Once again, I am probably going to come across as something of a Luddite: to be honest, I like appreciate an LMS that is simple to use and easy to navigate. On that note, I strongly appreciated Warlock’s ninth guideline: don’t be any more complicated technologically than you have to be (19). When I heard MiraCosta was switching from Blackboard and Moodle over to Canvas, I felt a decent amount of apprehension and had quite a few misgivings. Canvas seemed (and honestly in many ways still seems) so difficult to use, at least in comparison to what I was using before, Moodle.
My LMS journey:
It started, of course (as many of ours have), with Blackboard. I used Blackboard as a student during my undergraduate and master’s studies, and thus creating my own course shells on Bb Learn as a teacher was fairly simple. However, Blackboard loves folders (and subfolders, and sub-sub folders), which often confused my students. After several years, I started to put all my resources for a class directly on the homepage. This surprisingly worked well: students accessed online dropboxes with greater ease, and more of them printed the readings out ahead of time.
My favorite LMS:
Eventually, Kelly Hagen introduced me to what would become my absolute favorite LMS, Moodle. I freakin love Moodle. It has everything I ever wanted in an LMS, but chiefly, a blog-style setup with the ability to put everything on one page, easy-to-create Turnitin dropboxes, and quick ways to incorporate any sort of media you can imagine within a matter of seconds.
What works well regarding Moodle:
The usability. As aforementioned, it takes a few minutes tops to create anything you want. When you create a new assignment, video, hyperlink, or other tool, simply clicking “add an activity or resource” opens up a quick-create option. (To see what this looks like, take a look at my attached video at the bottom). I’m an instructor who likes to constantly adjust my resources depending on what my students need; therefore, any computer-based class activities were uploaded to our Moodle page immediately and easily. On the other hand, Canvas always takes a minute or two (if not longer). Everything is very easy to find on Moodle because everything is right there on one page. If you disliked that aspect, it is equally effortless to create new folders or sub-modules. My students never had problems accessing any of the resources I uploaded on Moodle.
Which aspects of Moodle were problematic:
I noticed Curry’s inclusion of Prezi both in the video and in the annotated bibliography for this week’s discussion topic. When I reached that point in his video, I jumped up and shouted some inarticulate happy noise. I absolutely adore Prezi. How many of us have had students immediately ask, upon slide one of a PowerPoint, “is this also online?” With Prezi the answer is always yes. Prezi is basically a prettier, fancier, more creative and more interactive version of PowerPoint that gives the user the option to either keep your presentations private or allow them to stay public and accessible for anyone on the internet. (As a side note, a lot of teachers dislike that facet—some are a bit protective over their lesson plans, and that’s totally fine. I’m not; I like the idea of sharing what works for me, hearing what works for others, and working together with other instructors to create the best possible lessons. I do respect both sides of the argument though).
Prezi is fun. I love it, and so do my students. But, this is where Moodle can be somewhat of a problem: because Moodle streamlines resources, creating a dynamic space where you include notes, a video, and something else all in the same area can be particularly challenging if not impossible. Canvas answers this problem so much better than Moodle, and vastly better than Blackboard.
I really like Curry’s use of providing instructions via a video and a Prezi as well as an actual handout. As he mentions, it allows students to “pace the flow of information” and “linger on examples” which are concepts I’m finding increasingly essential in my courses. (Man Curry, I wish I had a professor like you when I was a student!) Anyway, having various systems students can use to understand a lesson, instructions, or course material is wonderful, and aligns perfectly with my “key-est of key principles” which is to respect diverse talents and ways of learning. By giving students options, they can learn BEST from what they feel most comfortable learning FROM. Therefore, having those resources all there on the same page gives students the freedom to interact with the teaching method they find most natural.
If I could invent my own LMS:
I do have a golden rule with new tools. It is equivalent to my method of evaluating a tool, as well: simply put, does the device seem to be helping my students, or is it superfluous and a waste of space? Or, even worse, does it detract from their actual learning? If an online LMS tool isn’t helping our students, why would we keep it?
I once upon a time used to know how to use simple html to build websites. As a preteen, I played around with website builders such as tripod to create fan sites for books I enjoyed reading as well as my own art and original fiction. Therefore, I like learning management systems that allow for the utmost creativity in the simplest fashion. What I’m imagining is Canvas with the usability of Moodle—a virtual space where I could drag and drop any sort of resource onto any area of the page with every facility.
I’ve now taken two different Canvas classes. The first was a webinar, and the second was the six-week program our amazing and wonderful online educators Jim Julius and Billy Gunn offer. (I even earned the certificate!) Regardless, I still find Canvas tricky in many ways. I’m sure if I were more tech-savvy, it could easily be the sort of LMS I dream of using.
Warlock mentions our goal should be “to get past the technology and start thinking about teaching” and that “the technology should be relatively transparent and unobtrusive” (22). Yes. Yes to the ends of time. The danger in an OWcourse is my students failing to learn what I’m trying to teach because my technology is too complicated. I want to avoid that danger at all costs.
On the other hand, one point in which I disagree with Warlock is on the topic of e-mail. He suggests that “e-mail can do much of the work for [us] in an online class” (23). I welcome and even encourage my students to e-mail me with what I call the one q and four c’s: questions, comments, concerns, confusion, or need for clarification. They seem to feel very comfortable e-mailing me for the most part.
However, I also ask my students to refrain from e-mailing me and asking what the homework is or what we did in class that day. Although this may seem austere, I have that policy in place to do two things: one, it encourages my students to interact with each other. One of the keys to college success is networking and making friends and colleagues who share common goals. I have my students exchange names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses with several other students at the beginning of each semester; it helps them establish class contacts. The other reason I keep my e-mail policy in place is to encourage students to look at the syllabus. By this, I do not mean solely at the beginning of the semester; rather, I advise them to keep it on-hand as a resource they refer back to. I include a detailed schedule of what we do in class as well as what the homework is for every lesson. By looking at what we do each day, they stay mentally organized and on task.
Warlock jests “the new version of ‘the dog ate my homework’ is ‘my computer crashed’” (27). I also advise my students to make sure they have access to internet, printers, etc. A common e-mailed concern follows along the lines of “my computer crashed and therefore I couldn’t turn the assignment in.” I’m sure many of us are familiar with that old chestnut. I would like to think that most of these e-mails are met with a patient (though at times strained) compassion from me, but I also have started to include a disclaimer recommending they don’t wait until the last minute. I also suggest to my students that they be aware of their local libraries and other options for submitting online work.