Colin Bramm has come up with ten tips to help you use your virtual learning environment effectively – whatever you call it
Virtual learning environments (VLEs), management learning environments (MLEs), learning platforms and more generically, learning management systems (LMSs), are terms that have all been used to describe a range of online tools that record and process young people’s development information. However, the success of these systems remains as mixed and undefined as their names.
1. Start with what you want to achieve
When schools decide they want a LMS, they generally start by looking at the options and comparing functionality to their specific needs. This is often mistake number one. It’s much better to begin by defining what you want to achieve. Set a time for everyone (teachers, leaders, administrators and even students) to brainstorm your aspirational goals. By including everyone in this process you have taken the first big step to achieving the all-important buy in from those who will be expected to make use of the system.
2. Don’t be risk averse, and don’t lack ambition
Many schools feel that it is best to start small and work up from there. However, this process of gradually adding bolt ons tends to create a less intuitive – and certainly more expensive – system. So don’t be afraid to list all your ideals beforehand and strive to achieve them first.
3. Plan for the future
Will your students only ever carry out assessable work on paper? Hopefully not. Can the system store all types of media? If the lesson is music, modern foreign languages, drama, or sport, can students’ work be captured on audio and video files? Can these all be uploaded to the LMS, shared and assessed? Will your LMS allow the students to crop and edit their files? Can they upload this content from their computer, iPad, Dropbox or Google Drive? In today’s 21st century classroom LMSs should fit all of these requirements, as they will only become increasingly important in the future.
4. Don’t let the system become static
A common error with LMSs is that many simply become a repository for each student’s work. If this is all they are to be used for, a network drive would do the job just as well. An active, live LMS should enable teachers to see progress, set assignments, and provide feedback, guidance and instructions.
5. Manage access
Do you want to be able to share examples of work with individual student groups, whole classes, other teachers, and/or parents? Tools that help you easily, quickly and above wall, securely manage your LMS are a must for many teachers.
6. Archive lesson plans
Another vital, time saving requirement for all LMSs is the ability to upload and store lesson plans and resources on your system. If these are filed and categorised well, teachers can come back year after year to find all of their lessons planned and ready to adapt for the new term; everything will also be on hand for any Ofsted inspections!
7. Connect staff members
While there are obvious benefits of staff meetings, efficiencies can be introduced by having a shared staff area in the LMS to communicate with one another, and to post and read notices at any time, in school or at home.
8. Manage the timeline
Unless teachers can set timely notifications of when work is assigned and deadlines are approaching, a LMS becomes unmanageable. Setting these deadlines for specific students or groups of students provides teachers with an efficient management tool to save time and unnecessary administration.
9. Train effectively
A mistake made by many of the early adopters of LMSs was the lack of high quality training and change management. It’s important to build in appropriate and timely training and support for all staff.
10. Pay attention to developmental needs
Last, but by no means least: the initial purpose of LMSs was to be able to personalise each student’s learning pathway. Teachers must be able to effectively grade work and analyse by child or class with comprehensive reporting. Feedback, notes, or recorded messages are important; an audio file can speak volumes to a student. Ultimately, unless time demands are low and output is effective, teachers can’t or won’t use the system.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Colin Bramm is CEO and co-founder of classroom management app Showbie (showbie.com)
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