If you teach at one of the many universities that are switching from one Learning Management System (LMS) to another or are simply pushing faculty to explore more fully what they can do with their LMS, you may be saying, “Why all the fuss?” Instructors do not need an LMS to be effective, so why bother with all of the work needed to get a good course site on the LMS up and running? Perhaps you see its usefulness as a repository of documents, but all of those other LMS features seem to be more trouble than they’re worth. Or, you see the necessity of an LMS for online courses, but you teach in a bricks-and-mortar environment, so the LMS is not crucial to the work you do with students. I get it. I’ve been teaching since the dawn of time (well, not exactly, but close) and I think I was a pretty great teacher without an LMS at my disposal. I led class discussions without a discussion board, assigned papers without a plagiarism detection tool, gave paper and pencil quizzes, and assigned group projects to students, fully expecting them to figure out how to collaborate outside of class on the project’s completion.
But here’s the thing. If you use it to its full advantage, an LMS can serve an integral role in student-centered teaching and learning practices and support robust learning outcomes for all students. How so, you say? Your LMS can “afford a plethora of teaching and learning possibilities around communication, interaction, collaboration, ‘real-world’ or authentic learning, independent learning, feedback and flexibility.” In our new LMS, for instance, students working in groups have a whole suite of collaboration tools available to them so that they can work as a group more effectively and efficiently. They can collaborate on a document together and edit each other’s work, talk to each other to plan the project, and invite the professor to eavesdrop on these interactions, all without having to arrange meetings in person. There simply are no more excuses for why group work can’t get done as the flexibility these kinds of remote collaborations afford is unparalleled.
Other powerful tools in the LMS are the calendar and syllabus features that keep students abreast of changes in due dates or assignments and so keep students on track. One student in a focus group at our university claimed that he did more homework because of the calendar notifications feature. That made sense to me. I always say that if it’s not on my Google calendar, it doesn’t exist. Without my alerts telling me what’s coming up, I would probably miss half of my meetings! Students are no different. And, of course, there is the convenience and flexibility factor. Students can access course materials from all devices, including their mobile devices, whether they are on or off campus. Winter storm interfering with your ability to hold class? Communicate with your students through the LMS, upload work for them to do, and keep your semester on track.
In both bricks-and-mortar and online classes, the LMS allows for enhanced student engagement with the instructor and with peers, and customized student pathways through the curriculum. A well-organized LMS site leads students through the course in a logical way, framing the work that needs to be done in units that show the overall structure for the course and the scaffolding of assignments and assessments for each unit. It also allows for the delivery of supplemental instructional opportunities, such as video lectures, virtual discussions, and automatically-graded quizzes that can help prepare students for team-based and collaborative activities that deepen learning and clarify complex concepts. A recent study of LMS users found that “the use of the LMS, and more importantly specific tools within the LMS, are significantly related to student achievement.”
I invite you to explore your LMS with an instructional technology specialist on your campus. If you’re new to using an LMS, I think you’ll find it more intuitive and easy-to-use than you think. If you’re already familiar with the LMS basics, think about how you can use the powerful tools available to you to supplement or to directly deliver your already great teaching. You have the tool; just use it!
N.B. Parts of this blog post are taken from work done by the author and Nicole Westrick, Associate Vice Provost, on the LMS Evaluation Report written as part of the evaluation of the Canvas LMS at Temple University.