The LMS in my Classroom

never stop learningIn the past, I have expressed some concerns about using Learning Management Systems (LMS) in education here and here. This subject keeps on poking me once in a while, because a lot of schools are using these things, but somehow I still have the feeling that without these things life could be a lot easier. I’ll try to make this my final and definitive post on the subject, but please forgive me in advance if I scribble some more in the future…

The problem, in my opinion, is that these systems are designed to create some sort of deserted island where “education” happens. You log-in to the system and, depending on your status, you gain access to different parts of the educational online world of your institute. You can send messages, keep a calendar, provide course materials and links to other sources. You can even let the system provide a digital place where students can leave their assignments, hell, the system can even correct a lot of the work for you! Wiki’s, portfolio’s, it’s all there. So why would a teacher be unhappy with this tool? Well, let me start with the positives. It is indeed very convenient to have a central place for all your “school stuff”. After all, the moment you log-off, it’s like closing the door behind you in your classroom. You can leave school behind and do something else. All your work is safely stored behind the firewall of the LMS and you can rest assured that your work will be waiting for you in the morning.

However… I do think that this separate world doesn’t leave room for much creativity and serendipitous learning. Once the course is done, you leave that part of the system and it’s gone forever. No reverting to a course syllabus, links, etc. you’re out! In the connectivist view of OER’s (Open Educational Resources) and working in spaces that complement the students online experience, an LMS is just to formal and confining. In our institute we use the LMS to communicate between teachers, sometimes with students, but mostly it’s a big online file cabinet for storing all school related forms and papers. I’ve tried to take advantage of the system and implement different techniques to encourage student participation like using forums, offering web links, create portfolio’s, etc. but to no end. Every time I get stuck at the point where I’d like to export data out of the system and implement it elsewhere. Using different online (web 2.0) tools doesn’t make it easier because the LMS will not share. Even now, in the tablet age, where you want to move your things around the way you‘d like, it just isn’t possible…

So instead of trying to mold the system into something I’d like it to be, I’m convinced that I’m better off without it. There are more than enough tools out there that will give me equal, if not more, autonomy and yet provide the functionality that I need to function properly, but it is precisely this that could be a barrier for most teachers. Taking this leap of faith into the unknown and try to make it work. Relying on your own digital literacy to create your own PLN (Personal Learning Network) that consists of a lot more than just “tools for school”, is the challenge, but it’s one that will enrich you both as a teacher and a person!

What would I do? Currently I’m experimenting with a lot of (well-known) tools out there (Google Drive, Pinterest, Tumblr, WordPress, MindMeister, etc.) in order to show students what tools exist and to encourage them to create their own PLN. And some of them do pick up on that. I’ve created more that a few Pinterest and Tumblr fanatics. Wouldn’t it be great if we could get students to using these tools for school as well? For next year I’m working on an idea to start blogging earlier in the school year and make it the home base for all their assignments and reflections, maybe together with a wiki, for course materials, a few information gatherers (Pinterest, Diigo, Delicious) and social media (Twitter, Facebook). We’ll see what happens, but every time I use these tools, I feel like things are more fluent, they happen, you can construct things instead of moving in a straight line through a course. Just a liberating feeling!

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