Life is not a race to be first finished

This is an attempt to record some of my musings about learning and teaching.

Why would a school pay good money for a Learning Management System?

Posted by Allanah King on August 12, 2010

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In my new job I have been on a bit of a mission to find out more about Learning Management Systems (LMS)- specifically Moodle, Ultranet and KnowledgeNet which have the MoE big tick as well as other systems that might be out there for schools to chose from.

The first question I suppose would be, ‘Why would a school want a Learning Management System at all?‘ Is it just because everyone else has one?

What a plethora of choice- I bet there are more that I don’t know of.

http://www.moodle.org.nz/

http://www.ultranet.net.nz/

http://www.knowledge.net.nz/

http://www.google.com/educators/p_apps.html

http://www.atschool.co.nz/

http://mahara.org/

http://myportfolio.school.nz/

http://www.spikeatschool.co.nz/

I want to be able to put a set of questions of any LMS and compare responses so I thought I would pose them here and see what  friends of my blog think.

  • What do you get in an LMS above what is already available on the internet for free?
  • What benefit does an LMS add to a child’s learning?
  • Would parents have access to the LMS and on what level- would the child share their username and password with their parents and thus have access to everything- even the ability to change a child’s work. Or would the parent have separate parental access.
  • Would your LMS be able to be hosted on your own server or would you need to have it some place else like in the cloud or with a provider?
  • Can children develop their content within the LMS or would it more for a snapshot of a ‘finished project’?
  • Is there a visible (non- passworded) option for sharing content with those outside the LMS?
  • How collaborative and creative can an LMS be?
  • How can I share the learning progressions of children in an LMS, with parents, with community or with others.
  • Can I, as a teacher, personalise the LMS with features how I want them to be? Can the children personalise their own pages?
  • Can you embed content from Web2.0 apps. If so, how easy is it to embed content from Web2.0 applications?
  • On leaving the school can a child archive their content for a time when they are no longer able to access the school network?
  • Can the content and assessment created within an LMS be portable to another LMS?
  • Does the LMS synch with a School Management System. Now there’s a whole new can of worms- SMS!
  • If content can be archived what format would it be in?
  • I know it’s not about looks but it is. How appealing and navigable is the format for all levels of the school. We have children from five years old up to twelve. Would the LMS cater for them all?
  • How much bandwidth would a school need to be able to sustain the LMS?
  • How much support would the average teacher need to get to grips with the LMS? Is it something that I could work out for myself or is it that tricky that you need on going user group or expert input to master?
  • How much would it cost to set up and implement the LMS initially and then what on going costs, fees would be incurred?

If you can think of any other questions please post them in the comments and I will add them here for a more comprehensive set of questions. I have found this pdf on TKI that has heaps of more detailed questions you could put to a LMS to help confuse matters even more.

A problem as I see it is that you often only see inside an LMS if your school uses one. You only know what you know. Hopefully someone will read this post and help me with this question.

If you use an LMS and like it or dislike it could you please let me know which one you think and why.

Please don’t feel the need to comment in a logged in way- just add anonymously if you feel your comments may play against your current school practice. I want to know what you really think. If you would rather add your comment via email to me I will add it anonymously.

Here’s what Ewan McIntosh thinks about ePortfolios- obviously not behind the fence of a walled garden. Click here if the video plays hard to get. I have been told that the video will be updated after the weekend and it will actually play properly- I will re-embed it then.

16 Responses to “Why would a school pay good money for a Learning Management System?”

  1.   Allanahk Says:

    From Matt Tippen http://twitter.com/mtippo/status/20912749619

  2.   Heath Sawyer Says:

    Hi Allanah,

    I’ll do my best to answer your questions relating to Ultranet as a LMS option.

    The focus of the Ministry of Education has always been the interoperibility between various learning environments. We have been steadily building resources like TKI, DLO’s, asttle, SMS and some behind the scenes structures for some years now. Learning Management Systems will be the visible, user interface that links these systems together. With the advent of SSO (Single Sign On) access to all these systems and resources will evetually be seamless. For example, if a child logs into Ultranet and clicks on a link to use a Digital Learning Object, they will have immediate access and not have to know the school password. The next major point is interoperibility between the SMS and LMS making possible all of the issues you have raised.

    * What do you get in an LMS above what is already available on the internet for free?

    1. Interoperability,
    2. Ministry support and funding
    3. A set of standards produced by the MOE that will ensure LMS stays inline with NZ’s educational direction.

    * What benefit does an LMS add to a child’s learning?

    An LMS is a repository of learning (just like a wiki or other web 2 tool). The value comes from effective teaching and learning and how teachers and students take advantage of the digital landscape.

    * Would parents have access to the LMS and on what level- would the child share their username and password with their parents and thus have access to everything- even the ability to change a child’s work. Or would the parent have separate parental access.

    1. Access within Ultranet is completely customisable and can be set page by page if needed. Parents can be given editing rights to certain areas if needed and commenting can be switched on/off.

    2.Parents are provided with their own username and temporary password. It is a complex issue and needs to operate through the SMS as parent access (even digital) can be a legal issue.

    3. Access to sensitive information like eportfolios is treated differently and is an interoperibility feature between SMS and LMS. There is much debate at the moment (so don’t take this as gospel) about how eportfolios will work but it is likely that eportfolios will be detachable from the LMS and can follow the child from school to school and beyond (i.e, the workplace).

    * Would your LMS be able to be hosted on your own server or would you need to have it some place else like in the cloud or with a provider?

    Hosting can be on a schools server or on the cloud. There are pros and cons for both.

    * Can children develop their content within the LMS or would it more for a snapshot of a ‘finished project’?

    Yes they can, it is completely up to the user and how the LMS is implemented.

    * Is there a visible (non- passworded) option for sharing content with those outside the LMS?

    Yes, Ultranet has 3 main areas:
    1. Web Space – which acts as the schools website (open).
    2. Class Space – (open or closed access)
    3a. USpace – Social networking. Ultranet is the only LMS to provide students a social networking portal where they can, choose buddies, post comments and share information in a secure environment that teaches them to be responsible cyber citizens. This area contains areas for blogs, videos, photos etc.
    3b. Eportfolio – Customisable access: Sharing with buddies for some content and secure parent access only.

    * How collaborative and creative can an LMS be?

    The Ultranet LMS itself is a shell. That shell is built using a variety of modules and tools. A teacher can add a wiki module into a classroom area for example and allow students internally and externally (globally) develop content within that wiki.

    * How can I share the learning progressions of children in an LMS, with parents, with community or with others.

    Two ways:
    * Students can have a public student page.
    * Using the eportfolio effectively: Teaching students to record their learning journey using blogs, journals, scanners, cameras, voice and video recording.

    The wiki module has a history feature that allows you to see a progression of content development.

    * Can I, as a teacher, personalise the LMS with features how I want them to be?

    Ultranet is all about easy customisation using drag and drop and template choices.

    * Can you embed content from Web2.0 apps. If so, how easy is it to embed content from Web2.0 applications?

    Ultranet has 4 options when editing a page:
    1. Design view WYSIWYG
    2. HTML
    3. Preview
    4. Design menu

    You can use the HTML option to embed web 2.0 objects or use the design menu to insert images, flash, media, links, documents and other features.

    * On leaving the school can a child archive their content for a time when they are no longer able to access the school network?

    As mentioned before Ministry supported LMS will have this functionality. Within Ultranet, content can be saved in PDF format.
    Leaving access open is completely up to the school.

    * Can the content and assessment created within an LMS be portable to another LMS?

    Between the 3 Ministry supported LMS and SMS.

    * If content can be archived what format would it be in?

    * It is the intention of ePortfolios to be available to us as Life Long Learners therefore they would be progressive and cumulative. Asides from that they can be archived in PDF.

    * How much support would the average teacher need to get to grips with the LMS? Is it something that I could work out for myself or is it that tricky that you need on going user group or expert input to master?

    The interface is dead simple Allanah and the average teacher will have it sorted in a couple of PD sessions. This as we know is not the issue when integrating a tool like an LMS into practice. The real issue is teacher or school readiness and an understanding of how digital literacies can improve learning outcomes for our kiddies. So, I’ll answer your question with an example. In a school of 30 classroom teachers that I have worked with 3/4 have integrated the LMS meaningfully into teaching and learning and they were able to shift/adjust within 2 terms quite painlessly. The remainder are at varying levels of the continuum for different reasons. Some have shifted considerably and a minority are resistors.

    Sales pitch to follow :-) I am currently developing an online course to support the use of Ultranet. It consists of 3 courses and participants work through the modules that fit their role. (Ready by ULearn 2010)

    1. Making the most of Ultranet. Links to curriculum, pedagogy and classroom practice.
    2. Practical skills: a series of screencasts and videos (much like Atomic Learning). These can be used by teachers individually, ICT lead teachers can run PD sessions with them and teachers can use them in class to model to students.
    3. Administration training.

    Send me an email and I’ll sign you up with a free account so you can evaluate it.

    Hope this helps Allanah,

    Ka kite ano

    Heath

    (heheboy)

  3.   Erin Freeman Says:

    Hi there Allanah

    My school signed up to Ultranet at the end of last year after we decided we needed to consolidate our online spaces. We had been experimenting with using wikis and blogs as ePortfolios and found the effort required to create a private and dynamic space was taxing. I will endeavour to answer your questions.

    The biggest benefit of using Ultranet rather than free tools is the consolidation of spaces. When using wikis it was difficult to administer and monitor content on our 30 class online spaces. It also meant that we could use dynamic and engaging ePortfolios. Another bonus is having outside support available at almost all times.

    Our LMS provides a space where students, teachers and parents are able to celebrate and interact with artefacts of learning. We are able to use rich media – audio, video and images to demonstrate progress and achievement.

    Ultranet provides a parent portal (at no extra cost). This means that parents have their own unique username and interface. The have access to the child’s ePortfolio (or uSpace) and any data that is shared from the SMS (when interoperability is implemented) such as results from testing, attendance data etc.

    Ultranet can either be hosted at the school or by the provider.

    We are using our LMS as a mixture of product and process. The idea of the ePortfolio is to show development – of progress and also achievement – final product. In fact, children have ownership over what is shared in the portfolio and on the class space.

    Ultranet provides a range of levels of access. WebSpace has public access (without password). You can also set a range of permissions at page level on both ClassSpace and WebSpace. Uspace is private – only accessible by student, teacher and parent and buddies (students from within the school that the student selects).

    Web2.0 tools integrate seamlessly into Ultranet – therefore retaining the element of collaboration and creativity. The editor within Ultranet also allows for embedding audio, video and images. Our class uses the space to collaborate and share ideas.

    All pages within Ultranet are customisable. You can choose from a range of layouts and modules. Modules include wiki, discussion, tasks, resources, html editor and media gallery.

    You are able to export the content of uSpace when the child leaves. This is in the form of a zipped file of ‘web pages’ It is my understanding that they are currently working on portability of data. We use Musac and will be experimenting with interoperability hopefully later this year.

    Ultranet is used successfully at all levels – there are many examples of success in junior classrooms. One of the biggest appeals for us is the appearance of Ultranet – it is a really nice looking product that is very easy to use.

    The amount of support required for teachers depends very much on the teacher themselves. I was able to work it out on my own and other teacher have needed several one-on-one sessions to learn how to effectively use the tool. We used mentors within our school to provide support as it was needed.

    In terms of cost, it depends on the size of the school. We feel the costs have been very reasonable and the level of support has been outstanding.

    I am more than happy to answer any questions and please feel free to browse our site (although only my class is currently visible due to development.

    Erin Freeman
    Fairfield Intermediate School
    http://fairfieldint.ultranet.school.nz/ClassSpace/8/

  4.   widged Says:

    Found a blog post that discuss Ultranet in the context of ePortfolios, with comparison to other LMS:

    http://lietze.org/?tag=ultranet

  5.   Allanahk Says:

    Anne Mirtschin from Australia reflected on the Ultranet planned for 9 August

    http://murcha.wordpress.com/2010/08/12/are-we-there-yet-the-ultranet/

    She reflects on the Ultranet Fail of the day and positives and negatives of a State wide LMS.

  6.   Allanahk Says:

    http://twitter.com/achurches/

    Andrew Churches directed us to

    http://twitter.com/achurches/status/20941492629

    Where you can find a pdf download of things to consider about LMS alternatives.

  7.   Allanahk Says:

    This from the Ministry of Education may be of use as well when considering choosing a Learning Management System.

    http://www.google.co.nz/gwt/x?client=safari&wsc=ti&wsi=b6995cdd996771ce&source=m&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.minedu.govt.nz/NZEducation/EducationPolicies/Schools/Initiatives/ManagedLearningEnvironments/LearningMgmtSys.aspx&ei=jsRjTITzIaCYrAOVv7jcBQ

  8.   B Says:

    I spent two years working with Knowledge Net as school administrator and classroom teacher. All teachers were required to have a class page and keep it updated. We had weekly sessions to allow teachers opportunities to share resources and be supported. Personally, I spent hours each week updating and creating lesson sequences for students. Students had their own logins and could interact with each other. Parents had access through the student logins. We spent a lot of time encouraging parents to interact with students and class activities but this was minimal. I realise that an LMS has many more features but I find the capacity to build an authentic audience with a wiki or blog to be more purposeful and allows students to interact collaboratively across classrooms.

  9.   Ken Pullar Says:

    Hi Allanah

    You list of questions is excellent, but your initial question (Why would a school want a Learning Management System at all?) really drew me.

    I’m being a bit contentious here, but I’m going to suggest that LMS are really passed their “use by” date. Instead I believe it may be a lot more educationally valuable to start looking at and developing Personal Learning Environments with our students.

    Here’s a couple of short articles that Joy Gasson and I wrote recently exploring of PLEs:-
    http://docs.google.com/a/otagonet.school.nz/Doc?docid=0AbwaNpv6k-8hZGN3ZnF0MzhfNzQ5Z3hjaGdrZ3g&hl=en_GB
    and
    http://docs.google.com/a/otagonet.school.nz/Doc?docid=0AbwaNpv6k-8hZGN3ZnF0MzhfNzUwNTNoOGY2ZzQ&hl=en_GB

  10.   Nathan Says:

    Good question – being a Principal of a 3 teacher school I have wondered why?
    Our school doesn’t use any out of the box packages – my thoughts on the matter can be found here – http://interact.core-ed.org/pg/blog/nathan.parker/read/1487/is-a-freek-a-free-computer-software-geek
    SMS, MLE, VLE – lots of money being spent on products that I believe are unnecessary for many schools.
    I believe that the tail is wagging the dog – are these ideas being promoted by classroom teachers?
    It seems that most of what is being pushed into schools is by IT Industry Companies and MOE bureaucrats.
    Possibly one option of keeping the economy buoyant – spend, spend spend?
    Schools need to retain balance.

  11.   Allanahk Says:

    This response added via email.

    I agree completely with Nathan, a lot of this is being pushed on schools.

    Principals get sold to by marketing and think it will out of the box improve teaching and learning. The real cost however is in the PD that is required along with it. This typically lasts for a year or two until those who were enthused move on to other things/schools leaving a wasteland of half used courses in the VLE/LMS?whatever you want to call it.

    I sometime wonder if Primary school teachers don’t have enough to do already and forcing this on many who don’t want it will get them to simply give up on ICT altogether. Rather than sinking money in this on an individual school basis (in Primary schools) get one moodle/ultra/knowledgenet site for a group of likeminded teachers form a few schools and use it for sharing classes/resources. You would probably find this would be a couple of teachers per school and then slowly might get some progress. I have personally seen too many of these systems used for 5% or less of the school population for which we are paying a lot of money. Where is the example from the ministry of a school who is really getting value out of their portal vs just using google sites/wikispaces etc

  12.   Allanahk Says:

    The more I think about it I think you are right.

    The schools that I have knowledge of have tend to have enthusiasts who pursue avenues for sharing on the web with other teachers within the school participating to a lesser degree.

    With an open platform like blogs, wikis and podcasts others get to know what is going on. The walled garden of the LMS means that others don’t get to hear of the good work that children and teachers are doing. The enthusiasts can be the role model for others if others can see and share their work.

    You hardly need an LMS to do that.

    I like Ewan McIntosh’s comment in the video- publishing default setting in an e-portfolio should always be set to public. How can others contribute to the learning if they can’t see it from behind the fence!

    A benefit of an LMS maybe is the easy integration of assessment data from outside sources but I hardly think an e-AsTTle test summary sheet on it’s own adds a lot to a child’s learning.

  13.   Nathan Says:

    WikiEducator is a great portal for materials and resources that teachers and schools have created – everything needs to be released under creative commons license.
    It needs some basic wiki skills – which can be acquired and supported from within the WikiEducator community – its like a big family.
    I have found it much simpler to add content there now I have cottoned onto using Google Docs – these can be attached very easily.
    The support for teachers who are high level IT practitioners and but also for IT learners is pivotal to creating a space for sharing the great stuff that is going on in our schools – not all the best stuff happening in our schools is being done by IT competent teachers. WikiEducator allows us all access to and collaborative ownership of a repository where corporate or bureaucratic manipulation is diminished.
    A place where your superb Class Blog can be shared as you want it to be – this certainly won’t happen through TKI etc
    http://wikieducator.org/Learning4Content

  14.   Miriam Says:

    With Moodle and Mahara available for free, and open-source, why would you pay for an LMS or e-portfolio system at all? Then there is GoogleDocs, wikispaces, free sites to host whatever your e-learning needs require… those that pay for software to do what the free software can do are a little behind the times. People are slowly coming to realise that free and open-source does not necessarily mean second-rate.

    But… there are educators within the system who are very set in their ways. They have their hand-written notes, their whiteboard (or even blackboard still), and don’t see the need for moving to this new-fandangled technology. I have seen schools using Moodle and Mahara well, making awesome progress with the kids, collaborating, teaching through the use of technology… and I have seen people using them as file repositories only – as if it was a new form of text book.

    Staff need to be supported in the use of whichever system the school adopts. They need to be shown best practice, and they need to be willing to adapt their OWN classroom practice so that the use of these systems is not an EXTRA, but becomes part of their teaching. If used correctly, any e-learning and e-portfolio system can help make life easier!

  15.   Darren Sudlow Says:

    I agree with much of what has been said in the later comments, and especially with Ken’s thoughts.

    The concept of an LMS is one that is centred on the institution rather than the learner. They are most useful for organising learning across institutions or communities, but lack the personalised nature of a PLE. I really do question whether they will be around in ten years time.

    As you have suggested a LMS that runs across a number of schools does have its use and can be very good for teacher collaboration.

    It is absolute madness to sink significant amounts of money into these things. If you are going to use a LMS do it with a community of schools and use Moodle. Then any money can be put into PD.

    Otherwise, use a mash up of free tools like wikis, blogs, Google Apps (fantastic tool) etc.

  16.   Darren Sudlow Says:

    Some thoughts on shared LMS’s – http://cantatech.wordpress.com/2010/07/27/sharing-the-learning/

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