Which LMS is MVP?

I’m not going to discuss the reasons why you should be teaching using an LMS (here’s to hoping you already are). The benefits are endless. Instead, my goal is to break down a few of the different choices of Learning Management Systems, in order to find the best “bang for your buck”. I will be examining 3 that I feel have the most potential. With so many choices of programs to use, which one truly is deserving of the title MVP?

In sports, the title MVP is only bestowed for those athletes who are considered the best at what they do. You have to stick out. Just having the best batting average, hitting the most homeruns, or scoring the most points doesn’t cut it. You have to out perform every other player in the league, showing a set of valuable skills that take you to the next level. And from what we have seen recently, it’s not always the star player or quarterback who gets the award. As seen most recently during the 2015 NBA finals, Goldenstate Warriors player Andre Iguodala, earned the award. He didn’t get the award for being flashy, or scoring the most points. He earned it because he did a number of things extremely well. He showed grit. He showed teamwork. He showed hussle. It was the little things he did well… really well. And this is how I broke down my analysis of the following Learning Management Systems.
3dGameLab
3dGameLab is an LMS that is created to look like a video game. If you have gamified your class, or plan on doing it, this is definitely one LMS to check out. Teachers can create or upload assignments to 3dGameLab that they wish their students to complete. Students complete the assignments in a “quest” format. and once completed, teachers can issue badges as a form of “class currency” or bank that keeps track of student performance and learning. The program also follows the format of using experience points rather than traditional grading and can be aligned to Common-Core Standards. A progress tab allows teachers to track the progress of each student in your class and if they are completing assignments. Teachers can also set pre-requisits for each assignment/quest they create, in order to really have students master the content.
The look is interesting. It definitely has the “game” feel. This program is a paid for system. They do offer a free 2 week trial for teachers, but after that it downgrades. The other thing to note- 3dGameLab is empty. There isn’t much to it really. What you put in is what you get. It is an “empty-vessel” if you will.  Teachers can really create all the gamified elements they want to make the program as worthwhile and “fun” as possible. As far as interactivity, the program is limited.
In essence, 3dGameLab is a good online LMS program. It has a lot of potential. The system just doesn’t have all of the interactive features, add-ons, and cross-platform play that programs like Google Classroom and Schoology have.
Google Classroom
Google Classroom is an LMS that is geared mainly in one direction- simplicity. I think this is a sort of double-edged sword. Some may love the simple features and look, while others (like myself) may be looking for a little more. Nonetheless, it is a smooth platform that allows for simple sharing, distribution of work, creation of assignments, and grading. Google Classroom is also a part of the GAFE network, so it plays well with all of the other GAFE programs.
If you are a big GAFE user, or Google Drive user, don’t overlook the simplicity of Google Classroom and dismiss it just yet. It offers the ability to save time and effort by automatically making individual copies of assignments for students. No longer do students have to open your document, make a copy of it, and then close your document so that they may write in their own copy. Google Classroom takes all of the guesswork out of it by distributing individual copies of everything you post to each student in your class. Classroom also takes it a step further by creating folders in each of you and your students’ Google Drives to organize class materials- helping out with that soft skill known as organization (something students struggle mightily with). To me, these are two great features. But I am not opposed to having students create their own folders to take more control over their learning and understanding of how to actually BE and STAY organized. It’s great that Google does this for us, but even better if students know how to do it for themselves…
Teachers can access assignments right in classroom, check student work and progress on those assignments, provide feedback much like you would on a Google Doc, and post grades. Students on the other hand have a direct list that shows all assignments and their due dates. When teachers post assignments, students get emailed a notification that states what has been posted in Google Classroom- another nice feature to the simplicity of the program.
A big bonus… Google Classroom is free to use. I guess this shouldn’t come as a surprise as all of the GAFE network is free. But this just shows more of what Google is geared toward- enhancing our education system. Until recently, Classroom hasn’t added many interactive features, add-ons, extensions, or cross-platform play. Well, until now. At ISTE 2015, Google Classroom noted that it has partnered with Pear Deck to stream seamlessly with eachother. This is a pretty big addition… if you use Pear Deck. I do! Pear Deck is great for keeping student engagement up during a presentation, lecture (ugh!), or what I call Information and Research Sessions. All you have to do is turn on notifications, invite your class to a session via Pear Deck, and voila! They are in. Again… simple is the name of the game with Google Classroom.
Google Classroom is a great LMS, especially for those people and schools that already utilize GAFE extensively. Its simple nature and ease of use would benefit a number of teachers, and the fact that it is free… well… doesn’t hurt either. Google Classroom gets my nod at MVP Runner-up.
Schoology
Schoology is an LMS that truly runs the gamut on what you can do. In my search for a learning management system, I wanted a one-stop-shop. A place that could do anything and everything all in one place. A place that students could go to for all of their subjects/classes. A program that played well with others, and did all the little things well. (This is, afterall, what it means to be an MVP). Much like an MVP athlete, Schoology gets it right in a number of ways.
At first site, schoology can seem daunting. It is not as straightforward and “simple” as Google Classroom. But once you dive beneath the surface, Schoology offers so much more than any other LMS out there. Much like other learning management systems, Schoology allows teachers to upload assignments, track student progress, distribute work, grade assignments, and have students collaborate online. But it goes even further and this is what I love! I used schoology as the foundation to my gamified, self-paced, self-directed, mastery learning classroom and here is why… Schoology almost looks like Facebook! Something students can relate to. Really relate to as a matter of fact. My students were in and creating profiles before I could even tell them what to do. Students have the ability to create personalized profiles, upload pictures (check your school rules on this one before you have your students do this), write bios, and track their own progress. Students can post in forums and discussion boards with other students, share documents, and really collaborate real-time. A neat feature and a win in my book for personalized learning.
Another great feature is the ability to group students two ways. By class and by group. But here is where you can harness the power of Schoology. I taught two sections of English II American Literature. Instead of creating two separate classes, I created 1 class for English II, but I created 2 groups within that class, one for period 5/6 and the other for period 10. Here’s why: By doing this, you allow your students to share, collaborate, and discuss, as one whole unit. Imagine having your resource level students in the same “class” as a CP or honors group and what that would do to the resource students’ self-esteem and work ethic? They would feel like they are doing the same stuff as their counterparts (which they are). This is a great feature that offers A LOT of flexibility. Smart move Schoology!
Tracking student progress and creating individualized and differentiated learning experiences is the name of the game in today’s teaching. Schoology harnesses that by not only allowing teachers to track student progress individually, but against the entire class. Schoology breaks down the work that has been submitted and shows you each students percentage marks on what they have completed and submitted. This really puts the power back in the teacher’s hands. Imagine walking around your classroom with a tablet, and the student progress chart up. You would know right away which students to target and help out in a more 1:1 scenario. Individualized, , differentiated, personalized learning. You can’t beat it!
Schoology also allows teachers the ability to set parameters and prerequisites to their assignments. Teachers have a number of options including: opening an assignment, submitting an assignment, scoring a certain percentage, completing specific assignments before that particular one, and posting a comment (great for discussion board work, much like colleges do). This is the basis for mastery learning- not letting students move on until they have fulfilled their work and proven they can move on. The future of teaching is now, and Schoology is following the trends in education and matching it with their program.
As mentioned previously, Google Classroom and 3dGameLab aren’t very interactive, and do not work seamlessly with many other programs out there, except for Pear Deck (maybe Schoology will team up as well?). This is where Schoology sets itself apart though. Schoology works seamlessly with Google Drive, allowing teachers and students the ability to link directly to their own Google Drive account and upload/share/post/ and submit documents. Teachers can also review the student’s work and post comments right in Schoology. There is an add-on feature where you can have it download free extensions such as Google Drive, DropBox, Youtube, EverNote, and many others. An LMS that plays well with others? Check that one off your list. Not only that, but there are so many other features that truly make Schoology a one stop shop LMS. A Gradebook? Check. Create and issue badges? Check. Groups and a database of information and help for teachers? Absolutely! Not only that, but Schoology is free. The only thing you need to pay for are extra apps that honestly, are worth getting and the price ($15) aren’t necessarily breaking the bank. Schoology also offers the ability to create personal portfolio’s for tracking student progress and personalized work, as well as a backchannel chat, for use in the classroom. No need to open another program like Twitter or Today’sMeet while teaching, just open the backchannel chat feature in Schoology. Schoology also offers an Enterprise version, which basically is the command center for the whole platform, offering administrative control, analytics, unlimited cloud storage, and more. Something that is definitely worth it if your whole school is deciding on an LMS.
As summer is here, many schools will be deciding if they will be sticking with their current LMS or deciding if an LMS is right for them (it is). With so many choices beyond the ones I mentioned above: Blackboard, Edmodo, Moodle, etc, it is hard to find a true diamond in the rough. The definition of MVP will vary from person to person. It is a hihgly sought after award, left only for those that can handle the honor. When looking for an MVP, you want someone you “can’t live without”, someone who works really hard to be the best they can, stay competitive, and be a true leader in the most simplest sense of the word. Schoology is my nod for LMS MVP. Check it out and I am sure you will feel the same!
~ Nick
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