Getting the Most Out of Your LMS and Instructional Technology
Thinking about the purpose of an activity can help new teachers best use their LMS and other tech tools to boost student engagement.
There is a dizzying array of instructional technology to choose from, and new innovations appear every day. As teachers survey the instructional technology they use, it can be helpful, particularly for new teachers, to go back to the two basic components available in most classrooms: a learning management system (LMS) and instructional technology. Here are some tips to make your classroom a better working environment with this technology.
Understanding LMS Features
Most districts have invested money into an LMS, software that is meant to assist teachers in planning, instructing, and assessing students. In essence, it is an online classroom. Most of them have the same key features at their core. Even in face-to-face courses, I expect my students to access the LMS every day.
Communication features: Most LMS software includes a calendar feature that offers the ability to communicate assignment and other deadlines in real time. This is great because you don’t have to manually maintain a calendar for students. Once you enter the gradebook item in the LMS, it will automatically update the calendar.
Announcement features are also available in most LMS software. These allow the teacher to create written or video announcements that will then post within the LMS. I used these to show students the “Week at a Glance” in my course, and I would link my instructional slides for the week in there too. This information automatically posted at the top of my course, so it was the first thing students experienced when logging in.
Assessments/quizzes: This is a feature in all LMS software. If you have students take quizzes within the LMS, it can self-grade multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, and other types of problems that have a clear right answer. It saves the teacher all the time of grading work and inputting the scores.
Discussions: This feature is included in LMS software as a way for students to engage online. I liked using it in my own classroom because it helped me teach students how to properly communicate in a digital world, and it was easy to monitor. Because it was completely online, I could see a whole conversation thread at once.
Assignments: With this versatile feature in LMS software, the teacher has the ability to transform any assignment into a digital one. The Assignments feature will usually have submission types such as completed attached (linked) documents, external uploads, audio/visual recordings, and even written submissions. Having students submit work online instead of in class makes tracking submissions simple. Teachers can also add rubrics and leave feedback.
Exploring Educational Technology
In addition to learning management system software, there is a wide variety of educational technologies currently on the market that are openly accessible for assistance in classroom instruction. Though they are based on different concepts within the classroom, at root most of them strive to increase student engagement. Personally, I liked using them to shake up some of the routines in my classroom. What I find with any educational technology is that students tire of them quickly if you use them continually. It is best to vet each technology on a case-by-case basis for your classroom and use them as needed.
Instruction: These types of educational technologies focus on making instruction delivery easier for the teacher. Typically these are technologies that give the teacher the ability to record or present information with interactive properties. This includes any screen recording technology (Loom, Screencastify, Topia, and Edpuzzle), presentation interactives (Nearpod and Pear Deck), and step-by-step tutorials (Iorad).
I liked using these in my everyday classroom by prerecording daily explanations of the agenda and daily assignments. This helped my students who needed a reiteration of the assignment navigation and also gave my absent students a way to maintain an understanding of what was happening while they were gone. Also, double plus bonus, I (the teacher) did not have to repeat myself a million times. I simply referred the students to the videos to watch. I usually made these videos quickly before school each day.
Gamification: There are endless technologies addressing the trend of gamifying your classroom, which has become popularized in recent years. Long before these technology advancements, I had to manually make games in my classroom that took hours upon hours to plan, create/cut out, and then deliver. For most teachers who really gravitate toward this trend of gamification, these technologies take out a lot of the work for teachers. Usually, there is just a place for you to type or plug in content, and then the game is delivered by the website.
I liked using these for study guides or reviews. It was a great test review day activity that was low prep and effective. Students would come into the classroom, I would launch the live game, and then students would log in to play. I did notice that not all of the common or popular educational game qualities are the same, so it did take me (the teacher) really diving deep into the offered features.
Input/output: These types of technologies assist teachers in getting students to record knowledge input that goes beyond the boring old discussion board. They also offer a wide variety of tools for students to use, such as polls/live interactives (Mentimeter), all the way to tools for students to record information and interact with each other (Flipgrid, Padlet, and Jamboard).
For teachers, these technologies provide students with a variety of ways to show their understanding of content while still having some fun. They are also great because you do not have to erase the information at the end of a class. It is digital, so you can keep a record of this information for more targeted instruction and interventions.
As a teacher, I liked using these in place of gallery walks or introductory activities. I could post the questions on these platforms the day before the introductory lesson to gauge students’ prior knowledge or get them to start thinking about a certain topic. Doing so cut down on prep and provided a quick way for students to interact.