Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Thinking about the LMS

Well, this will be a blast from the pastJ, but I am glad I was asked, as I agree it is still an issue worth thinking about.
At our small Grade 7-8 school, as a team we had arrived at a way of integrating tech that suited everyone. This all took place about 5-8 years ago. We had no devices, just a computer lab. In various combinations I taught IT and/or media literacy to most of the classes for 3-4 years (along with other subjects). Some years, I would consult with the core teachers and we would come up with projects that would fulfil a variety of curriculum needs. In other years, it was a course called History/Media, where I taught history and also was responsible for the media literacy strand.
I was happy because I had this amazing assignment, and the other teachers were happy too. They all had a great attitude towards technology but were not yet confident about learning apps and programs and teaching them to the kids. I did the introductory work with the students and then the teachers were comfortable carrying on with other uses in their own classes – often at the students’ request.
My History/Media class
It was virtually paperless. I used the Smartboard to do direct teaching, Senteo clickers for brief assessments and every month or 6 weeks a new app for a new project. It was not really what we would now call inquiry or project-based learning in the truest sense, but more like open questions presented by me. Apps we used included: Windows MovieMaker, Bitstrips, Prezi, Google Sketchup, Glogster, xtranormal, Twiducate, and more. We were also (as it is now termed) co-creating success criteria.
As time went by it became clear, from an assessment point of view, that the traditional pattern or class profile was being shaken up. Male students, some with well-known identifications, were taking the top marks. The whole array of marks was much more gender neutral. I knew from the boys’ literacy study I had done at our school that this was significant. Statistically, in a content course like History, this was not typical. My principal and I discussed this phenomenon.
Our CI question
Six years ago, when we wanted to get some iPads for the school, in our board you had to do a CI in order to get the funds.
To paraphrase – we asked “If we teach writing using technology will the achievements of male students and students with an identification reach the levels of the female students?”
For the CI itself we had quite a complicated and thorough series of assessment tasks, moderated marking, etc. But in June, my principal wanted to look again at the History/Media report card marks. I just about fell off my chair in dismay! All the stats and graphs showed the old profile with girls ahead by up to 20%! I felt like such an idiot – and I could not figure out why this had happened.
Then it dawned on me. For most of semester 2 I had introduced the students to the LMS, at the same time as we were doing the CI. Because of the complexity of the environment, we had stayed almost exclusively with the LMS and the Ministry content for Grades 7 and 8. The consistent weekly use reinforced patterns like: Content, then Assignment; how to submit a document to the Dropbox from the system drive; how to participate in a discussion. For me, I was getting better at using the News column and placing links to Content and Assignments there, and at previewing and selecting the best of the Interactive Learning Objects for use in class. Nevertheless, with that content, combined with my own inexperience in using an LMS, it became predominantly a read-write environment and assessment always seemed to come back to something where a segment of the students were not able to show their learning as effectively as they had in my former class setup. (Not that I was aware of it at the time!)
As a relatively new LMS user, and one new to using the Ministry content, my perception was that we were still in a dynamic, tech-based environment that was essentially no different from what I had previously been doing. Yes, of course I was doing blended learning. The computers were on, we were in an LMS, I was present and engaging with the students in the lab as usual.
But of course in hindsight I can see the error of my thinking! Kids were Using multimedia, not Making multimedia. In SAMR terms, we were predominantly in a Substitution mode. We had regressed to an electronic textbook and paper and pencil-style tasks, with some online activities mixed in.
It was a far cry from the give and take of classroom instruction and interaction, followed by multiple choice questions with a clicker to test factual or conceptual understanding, followed by two-thirds of every class involving creativity, personal choice in terms of direction and research, and some choice later in the year as to tools. I can now see of course that I could have gone further with all of these activities as well but, at the time, they really served my students better than an LMS-based course. And of course I now see how I could better use an LMS to make it more suitable for all learners. But I wonder how much of this thinking is going on with teachers? Or are they going to dismiss the LMS “as is”, or even worse, unwittingly set their students along a path that will not lead to optimal learning and understanding?
That one meeting with my principal forever changed my views about the power and limitations of various types of technology. And the importance of more thoughtful planning for new uses.

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