Archive for the ‘LMS’ Category

Google Classroom might have the largest edtech hype surrounding it than any other product in 2014.

I love using Google Apps for Education with my classes.  I became a Google Apps Administrator at my school in 2007 and managed it on my own since I found it so valuable.  I absolutely respect the work that Google does in other areas supporting education, and students.  I am always amazed at the number of programs Google invests in for the support of students and teachers.  I was also quick to sign up for early access to Google Classroom.

Now that its open for all GAFE accounts, I find it a bit of a letdown.  Now this isn’t Google’s fault.  It’s mine for having such high initial expectations.  Yes, I bought too much into the promo video.  I should have known better.  I have been using some sort of class website or Learning Management System (LMS) since I began teaching in 2005.  I currently use Canvas as my LMS of choice.  Google doesn’t call Classroom an LMS, but instead often simply use the word “product.”  I’m sure this is by design for two reasons.  First it distances itself from comparisons to other more mature LMS products, and second it avoids using any extra jargon that teachers new to edtech might find intimidating.  I get it.  Google has created (in a short amount of time I hear) a clean simple classroom tool.  I think they are trying to position themselves at such a level that even the most technology-phobe can jump in.  I don’t disagree with that strategy – we need more teachers jumping in.  What I disagree with are click-bait sites (Buzzfeed, About, DailyGenius, etc.) spewing out drivel about Classroom completely revolutionizing education, or (just as often) restating a couple lines from Google and a link to the Classroom site/video.  I also have a bit of a hard time with my G+ and Twitter feed filling up with shares to those articles.

In it’s current form, Classroom is a polished version of scripts (like Doctopus) and not much else.  It doesn’t do much else other than save students the time of clicking “Make a Copy” of an assignment that a teacher may share.  It doesn’t do a good job of sharing resources either.  I can’t imagine there are too many teachers that are willing to jump to Classroom, but that don’t have an existing website (or Google Site) for sharing resources like notes, video, links, etc.  Google Classroom should be able to replace a Google Site, but it doesn’t.  The grading system for assignments in classroom is terrible by LMS standards.  You need to leave feedback on the document, and then give a score in Classroom out of 100.  Not 25, or 8, only 100.  How about a letter grade, or level of “mastery”?  Nope; 100.

The Good News

Google really does have a “release early, release often” philosophy, so I am going to work under the assumption that this mantra applies to Classroom as well.  So at least some of the hype may not be unfounded as Classroom represents the idea of a better LMS, just like the Pixel represented the possibility of a high end Chromebook and what that represents for how we view and use devices.

Here are some of my thoughts of what Google may be working on bringing to Classroom:

  1. Resource Sharing.  Yes, you can post links/notes in the About section.  But I’m talking about having unit/module sections for organizing notes and other resources.  Currently a teacher would have to use Sites for this, or possibly use a Google Sheet as a syllabus with links to other docs.
  2. Quizzes.  This is something that GAFE users have been accomplishing using Google Forms and scripts for some time. But it is still unwieldy and not useful for larger assessments.
  3. Discussions. Discussions in Classroom can currently be started as replies off of announcement.  But there isn’t a good way to allow a student to start a discussion, to organize discussions, or to give feedback on posts (without being part of the discussion and being public.)
  4.  Grading.  I love Canvas’ Speedgrader and it would be great if Classroom had something similar.  The ability to look at an assignment while at the same time be able to leave feedback in a rubric is very useful.  I don’t think teachers should necessarily be forced to have all their feedback be placed on the document itself.  That said, leaving feedback for students in docs or as comments/suggestions is indeed a wonderful way to leave feedback, especially while students are still working on the task.  Students should also be able to be grouped for grading purposes.

So all those above are pretty much standard in any LMS available.  But if Google is going to replicate what is out there, what’s the point? Other than to have access to more student data I suppose.

I have some thoughts of my own for Classroom’s ‘to be added’ feature list.

Google Site Integration.  I have been trying to think about this one.  Should Classroom absorb Site’s functionality to create pages?  So a new tab in Classroom called ‘Site” where all the resources are posted.  Or should Classroom somehow embed into sites?  So a teacher can add Classroom elements (assignment, quiz, discussion.) So if a student goes to the class Site, they see a link to the posted task with the due date.  Tasks would still show up in the Classroom stream.  I’m still thinking on the best workflow on this one.  But at least Sites provides the teacher with the ability to organize their classroom materials.

Peer Review.  I’m not sure how many (if any) LMS’s really get this right.  I want a student to be working on a task that has a rubric.  That task has a due date.  When they submit their work, it is opened up to a peer reviewer(s).  That review also has a due date and a rubric for the feedback.  Then, the original student has a second date to make any revisions taking the peer review into account.  The final rubric could then include items regarding addressing their peer feedback.  I think peer feedback is really important.  I think a great LMS would really support this.  The feedback process needs to be assessed to help ensure student’s recognize it’s value, and also so teachers are able to give feedback to their students on how they provide feedback to each other.  The Inception of feedback.

Google has plenty of experience with LMS’s from their own Power Search courses, to their collaboration on Open edX.  There’s a lot of experience there.  I’m sure there is much more in the pipe.  If there isn’t much else, then the hype is unfounded as better products already exist.  Otherwise they are another failed splash like Pearsons Open Class (seriously, do people use that?)


Yesterday I read Sherman Dorn’s Article Why I Recommend Canvas as an LMS, and the result on my part was a great deal of head nodding.  Dr. Dorn is an author and Professor who spends his time” questioning our central assumptions about education.”  I appreciated the article, but it got me thinking of why I as a high school teacher recommend Canvas by Instructure.  There’s some love there too, but when you say you love an LMS, you come across as fanatical or just creepy.

I’ll start by saying that I use the “free to educators” version of Canvas, and that I have taught classes using Microsoft’s Class Server, Moodle, Pearson’s Open Class, D2L, as well as non-LMS structures like WordPress, Google Sites, my own harcoded site, combined with Google Apps for Education (which made me think seriously about Audrey Watters Question: “Google Apps for Education: When Will It Replace the LMS?”  I have also dabbled with Udemy, GoodSemester, Edmodo, Schoology, and BlackBoard’s CourseSites without ever unleasing them upon students.  I’ve had mixed opinions on them.  But this isn’t about what is missing in other LMS’s, so here is where the Canvas love comes from:

Ease of Use and Setup – probably the most discussed feature of Canvas is how quickly you can get your course up and running.  I have a solid LMS background so getting started was incredibly quick.  If you have read anything else on Canvas, you’ve probably heard this already.  Even for a LMS newbie, getting the basics up is very intuitive.  There is even an on screen wizard of sorts when you first start.

SpeedGrader – This is Canvas’ built in assessment tool for assignments.  If you have never used another LMS, it is difficult to describe how great SpeedGrader is, and how it crushes the competition.  I have my students either upload documents, or share a link (Google Doc, LucidChart, etc.) when submitting an assignment.  SpeedGrader will preview the document (using Scribd), or the website they have submitted.  I also have the option to download the original (or an archive of all the originals.)  The best feature is having the ability to have a rubric or checklist embedded into the platform.  I see the assignment on the left side of the screen while filling out my assessment on the right.  I can leave notes, or an attachment, or video.  Notes appear in a teacher-student discussion format.  It that wasn’t enough, I can easily switch to viewing the peer evaluations that have been made by other students (yes, Canvas also easily allows me to require students complete a set number of peer evaluations.)

Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) Integration – LTI in Canvas allows me to integrate other useful tools into my Canvas courses.  For my math classes I can easily insert a graph from  The button appears directly in the page editing tools.  I love Piazza as well.  Piazza has a great system for asking questions, and getting answers from a teacher or other students.  With LTI, Piazza becomes a link in the main navigation bar for the course.  Since my students use the same email address for both, it is also a single-sign-on for both tools.  Canvas and Piazza certainly make a great pair.

Quizzes and LaTeX – Recently I have been developing more quizzes for my courses, partly because it is so easy, and partly because I am using “pre-quizzes” the night before.  The pre-quizzes act as a formative assessment, but also are paired with a short pre-lesson.  This isn’t flipped instruction per se, but introduces larger (or real world) concepts the day before the nitty gritty of the following days work.  This is a bit of me attempting to reduce cognitive load of the following day.  The quiz with the pre-lesson is the means of tracking participation.  What ever your reason for having online quizzes, Canvas makes them easy.  It also has one of the best LaTex editors I have seen for including equations into questions.  It also allows you to add LaTeX equations in the answers; this is one of the greatest shortcomings of most other LMS’s and is actually a big deal if you teach math.  Canvas gives a quick series of graphs of results (great for quick formative assessment) as well as all the data exporting, commenting, and mark over-riding you would expect.

Learning Outcomes – I have not used this feature yet, but it’s my next thing to do.  It gives me the ability to create learning outcomes (expectations, standards) and have them embedded into assessments.  So I can assess a student’s meeting of an expectation, along with other non-expectation specifics.  It gives me the option of while having that expectation assessed, not having it as an actual grade that impacts the overall mark of the task.  Being data driven is an increasingly popular discussion in education, and this tool certainly gives you the power to collect and analyze data surrounding specific expectations that may span several assessments.

Notifications – My students (and me) have the power to set how we would like Canvas to notify us on various events.  For example, Canvas will email me when an assignment is handed in late, but not when it is on time.  One of my students can receive an email when a new assignment is created, updated, overdue, etc.  Another student my choose to get the same notifications via Twitter, but receive a notification via Facebook that someone replied to their discussion post.

Canvas also has video conferencing, ePortfolios, one click Creative Commons licensing, easy page creation with text, embedded video and images, and all the usual LMS functionality.  Their support has also been great when I have had any kind of problem.  I wish our entire school board was using Canvas, however, given the fact that the province struck a deal with Desire2Learn, this is unlikely to happen.  My thoughts on the Province-D2L deal is probably best left to its own post.  

With Canvas being to easy to use, it’s worth the small time investment to sign up for an account and begin to dabble away.  Then you too can share the love.