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Ed Tech Review: Are Learning Management Systems (LMS) Really Useful?

LMS systems can be useful tools for teachers

Most teachers have heard every version of "My dog ate my homework" possible. Whether it's an incomplete assignment, a forgotten permission slip, or a missed project due date, it can be frustrating when students miss deadlines. Luckily, learning management systems (LMS), such as Blackboard, can help teachers, students, and parents stay organized and on track all year long.

What Is It?

Also referred to as a learning management system (LMS), Blackboard and other platforms, such as Canvas, Google Classroom, and Schoology, can help manage assignments, foster collaboration, and engage home-school communication. Teachers can enter assignments, due dates, and other important information into the LMS at the beginning of the school year, and then post homework-help work sheets and permission slips for parents throughout the year. It can even be used for collaboration or to organize students' completed work. In other words, a teacher's classroom resources can all be found in one central location.

Getting started with a learning management system can seem daunting, but with some of these platforms, it's a relatively easy process. Google Classroom is free, so all you need is a few minutes to sign up using a Google or G Suite for Education account and create your class. Schoology offers a free Basic package—just sign up!—as well as an Enterprise package. You'll have to talk to a representative to get a price quote for Canvas (which includes a one-time implementation fee and an annual fee) and Blackboard—though quite a few people have looked into finding an estimate on the latter. Additionally, Schoology and Blackboard offer in-person demonstrations to help you understand how they can be implemented in your classroom.

How You Can Use an LMS

Rather than tracking assignments, important notices, and grades across multiple platforms and media, an LMS like Blackboard allows teachers to maintain everything within the system. You can input due dates, assignments, parent letters, and forms, and less instructional time will be spent managing these documents. The LMS is also accessible any time, anywhere, making it impossible to forget your take-home folder in your classroom.

An LMS is also a great tool for creating and distributing quizzes and tests. Many systems can grade submissions automatically, significantly cutting down on the time that teachers spend with a red pen in hand. Tests can even be timed, allowing teachers to determine the areas where students are struggling or excelling.

And they're not just for tests and quizzes. Kathleen DeKalb, a business education instructor at Fort Plain Jr./Sr. High School in Fort Plain, New York, uses Blackboard for the "World without Oil" lesson in her business economics class. First, students log on, watch a video, and browse a few educational sites that DeKalb posts. Then they share what they've learned on a discussion board. Not only does this positively influence learning, but students are able to prepare for the future. "It's as if they're in college taking an online course," DeKalb said. "Our goal is to prepare them for work or college because one of the biggest hurdles in college is getting through the technology portion of it."

Pitfalls to Avoid

One reviewer on G2 Crowd says that "the Blackboard interface seems a little outdated, making it hard for teachers to understand." The same reviewer recommends that instructors take a workshop on all that Blackboard can offer. "While its full potential can be difficult to see, the benefits are astounding once fully known." Canvas users noted that the Gradebook functionality could improve, while Schoology users wish the system was a bit more streamlined when it comes to uploading lesson plans or connecting with parents.

Any LMS is an intensive, technology-based system that will require a certain level of technology access and knowledge to be successful. Designate a team or staff member to learn the ins and outs of the system you choose, and to offer support to teachers and students. Make sure teachers look into online trainings and read targeted articles on the systems' blogs to stay current on how to best use the tools.

Learning management systems can seem like a hassle to implement and master but they are worth the time investment. In the end, they can help keep teachers, parents, and students engaged and on the same page, making life in the classroom a little easier for everyone involved.

   
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