How We Chose the Best LMS for Our School

| By Marci Karoll

In June, the DigitalJLearning Network had the pleasure of taking 15 Jewish Day School educators to the 2015 ISTE Conference in Philadelphia, PA. We asked the participants to share what they learned and how the conference inspired them to take action in their schools. Marci Karoll (@MarciKar), Director of Educational Technology at Yeshiva University High School for Girls, shares her thoughts in the tenth installment in this new blog series.

 

ISTE was an opportunity to help our school to strengthen our blended learning program and enhance the use of 21st century tools. I went with a few goals in mind including clarifying our choice of a Learning Management System (LMS) and looking for what other tools are available in the marketplace today.

 

Process is Key
With the help of the DigitalJLearning Network, funded by The Avi Chai Foundation, our school began to investigate and implement blended learning. We began by offering asynchronous and synchronous online learning. Our second step was to educate faculty about blended learning and data driven instruction and ways these tools could be implemented. During this step several faculty tested a variety of tools and products that support blended learning including Schoology, Haiku, Blendspace LearnerPal and others.

Our third step brought us to the actual decision making process. After two years of learning and growing, we were ready to help more of our faculty to take the BL leap by implementing an LMS. But the decision making process took time, effort, discussion and listening.

 

Goal Setting
Among our institutional goals, transparency and student accountability were key. Our intention was to select a tool that would meet our institutional goals while enabling us to move closer to a model of data-driven instruction. The objectives included:

  1. Determining the needs of the faculty in a collaborative process
     
  2. Identifying the infrastructure requirements
     
  3. Reviewing the possible tools for the job and selecting the best product

To gain genuine trust and buy-in from faculty, we needed to listen to what they had to say. Using a focus group process, I met with several members of the faculty in a group setting. I set ground rules, asked each group the same questions and made sure everyone’s voice was heard. It was abundantly clear that our faculty were proud of their understanding and use of technology in the classroom. The past experience of the faculty was important to the evaluation process. As mentioned above several teachers had tried a variety of LMS and Web 2.0 products that aided in the BL efforts. We  presented the results of the focus groups to the entire faculty a short time later. Sharing the information gleaned from the process and being transparent was crucial, and without this, implementation was likely to fail.

The focus groups showed that our faculty desired several features to move forward towards data driven instruction. Those features coalesced into four main areas and can be seen in the graphic to the right.

 

Evaluating the Options
The focus groups and interviews with faculty showed that Schoology, and to some extent Haiku, were the most effective tools for gathering data and offering student accountability. This result was based on the following:

  1. Positive past user experience for faculty
     
  2. Ease of use for all
     
  3. Enhancement of student learning and understanding
     
  4. Accessibility of class work and grades
     
  5. Informative and helpful parent experience especially for students in need of support
     
  6. Enhancement of blended learning and data-driven instruction
     
  7. Clearer understanding of student achievement, individually and as a class

 

Making the Decision
Ultimately, based on the data gathered from faculty, combined with our institutional goals, we chose the LMS that was best for our school - Schoology. It offers us significant transparency with its accessible course materials and gradebooks and a simple portal for parental access. It also enables us to hold our students more accountable for their work and motivates them to do better. Schoology allows teachers to create online assessments to assess understanding and offers resources for  embedded videos from YouTube, Vimeo, and Khan Academy. Schoology integrates with many other 21st century learning tools that will expand the use of project based learning. For instance, we can link Google Drive directly to the LMS for seamless work. Teachers can post and receive documents; students can collaborate on work.  We also wanted to increase the focus on data-driven instruction, so teachers can ensure students are learning effectively and address issues when they struggle. For this, Schoology offers multiple modes of assessment, easily created and easily read; that enable teachers to offer customized support. Finally, Schoology’s vast network of support via their online community from other teachers/users was exceptional. Teachers share their tips and ask for classroom techniques related to Schoology, blended learning and general educational issues.

 

What Else is Out There?
ISTE offered an enormous vendor exposition which included hundreds of vendors in the world of educational technology. While I came home with bags of chachkes, I also enjoyed the experience of seeing and in some cases testing other exciting tools.In particular, I spent time with the representatives exploring Common Sense Media, Edgenuity, CamScanner, EduCannon and School Island. I also spent several hours in professional development/marketing sessions with Schoology and Google Classroom. It was also helpful to meet the faces behind some of the companies with which our school has relationships like Rediker, Vernier, and Pearson.

 

We Made the Right Decision
Going to ISTE gave me the opportunity to see these tools, and others in action. I also spoke with numerous teachers and technology integrators who were using LMS products for blended learning. I also went to a variety of sessions that focused on blended learning, 21st century tools or LMS. While each school/teacher may have had different experiences, the results from all convinced me that we had made the right decision.