This is part two in a series of blog posts from the IMS K-12 team focusing on interoperability and its advantages for educators and instruction in K-12 education, especially during the current pandemic. This post is cross-posted on the IMS Global Learning Impact Blog.
The Value of an Interoperable Learning Management System
Last week we explored how interoperability supports the transition to digital learning. In this week’s post, we investigate the instructional value of an interoperable learning management system (LMS). We recently caught up with four district leaders (virtually, of course) who are using an IMS-certified LMS to help facilitate their pivot to emergency, remote learning. These districts already implement processes to adopt digital tools and align them into interoperable ecosystems with an LMS being a key component.
Think of the LMS as mission control where the teacher can communicate with students, provide assignments, and link to resources. As a home base for online learning, it supports and connects teachers, students, and parents as a “go-to” place to begin digital learning, whether in school or from home. Essentially, the LMS has the potential to be the digital equivalent of the face-to-face, physical classroom by seamlessly integrating and making available—with the help of IMS standards like OneRoster and LTI—all of the district’s various digital tools and resources.
When asked about how the open IMS standards have impacted their transition to remote distance learning, all district leaders confirmed a significant improvement to their working dynamic, especially with the use of an LMS.
Gregory Odell, e-Learning Specialist at Hall County Board of Education in Georgia, notes that his district’s interoperable LMS, Canvas, allows teachers and students to continue school in a way that is “business as usual.” Fortunately, the district began integrating its interoperable edtech platforms before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, so its users had a bit of a head start in getting used to the technology. Michelle Eaton, Director of Virtual and Blended Learning of the Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township in Indiana, makes it clear that, although the district’s LMS, itslearning, benefits teachers, the current remote working conditions are still less-than-ideal. “I think there are some really great things going on,” Eaton explains, “but emergency and remote teaching are very different from online learning. Online learning is not something that you can just ramp up in 48 hours. For us, we have been committed to interoperability for some time…it certainly helps us as we move to remote teaching.”
Eaton’s words highlight an important point. While the interoperability of digital systems had value in pre-pandemic life, it is even more critical now. Without interoperability, teachers assume an increased tediousness in their workloads, as they must repeatedly enter login credentials, search for resources, and enter data (such as grades) in multiple platforms. This administrative burden severely impacts efficiency and profoundly affects both student and teacher productivity. Those who are new to an LMS are usually pleasantly surprised at its ease of use and variety of features. Educators who are used to having to manage multiple usernames and passwords for even the most basic of tasks involving edtech are relieved to find that the experience is much smoother. Interoperability streamlines these duties and gives teachers better control of their remote classrooms. A district is also better able to support teachers through the consistent use of the LMS from both technical, instructional, and professional learning perspectives, which helps to ensure greater instructional equity and access.
Steve Buettner, Director of Media and Technology for Edina Public Schools in Minnesota, notes that interoperability with his district’s LMS, Schoology, is helping teachers in a big way. They have much better control over course activities, monitoring student progress, and designing assessments. Also, it makes it much easier for students to access information without having to alternate between multiple systems. The simplification has improved access to grade reports and increased the ease with which actions can be determined based on based grade triggers.
Considerations When Introducing a Learning Management System
The district leaders have a few suggestions for transitioning to an interoperable LMS. Odell urges to avoid settling for what you have or cutting corners concerning the integration of the necessary technology. Instead, push the district vendors and other technology providers to ensure your students are receiving the best learning experience you can offer. Daryl Diamond of Broward County Public Schools in Florida, also utilizing Canvas LMS, suggests, “Districts need to procure a learning management system as a ‘one-stop-shop’ for teachers to house all of their curriculum with the capability to align to external tools.” Diamond recommends that an LMS should eliminate “the need for learners to log in separately on external systems.” She asserts that the districts’ responsibility is to correspond with stakeholders whose duty is “to ensure the interoperability of all digital hardware and software and address any issues that arise within the digital ecosystem. This interoperability is vital to teachers’ ability to effectively manage course progression and their students, especially concerning the use of essential data such as rosters and rich outcome analytics.”
Introducing the above technological advances during the pandemic compels a district to consider what schooling will look like in the future. “The work of teachers has been dramatically changed since their first use of the LMS,” according to Diamond, “as it eliminates many basic administrative duties. Teachers will continue acclimating to the new systems to fully experience the benefits of student engagement and enhanced instructional capabilities.” Eaton is not surprised at how thoroughly interoperable features are being integrated into the various LMS platforms throughout school districts in light of emergency remote learning during the pandemic. She is, however, quite excited about future applications of this dynamic technology. “We can build on this momentum since every teacher in our district now knows how to use a digital learning platform. The basic training is done. Now we can focus on what teaching and learning look like in the classroom.”
As a result of the pandemic response, what we are hearing, and what district leaders are seeing, is that an interoperable digital learning ecosystem using an LMS is dramatically improving student and teacher experiences. Hopefully, this will continue long after the pandemic with even more widespread integration and interoperability of technology in K-12 education.
In the next post, we will explore the value of a student information system for pivoting to remote instruction.