Posts Tagged online learning

Inside the Digital Transformation – Part 2

This is part one 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. 

Learn what it means when your edtech products are IMS certified.

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.

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Turning the Key for BYOT

I woke up yesterday to a hectic morning as my wife was rushing out the door to go to work.  She couldn’t start her car because the key wouldn’t turn in the ignition.  We took turns wrestling with the key and steering wheel without budging them when I decided to search online to see if anyone else had posted their experiences with the same problem and listed a possible solution.  Luckily, there were several discussion posts in a couple of different forums about such a problem, and I tried a few suggestions before I found the one that did the trick.  I eventually unlocked and locked the car door manually with the key in order for it to reset.  When I inserted the key again, it turned, and I heard the best sound in the world at that moment – the engine thundering into action!

I considered how awesome it is to have that immediate access to information when it is needed, just in time.  Similar situations happen in the classroom.  Students need ready access during the process of learning, but that access is controlled by the content obtainable in the textbooks, the availability of school’s technology resources, and the opportunity students have to make choices.  When students bring their own technology to facilitate their learning in BYOT, they can utilize more independence in finding necessary information and answers to their questions.  They can collaborate to build the body of knowledge with the other students in their learning community by posting content that has relevance and meaning to the rest of the group.  Teachers can also encourage students to search for new ways to learn with their own technology tools and to create original products and projects.

It’s time to turn that key for BYOT from LOCK to START and accelerate learning for all students – just in time!

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10 Strategies for Designing an Online Learning Community

For many of us, the teachers that we remember as being the most effective were those who had an innate understanding of how to help their students develop a sense of belonging in their classrooms while simultaneously maintaining high expectations for learning. I recently worked with a class of fourth grade students and their teacher for six weeks to design an online learning community that supported their face-to-face instructional activities. Based on our experiences, I compiled this list of ten strategies for developing online learning communities.

  1. Teach Netiquette at the Onset of the Implementation.  Teachers and students have to negotiate and establish the rules of communication and etiquette that determine how an online learning community will function.  As students become more comfortable communicating online, they are more likely to form a class community.  With clear expectations about appropriate interaction, teachers can assist their students feel an acceptance that can motivate collaboration.
  2. Incorporate Time for Social Discourse and Conversation.  One of our first online activities was to communicate through discussion forums.  We quickly noted that the students had some initial difficulty participating in online discussions about academic content.  However, when students described their Spring Break activities within an online discussion forum, they were able to relate and connect to each other’s posts in the discussion. According to Wenger, McDermott, & Snyder (2002), the sharing of common interests is necessary for operating within a community of practice, and it can lead to collaborative problem-solving and the development of shared understandings.  By incorporating social discussions we were able to establish and nurture communication that led to greater personal understanding, acceptance, and tolerance and eventually supported academic discussions.
  3. Encourage Opportunities for Student Collaboration.  As the students worked with each other to develop original projects and products related to their learning standards, they were able to learn more about the content. From the onset of this design of the online learning community, the students requested opportunities to interact with their peers in collaborative work.   This entailed less risk because they were able to help each other while collectively developing an understanding about a topic.  In turn, these shared learning experiences strengthened the bond among the students within the online learning environment.
  4. Provide the Students with Choices.  The students expressed that they wanted to make choices about the types of activities that they had to complete online.  They also wanted to decide how they should organize their collaborative work on their projects. When we developed activities for the students to complete online, we had to consider that new projects had to be explored, choices had to be incorporated into the design, and the students had to have opportunities for collaboration.  Students were able to use multiple modalities to show what they had learned, and their choices provided additional opportunities for differentiation and success.
  5. Encourage Asynchronous Participation.  A benefit of our online learning community was its asynchronous nature.  The students communicated with each other, worked together on projects, or used links to locate information or complete activities. The asynchronous work had an influence on work within the face-to-face classroom in that the students had large portions of time dedicated to online collaboration.  Whole group lessons became shorter and were usually reserved for providing directions or sharing strategies.  Therefore, the students practiced and developed additional skills in self-directed learning and self-motivation.
  6. Have Teachers Model the Learning.  The role of the teacher began to shift during the design of the online learning community.  She began to assume a more facilitative and less directive role in instruction, as she became a participant in the learning process.  She encouraged student interaction by asking questions and responding to their posts in online discussion. She was a mentor who suggested alternatives and possibilities, and she was an organizer who developed activities that engaged the students.
  7. Practice the Technical Skills.  It was more complicated for the students to complete a new project or product when they had no previous experiences with the skills needed to complete that project. As the online learning community was continually modified and we introduced new opportunities for collaboration, we realized that the students needed practice time in order to utilize the new technology tools effectively.
  8. Utilize Student Experts.  Online learning included some new challenges for the teacher and the students as the focus of instruction began to become more student-centered.  The participants were learning technical skills related to learning online that involved using new tools including features of the learning management system (LMS) as well as personal technology devices that they used to access the online learning community.  We utilized the students and their willingness to help each other as they learned how to work together.  This sharing of expertise helps to shape the online community of practice (Wenger, White & Smith, 2009), and as the members support each other, they develop new social bonds to assist in further collaboration.
  9. Develop Understanding through Discussion Forums.  An important feature of the online learning community that encouraged collaboration and interaction was the purposeful use of discussion. Through online discussion, the students expressed information that they wanted to know more about.  As the students interacted and communicated with each other online, they were able to develop new understandings from these social practices.
  10. Explore Personal Interests.  Throughout the implementation of the online learning community, the teacher and students began exploring and sharing their personal interests.  This communication helped to build the community, as students made meaning from their personal experiences and shared them with others (Wenger et al., 2009).  In addition, the students were enthusiastic about bringing their personal technology tools to school to facilitate their own styles of learning as they accessed the online learning environment.  The students were so knowledgeable about their devices and so willing to share this understanding with others that this small Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) initiative caused the interaction and collaboration among the participants in this community of practice to develop rapidly.

I am astounded by the determination of teachers and students to develop effective learning communities in spite of all of the obstacles that they face each day.  The challenge of maintaining one’s individuality while effectively working as a member of a group is a reality of life and making that connection is a key ingredient of lifelong learning (Thomas & Brown, 2011).  Collaborating and interacting within an online community facilitated support for learning; furthermore, these practices enabled the students to feel satisfaction as they explored their personal passions and interests.

References

Thomas, D. & Brown, J. (2011). An new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change. LaVergne, TN: Createspace.

Wenger, E, McDermott, R. & Snyder, W. (2002) Cultivating communities of practice: A guide to managing knowledge.  Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Wenger, E., White, N. & Smith, J. D. (2009) Digital habitats: Stewarding technology for communities. Portland, OR: CPsquare.

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