In many ways, a robust LMS is a boon to Project-Based Learning. Many limiters or barriers to PBL center around a teacher having to multitask management of groups needing different resources and support at varying points in time. By shifting many of the resource and check-in steps to an asynchronous/blended model, we can eliminate some of the friction points where multiple groups are vying for attention or need direct intervention. A teacher can load resources and materials into the LMS, for example, which groups can access at the appropriate time. The use of discussion threads and electronic submission can let groups work at their own pace and check-in at major stages as they reach them, while still having some unifying process that each group follows so that the teacher can keep up.
Where the LMS model breaks down for group project management is once groups leave the central “everybody must” stages. Do all groups have the same steps to their project? Should they? If all projects in a class are “on the same rails,” arriving at the same tasks in the same order (albeit at different times), what does this reveal about the degree of student planning and design in the project? From another perspective, if we want students to generate their own project design (with support, of course), and we allow enough freedom in the PBL design for students to envision an authentic outcome, won’t each group come up with a different task list? Here the LMS fails us– while many LMS’s (including Schoology, which we use) allow you to direct assignments to individuals or groups, this is a huge amount of work for teachers to enter an entire class’ worth of project groups and deadlines. To truly reflect a diverse Project-Based environment, we need a better scheduling/task management tool.
cross-posted at U Prep Technology Integration Exchange. While I normally don’t post other teacher’s work here, I thought it appropriate so that I could discuss the “how” of the scripts, etc. All credit where it’s due, though– I wasn’t the “idea man” on this project at all.
University Prep students are busy, hard-working and are learning to balance involvement in academics, extra-curricular involvement and athletics. The U Prep faculty knows that helping students assume increasing responsibility for their work means that students must be able to advocate for their needs as well as to take on ownership of their schedule. Sometimes deadlines need to be moved for a variety of reasons, or sometimes things fall through the cracks, and teachers want to know why in order to form a teachable moment with a student when appropriate. Good teachers know that while it’s normal to miss a deadline on occasion, a student missing many deadlines can be an indication that the student needs some additional support.
What happens when a student starts missing assignments across multiple classes, though? Traditionally, teachers have had little opportunity to see when students may be running into trouble across multiple courses. The Math and English Departments are currently piloting a web-based system which allows students to submit a request for extension on an assignment or assessment. This request is sent to three parties: the originating student, the involved teacher, and the student’s advisor. As part of the request, the student explains the circumstances and proposes when they can get the work submitted.
Based on a form designed last year by math teacher Ian McInerney, the system has been running for several weeks in English and Math courses. The form is linked directly in the course’s Schoology page so that students can access it using their laptops or tablets. Rather than being reactive (after a deadline has been missed), the faculty hope that the use of this tool will encourage students to think and plan ahead, and use the request before a deadline arrives. The early results are encouraging here– of the 44 requests submitted so far, 35 were submitted either on or before the due date, suggesting that this tool is part of a students’ advance thinking rather than an after-the-fact reaction.
Faculty reaction thus far is positive, with advisors noting that the tool has prompted discussions with advisees around missed assignments as they develop. One advisor noted that seeing a couple of requests come in from the same advisee for different subjects enabled the advisor to have a talk with the student about the situation and resolve it holistically. While many of the uses of personal devices in school are around completing academic work, this is one example of how U Prep students use them to work on two other priorities of the device program: their organizational skills and communication.
Last year was our first school-wide use of Schoology as an LMS. While our first year was overall a great success for adopting the new LMS platform and upgrading from Moodle, we identified a few areas that we wanted to rethink for this coming year. One of the biggest conversations we had throughout the year was about calendaring of class events and assignments. Schoology lets students see a calendar view of all of their courses, which students reported was very helpful for them. Unfortunately, the tool isn’t very granular, and it presents all types of assignments and activities as equal on the calendar. We wanted a way to differentiate calendar entries so that students could look at a daily view and be able to prioritize based on the different types of activities that they’d see.
It’s unfortunate that we have to do this manually– the ability to create an assignment within certain categories, and have those categories reflected on the calendar, would make this whole issue disappear. Even better would be a tagging system which would allow teachers and students alike to tag activities and build context around them ( planning for “Homework,” “Reading,” “Needs Extra Time” and “Individual” for example, would be very different than “Project,” “Brainstorm/Planning,” “Skype”, “Tim”). Modern task management systems are rich in context tools such as tagging or smart search.
This speaks directly to one of my large concerns about measuring the health of our LMS and digital tools– balancing and optimizing our information streams so that students can learn to manage digital communication without becoming overwhelmed and ignoring the information that teachers and the school are providing. Seeing a list of activities dated for the next day, for example, could be useful for a student who is skilled at prioritizing and triaging their workload. For a student still developing executive function skills, it could be too devoid of context to be useful. Furthermore, in-class activities may be tagged with a date, which would make them appear on a calendar as “due” the next day, when they have yet to be assigned (and aren’t meant to be done from home). To help us make our calendaring information more useful, Christina Serkowski headed up a faculty focus group at the end of last year and built out some recommendations. Based on those, we’ve come up with what we hope is coding system for teachers to use when entering activities onto the calendar.