Saturday, February 25, 2012

Course Management Systems: What are they and what is best?

Most of us have run into classroom (or course) mamanagement system along the way in our education. I am old and even I have run into a class or two from graduate school that used Blackboard. A CMS is usually defined as "a software application for the administration, documentation, tracking, and reporting of training programs, classroom and online events, e-learning programs, and training content." Thank you Wikipedia. Common CMS products also include the use of calendars, testing options, message boards, and the ability to send alerts to students. Many of us have managed the work-flow in our classrooms in a variety of ways in the past twenty years. My story is below.

I have been teaching computers to high school students since I left Ottawa Hills High School (and electronic typewriters) behind in the late eighties and I have seen a lot of changes. In college I took a class that showed my how to made overheads and run a ditto machine. Ahh, the good old days. I have moved from running my classes with paper handouts and textbooks to sharing documents over the school network on a shared directory to having my own Website where all my documents and materials, such as screencast movies are stored for students to access from home or school. I am still moving stuff from my school's network to the cloud. It seems I have seen it all. But not yet.

After having a class Website since I could code HTML back in the nineties, I am thinking that I might be working too hard. Classroom Managements Systems (CMS) such as Moodle, Edmodo, Schoology, and My Big Campus have become so robust and user-friendly of late, that I can't ignore them any more. Did I mention that they are free also?

I have used Moodle as a platform for my Programming class for the last two years with mixed success. After visiting Zeeland East High School last week to checkout their iPad program, I was blown away by the number of teachers using Edmodo to manage their classes. I found the same thing when I visited Kent City High School two weeks ago. Many of their teachers are using Moodle or My Big Campus to help with their tablet program. Other schools are using a similar product called Schoology.

I will be looking at each of these classroom management systems in coming posts. I plan on test-driving Edmodo in a few of my courses this spring. Please check back in the coming weeks for an overview and tips on the CMS products listed.


Friday, February 10, 2012

Technology Integration: How to Get There?

I read a fantastic article a couple of days ago that really hit home with me. Why did it resonate so much with me? I will tell you after you watch this great movie. (I also got it from the article.)

Alright, here it is. I was sitting in a meeting a few weeks ago with all the building administrators in our district along with the superintendent and assistant superintendent. The topic was technology. Everyone wants it. More screens, more gadgets, more WiFi, etc. The problem is that we have staff members that don't know what to do with technology. How to use it in class, how to create lessons with it, how to have students create and present and publish online. There are brave souls that have been self-taught and try things out. Those aren't the ones we are worried about. We need to move teachers that are not comfortable with using technology to a place where they can use it and have their students use it to increase interest and achievement. What is the solution? We came up with the idea of instructional technology guides for teachers. Paul and I would be have release time in the morning or afternoon to meet with teachers, assess their needs, work with them to infuse technology into their already existing curriculum (let's not recreate the wheel), and most importantly, follow-up with teachers. We called it the "Guide on the Side Model". Problem is, there is no money or money is tight. To pull this off, we would need to add a part-time teacher. Tough sell for some people. In my mind, it is an easy sell. This would be making an investment in our teachers, an investment in our school, and an investment in our students. We have the technology to use, but we can't use it effectively. It is time to step outside the box and make a bold statement about what we want our teachers to be able to do. Everyone wants technology integration in the classroom, but who is willing to take the steps to get it done?