I do not feel very qualified to critique a particular LMS/CMS based on my limited experience teaching and learning online, so this week’s post will be quite general, but I hope to learn from more in-depth analyses from other participants in the POT certification course. I have only ever used Blackboard for teaching, and I have only ever taken courses through Moodle.
I do believe that an LMS could influence pedagogy; however, I think the ease of use and set-up of an LMS could be an even greater influence on students’ ability to find their way through the course, which has a great impact on persistence/retention. Just like any one textbook doesn’t fill all my needs and desires in teaching my discipline, any one LMS can’t provide everything I would wish it to have. Similarly, I have no doubt that one’s teaching style could be enhanced or stifled by a particular LMS, but I haven’t experienced that at this point.
For quite a few years I used blogs and wikis (not for teaching online but for providing supplemental exercises to students, publishing and sharing their work). Also, as I have mentioned elsewhere, in noncredit ESL our students don’t register on SURF, so they do not know their student ID numbers or passwords until we provide them to the students. Verifying that the default passwords for Blackboard work and re-setting them takes hours of my time for the first week of any given term. With blogs and wikis, I would just share one login and password with all the students in the class, and this gave students much more freedom to post their own work and share it with their families in their native countries. Then, about 5 – 6 years ago, I had a situation in which one of my former students was murdered in Tijuana. His murderer(s) began trolling the internet and posting nasty things on the deceased student’s online postings and profiles. His family contacted me and asked me to take down his wiki page but to send me his work (PowerPoint slide shows, paragraphs, other class projects) for them to remember him by. Since then, I don’t have students post work online as part of my classes, which is sad, because “publication” is an important part of writing and producing original work. Therefore, for the past few years, I have mostly been using Blackboard — students’ submissions, as innocuous as they are, are safe behind passwords — and now my strategy is that if an LMS can’t do what I want to be able to do, I use outside tools linked in areas of my LMS.
For the blended teaching I have been doing (hybrid teaching only in the past few weeks), using an LMS has several benefits, especially that I can assess students’ listening, speaking, reading, and writing in one place, freeing up class time for communicative, cooperative learning in pairs and groups, thus maximizing their time together F2F because for a lot of the students, class time together is the only time they are immersed in English. To have them sit quietly and read or just listen to me lecture or take written tests or write their paragraphs would not be the best use of the time they have to be physically together in a classroom.
A few months ago I heard about Google Classroom (released in June), and so I decided to check it out a little with the limited time I have this week. This video gives an overview. The thing I would like best about Google Classroom is that everything is integrated with Google products/applications (Google Drive, Docs, a gradebook), but from this video it does look very basic. I imagine it would be good for a writing / English class, but for my classes, I needed voice tools, so I need to research further to find out if it also integrates Google Voice. These Teacher Tech blog posts lists 20 Things You Can Do with Google Classroom and 15 MORE Things You Can Do with Google Classroom. I’m sure with all the geniuses working at Google and after more input from real teachers, Google Classroom will be developed further, but I wouldn’t use it at this point. The thing that I like most about it is that students don’t need any software, just a Gmail account (and actually not even that, it looks like). That would solve a problem that I often have – students don’t have Office products on their home computers, or if they do, they may have old versions, so the work they do at school can’t be opened properly at home. However, I don’t teach computers, and to show a whole class how to use Google Docs and Google Drive would take a couple hours of class time. My focus is on language teaching, not computers, but if I ever taught an ESL for computers class, I would probably consider another LMS besides Blackboard.
Another type of LMS I have heard a lot about because some colleague at another CC in my discipline love to use is Edmodo. Has anyone used it? I have an account but to set up a whole new class in a new LMS is time-consuming.
I have the old edition of the Ko and Rossen text, which doesn’t seem to match up with the topics listed for this week (I see no mention of Twitter, which I doubt I will ever use in my teaching, anyway, nor of any of the other more up-to-date topics), unfortunately. Any-hoos, the biggest take-away (which I learned the hard way) is to direct students to email me for certain things (such as asking questions, report absences, and such) but to use Blackboard Messages to email me their class work. Several times I have lost students’ work because they sent it to me to my work email account, and with all the spam and “All Users” emails, I have inadvertently permanently deleted their work. With the Messages, they have their Sent box to forward me work they send if I accidently delete it.