My district implemented a Learning Management System. Even though we are a Google Apps for Education district, we opted to go a different way than the Google Classroom. This decision was not made lightly. Why a learning management system? These are a few of my own understandings, though I’m sure at the table where the decision was ultimately made, there were more:
- Decrease use of paper
- Authentically engage students in using technology for learning
- Encourage BYOD
- Provide an experience in the k-12 environment that prepares our students for college and/or career, a foundation of our school and district goals
Perhaps I am not wording the fourth one as adequately as it should read, but the gist of it is true. We have plenty of contact with our graduates, and repeatedly the ones who go onto college report back to us their biggest obstacle to overcome in the first year of college was learning to utilize Blackboard or other learning management systems.
The chosen platform
If you are not a new reader, then you know our district went with ItsLearning. Relatively unknown in my PLN and networking circles, most of whom are using Google Classroom by the way, I must to say I am not disappointed in it. Quite robust, it has the potential to transform teaching and learning in my district. Having had my Google Teacher Academy experience this past summer (#GRAATL), I did fall in love with Google Classroom. But our decision makers decided to find an LMS that catered to all levels, including Pre-K through 2nd grade. To hear one of our assistant principals talk about how her young kindergarten son uses it really underscores for me why it was the right choice for us.
A soft launch
We didn’t implement it at the very beginning of school, but rather went with a “soft launch.” Why? Teachers were in, but not yet students at the start of school. Students showed up a few weeks later. As tech trainers,we had some summer training, but none of our teachers had any exposure. Our district leaders and administration set the stage for our training by calling on teachers to train with the help of trainers. The training course was tweaked to meet the needs of our staff, set up in the platform itself, and designed with the “flipped” mindset. Our initial training efforts were focused on getting teachers to log in, set up what we dubbed “sandbox” courses, and essentially learn by doing after interacting with the training course. Playing around in a sandbox course could build invaluable understanding.
So how is it going now?
My observation (especially as a trainer) is that our teachers using it at this time are are using it more or less as a virtual filing cabinet and a way to deliver and receive materials paperlessly to their classes. With school starting and it not fully available to students, and teachers having to learn to build content after school had already begun, it is understandable many were reluctant to change the plans they’d already made for their classes. I can understand that reluctance to a degree. Some were even already using other platforms (Schoology, Weebly, Edmodo, etc) to deliver content and engage students, so their reluctance to change platforms was understandable too. If I had to say right now what percentage of our staff is using ItsLearning, I’d say 30%. We as trainers offered multiple opportunities to work face-to-face with teachers (and still are), but since the course was designed as a flipped classroom approach and teachers could lead themselves through the training, our training opportunities were never mandated, but rather made optional. In a way, I think that hurt the adoption by teachers a little. Those too busy just let it get pushed back to the rear burner. Who doesn’t understand the “busyness” of teachers though? Especially at the beginning of school.
When I think of teachers adopting any technology, it brings to mind the SAMR Model (see the graphic above or read about it at Kathy Schrock‘s site). And as I reflect on my own use of new tools, it is understandable that most of us are on the S level of this model when thinking about our use of ItsLearning at this point in the school year. I can think of a couple of my teachers who are on the brink of moving to the A level. As I develop courses for training purposes, I am trying to model Redefinition in my own use. But I am a lone teacher who just happens to train others in my school as a component of my job as school librarian. Saying that, as each new technology has been exposed to me, I see my own embracement inline with the SAMR model. Different tools take longer to fully embrace. So I remind myself today to be patient and understand this. While I struggle with impatience, I truly believe with the training plans we have set out, which include mostly optional professional development for my staff, more teachers will be fully on board by the time school begins for our 2015-2016 school year. And I am truly glad I work in a district that is not mandating the training, but rather offering and encouraging. It does make me optimistic that given proper time to learn and prepare, such as optional training now, and those on the horizon in summer and back to school professional development currently in the planning stage, we will see more use of the tool by our teachers.
- ItsLearning Logo Screenshot from my own ItsLearning Portal
- SAMR Model screenshot from Ruben R. Puentedura’s Weblog