To LMS or Not

classroom applications
Basics of a LMS

One of the biggest questions a teacher may ask themselves as they develop their blended learning environment is to whether or not use a LMS.  A LMS is a lesson management system, also known as a CMS or a variety of similar names, that is used to help organize and assist the learning that takes place in the digital environment.  The biggest examples of a LMS that a teacher can use is Moodle, Edmodo, Canvas as well as a plethora of others.  At Ames, our main LMS that we support is Moodle.  We host our Moodle on our own server which allows us to easily maintain it and there is no high cost associated with it.

While each LMS is different and will have certain tools or resources not found in the others, there are usually similar benefits to using a LMS.
  • Secure, having to use a specific log in and password makes it easier to have secure learning environment online.
  • Organization tools to keep activities, assignments and assessments all organized
  • Communication tools between students and with the teacher
  • Assessment tools
  • Collaboration environments for group work
  • Forums for carrying out class discussions
  • Feedback tools
Google Apps as a LMS
With the large amount of tools made available through Google Apps, a LMS is not always needed anymore.  A teacher can easily create their own Google Site and use Google Docs and Drive to organize assignments and provide feedback.  While organization is something that a lot of people still have trouble with, the main features of a LMS can be recreated using Google Apps.  If we look at the list above, we can easily start to see how we can recreate the features found in a LMS just by using Google Apps.
  • Secure = students still have to be logged into their Google account and can control who they share their work with.
  • Organization tools = there are ways to keep things organized either on a Google Site or simple ways to do so in Google Drive.  Many people still need to learn how to effectively create folders to help organize their Drive.  Using scripts like Doctopus and gClassfolders you can easily push out assignments and have control over those documents.
  • Communication tools = gmail, chat, Google Hangouts all make it easy to communicate.
  • Assessment tools = Google Forms can be a great formative assessment tool and using Flubaroo you can easily keep track of scores and provide feedback.
  • Collaboration environments for group work = one of the key features of Google Apps is the ability to easily collaborate.
  • Forums for carrying out class discussions
  • Feedback tools = comments can be included in the documents or other creations while other tools like Kaizena can be used to provide other forms of feedback and Goobric can be used to combine rubrics with the Google Docs.
The only one from my initial list that did not get carried over to Google Apps is the ability to create and manage forums.  While there is the Google Moderator tool available, it is not as simplistic or effective as some other forum tools that are built into the LMS.  There are ways around this using tools as simple as a Google Doc or a backchannel tool like Today’s Meet but this is still something that needs to be done well inside of Google Apps.
What Should You Use?
The toughest question to answer relates to what a teacher should be using with their students.  There is no one answer as it does depend on many variables.  In essence it comes down to 3 things; what the teacher and the students are comfortable using, what tool can best increase the efficiency and effectiveness of that specific learning environment, and what support is provided for the teacher and students. 
I have always been a big proponent of teachers using the tools that best fit them and their students, that dictating that everyone use the same tool, tends to not produce productive situations for all.  By giving teachers the choice of what to use, we allow for better differentiation and better overall learning environments.  
My biggest advice is to play around with the main ones you like and pick the one that you feel most comfortable with.  You can always change it up the next year or semester but you will never know unless you try it first.


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