flexible and customizable grade types (eg numeric; A  E; A+  E-; Completed, Not Completed; Comment to student etc


Conclusion



Learning Management Systems have considerable potential to enhance the learning environment in a “face-to-face” school. There are overheads for teachers, however, and the improvements do not necessarily come without extra effort. Choosing an LMS from the many systems available is a complex process and one that demands considerable time and effort to find the system that best suits a particular school.
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