How do I connect with students outside the school day?

Well, school was canceled for today because of all of the 20+ inches of snow the western suburbs of Chicago received.  So, after I got all of my snow blowing and then grading done, I decided it was time to research some Learning Management Systems (LMS) and Virtual Learning Environments (VLE) because I want my students to realize that learning actually takes place outside of the walls of my classroom.  Additionally, I wanted a place to connect with my students to communicate ideas, news, updates to them especially with school being canceled for two days now!

While I realize that these are quite afoot in education already, I am in the process of trying to select the best one to bring to our school district.  We are currently running the older version of FirstClass, which has some wonderful features but also many drawbacks.  So, I am trying to determine what the benefits, drawbacks, and everything in between about LMS and VLE (kind of perfect that this is the module that I am currently studying in one of my graduate school classes as well).

Before I can choose the appropriate LMS or VLE for my classroom and school, I need to have all of my facts straight.  In Allie Rhine’s blog post, entitled “New Course, New Posts,” she makes a very important point that got me thinking – what is the official title for these virtual learning spaces?  Can someone say that one is more beneficial than others?  Should I be searching for Learning Management Systems, Virtual Learning Environments, or something completely different?  (Side note: My initial reaction is the name Learning Management System sounds as though the learning is going to be managed from top down – teacher to student.  There will be very little interaction, whereas a Virtual Le”arning Environment suggests that the learning is taking place virtually, but the word environment shows that connections, collaboration, and everything in between will be encouraged.)

Wikipedia provided me with a very basic identity of an LMS- “a software application for the administration, documentation, tracking, and reporting of training programs, classroom and online events, e-learning programs, and training content” and some examples of various LMSs.  I like the sounds of this because I am mainly looking at finding a platform where learning can continue when school is not in session (i.e. two snow days in a row, student being sick, etc.).  However, I must admit I am still trying to determine what is the appropriate word because the definition of a Virtual Learning Environment is almost the same.  So, I found this video:

This YouTube video gave me some interesting things to think about as I trekked on my journey to explore the LMS and VLE more openly.  I must say that I am partial to this video because the student’s name is Steve, which is just a solid name!  But the interplay between the two of them makes the difference a LMS and VLE so apparent!  I think I was spot on with my previous side note.  I furthered my reasoning when I read Richard Pinner’s blog post entitled “VLE or LMS?”.  This post made me realize that while the terms can be used interchangeably, a VLE focuses on student collaboration and provide spaces for that to occur.  That being said, a number of LMSs can be deemed VLEs provided they are being implemented that way.

It appears to me that it’s time to turn my attention to Virtual Learning Environments instead of Learning Management Systems.  The jig seems to be up on LMS – changes need to occur to make them more user friendly and more environment-like, more free flowing, and more accessible.  Jonathan Mott in his article “Envisioning the Post-LMS Era: The Open Learning Network” provides an excellent snapshot of the strengths and weaknesses of the LMS and the VLE.

I have had access to a couple LMSs with my undergraduate and graduate work.  During my undergraduate days at Marquette University, I was fortunate enough to work with Blackboard for a short period of time before the university did a complete system overhaul and changed to Desire2Learn which I found to be a much better choice.  Whilst these were both examples of an LMS, I struggle to see their applications to the junior high learner.  The junior high learner needs more than that.  Then, I made it big because I am now fully immersed in Moodle, which I have found to be great, and I can see direct applications of usage to my own classroom.  Taking full advantage of discussion board, submission areas, online feedback, peer collaboration, wikis, and the list goes on.  Recently, I have been experimenting with Edmodo, which also has some fascinating features.  One of my younger cousins has been telling me about how much she loves using it in her school.  However, she does say that some things that students post are “silly, ridiculous, and not school appropriate.”  But the whole truly personalization adds to the environment, as Steve in the previous video mentions. The downside to this is explored by Julie Cunningham in her blog “Unplugging Edmodo.” Are the students ready (and more importantly, the parents) for this massive change and personal freedom?  Should teachers continue to manage learning in a top-down approach?  Or should we as educators teach our students to be digital citizens that are held accountable for all that they write, say, speak, type, etc.?  Julie raises interesting questions and points throughout her post, but what I like the most is her list of twelve great uses of Edmodo, which is exactly what educators want to see when doing research, the good, the bad, and the ugly!  Overall, I think the best thing about LMS is that each has it’s own unique identity and its own set of issues and positives.  So, is there really one that is better than another?  Maybe.  But, the real question is: which is the best fit for my educational setting?  What are my goals for this system/environment?  I’ll keep you posted on what I figure out for my own personal use, but I also have to be thinking about how is this going to go school wide?

I love to research, read online, and play.  Now, I need to figure out how to best sell this to a faculty that is resistant to posting homework online, resistant to changing the status quo, and also embrace the ones that are willing to take the plunge with me!  Any thoughts on other VLEs or LMSs, strengths, weaknesses, or any thoughts at all would be greatly appreciated.  Change is coming to my school in the next year and I need to be ready!

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  1. Pingback: VLEs | morgankallen

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