The Role of Learning Management Systems in Middle Schools

How an LMS supports learning, communication, and collaboration

By: Kelly Backenstoe, Kimberley Krempasky


Schools are incessantly faced with implementing new initiatives and programs. Clickers in the classroom! Use cell phones! One-to-one laptops! Online textbooks! Communicate with parents digitally! The list is endless and the pressure to keep up with ever-evolving technology is constant. Sometimes educators have trouble keeping up with the latest technology as schools have a combination of digital natives and digital immigrants teaching classes.

What if there were ways to manage it all? Technology's latest solution for this issue is the learning management system (LMS). While universities have been using learning management systems for years, they are now being brought into K-12 education.

Why the need for an LMS?

Teachers are always trying to meet the needs of their students, yet many classrooms have students with varied reading levels from second grade to twelfth grade. How can a teacher help each student be successful in the classroom?

Through an LMS, the need for one system to accommodate all learning styles and levels can be met. Teachers can organize their classes and post different documents, assignments, tests, etc. for their students to work on without the students knowing they are receiving something that has been specifically developed for their own level.

Many schools are also trying to streamline courses taught by different teachers through common lessons and assessments. With an LMS, teachers can collaborate on lessons, activities, and assessments, and share these activities with ease. Groups can be created on the LMS for teachers to share resources with specific colleagues.

Teachers

For teachers, an LMS has many benefits in middle level education. It is an organizational hub for teachers to upload everything they do in the classroom for students. Gone are the days when students had to get paper copies of their absent work; now teachers post worksheets, links, videos, and other resources on the LMS for students to access at home and at school. Submissions of worksheets, tests, quizzes, as well as the grades of these assignments are saved in the LMS. Tracking student progress, attendance, and class content is in one location. What could be better?

The latest movements in technology education are supported since blended learning and flipped classrooms can be created and posted in the LMS. Additionally, as activities and courses are developed on the LMS, they can be archived to be used the following year.

With an LMS communication increases. Groups are developed within the system for sharing resources, sending messages, and connecting with staff and students. Club teachers can have separate groups where information is easily distributed and visible to the members of the club. Administration can post quick messages and instructions and celebrate successes on the LMS, where staff can view the information with ease—and without crowding email inboxes. Moreover, educators have the ability to join community groups, connect with other educators, post questions, and learn from others outside the school community.

Students

As for student benefits, most students are attracted to technology outside school; therefore, the LMS is perfect. Teachers can load educational apps on the LMS to assist students in remediation and review. Students can also add the app from the LMS to be notified when their teacher added something to the course or sent a class message. There is also a built-in reward system in which teachers can give badges to students for good attendance, participation, etc. to reinforce positive behaviors.

Students have the opportunity to communicate with their teachers via the messaging system the LMS has to offer, and they can post questions for their instructor or fellow classmates to answer. Also, the calendar in the LMS will help students get organized, as teachers post upcoming tests and assignments, and club directors post upcoming events. Students learn how to advocate for themselves, feel more comfortable communicating with their teacher, and take responsibility for their progress, as they take more control of their learning.

Class participation and collaborative work increases through the use of discussion boards on the LMS. How many students typically participate in a regular classroom debate? Through the LMS, all students can debate via the discussion boards. Students learn how to communicate in the discussions in an appropriate manner—with scholarly thought—as they type their responses. The discussions allow students to read what all of their classmates think and respond with counter arguments.

Parents

What does every parent want from their child's school? Communication. Through the LMS, parents can view their child's courses and everything their teachers post. Parents can stay up to date on their child's assignments by viewing the calendar. Parents can see the work their child is completing on a daily basis in addition to graded tests and quizzes.

Having their child's course content, calendar, grades, and attendance summary in one location fulfills most parent questions, thus lessening the amount of explanatory emails teachers need to reply to. Parents can hold their child accountable at home and supervise their work completion without being a nag.

How it promotes effective middle level education

Middle level students are a unique group of individuals. Some students know how to organize their materials and some students need a new worksheet every day. With the LMS, class materials are organized in one space. Additionally, some middle level students need help knowing how to manage an assignment book. Through the LMS, students can check to see the assignments teachers post.

The LMS is a great system for students as it allows parents and teachers to release responsibility to the students in a way that holds them accountable but supports them by giving them a hub to refer to. Parents are kept in the loop on each class and they are able to transition into a more hands-off parenting role as their child takes the driver's seat.

Implementation

Through the LMS, we have organized our class pages for students' ease of use. Here is a description of what a typical class period looks like:

Students arrive in the classroom and immediately login to their devices to access the LMS Class page. They look at the calendar on the class page and see if they have any homework or upcoming tests. Students who were absent, look at the Absent Work folder and note what they have to make up from the days they were absent. Next, the teacher directs the class to updates on the class page. The folders on the class page are organized by Marking Period. Unit folders are placed inside the Marking Period folders. The teacher directs the students to a new folder that was added called, “Studying Materials for the Test.” Inside this folder are resources students can use to study for the test. Next, the teacher directs students to a formative assessment in the LMS. The students take the formative assessment and the teacher receives instant feedback from their scores. The teacher is given immediate information including how many students answered each question correct to determine what content needs to be retaught and who the students are that need to be remediated. The rest of the period is spent reviewing the formative assessment and the teacher offers remediation techniques.

As with all new initiatives, teachers need to use the LMS and feel comfortable implementing it in their classrooms, or it will not have the impact it should on students. When our school decided to begin using the LMS, it was rolled out to staff and students in the first year. The goal of the first year was to use each feature at least one time. Features like assigning a test, a discussion, a web link, or a written assignment were administration's goals for teachers' class pages.

While some teachers were excited to dive right in, other teachers were apprehensive because they did not know how the features worked. How well teachers accepted the LMS matched their comfort with using technology in general. Now that we are in our second year of using an LMS, training sessions presented to staff about how to effectively use an LMS in the classroom have proved successful as most teachers use the LMS daily.

Teachers are lifelong learners, and there is always something to learn about the features in the LMS. At times, we have made mistakes implementing the features, however, learning occurs with every mistake made along the way.


Kelly Backenstoe and Kimberly Krempasky are seventh grade social studies teachers in the Northampton Area School District (PA). The district is currently implementing a Learning Management System with the use of one-to-one laptops.
backensk@nasdschools.org
krempask@nasdschools.org


Check out this article on edudemic.com on learning management systems for education:
Understanding the Top Learning Management Systems


Published January 2018


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