Building the Best Learning Platform

For technologists in education, teacher input is key.

GUEST COLUMN | by Kenneth Chapman

CREDIT D2L.pngAs technologists focused on the education space, we’re constantly striving to stay on top of the needs of teachers and their goals in educating students. That means we’ve talked to hundreds of teachers over the past few years as we’ve worked to re-imagine the K-12 experience for this generation and beyond.

Our conversations have been inspiring and revealing:

  • Teachers love teaching. They love creating that spark and motivation in their students.
  • Teachers are passionate. They put their heart into creating dynamic and memorable learning experiences for their students.
  • Teachers face enormous time constraints, so every new activity has to be for the benefit of their students.
  • Teachers are incredibly resourceful. They find what they need, whether it’s tools, content, or technology, and plenty of it.

When it comes to technology, some of the teachers we’ve spoken with have been big, progressive innovators — the types who will seek out any technology available to deliver the learning experience they want for their students. We’ve also talked with plenty of teachers who have that same vision, but who struggle to learn and use the dizzying array of new technology available to them. That may be because of age – teachers who didn’t grow up with tech tools may find them harder to master in general – or because of a lack of time and administrative support. Often, it’s a combination of these things.

It’s our job in edtech to work to remove barriers to technology for everyone, from students to teachers to parents to administrators.

Unfortunately, that means many teachers just don’t have the training, time or tools to deliver the best learning experience for all students. And so, as we’ve spoken with teachers over the past two years in particular as part of launching our innovative new product platform, we’ve been constantly thinking about the needs of all teachers, in all situations.

Teacher resourcefulness is an amazing thing to witness, and we’re in awe of the way teachers across the spectrum manage to make their classrooms work, and to make learning happen despite some very tough challenges. Resourcefulness has a flip side, however, in that it creates challenges for K-12 leadership, IT departments, schools, districts, states, and even the teachers themselves.

After all, a successful K-12 learning ecosystem can be thought of as a stool with three legs:

  • Curriculum, which is content and activities that line up to the standards and outcomes districts wish to teach to;
  • Instruction, which is how material is presented and organized for students into a cohesive learning experience;
  • Assessment, which covers the huge variety of tools and methods teachers use to evaluate and document student progress.

The problem with a creative, ad-hoc approach to using tools, content and technology is that there’s little or no connection among the instruction, the curriculum, and the assessment parts of the stool. Moreover, there’s little coordination among teachers, and far too much duplication of effort. Making connections manually means more work and demands on the teacher’s already precious time, and little sharing with teachers who are still struggling to master technology.

Next-Gen K-12 Learning Platform

Instead, a modern K-12 learning experience is one in which teachers can still use all the tools they love – including Google Classroom, LearnZillion, and much more — but do it within a single learning management platform, one that takes care of the time-intensive setup and communication demands on teachers. By incorporating everything into a single platform, the right LMS gives novice teachers a robust and easy-to-use set of tools in one place, with one learning curve and one log-in sequence. Advanced teachers can use what they already know, but can access, organize and share it much more easily.

For administrators and other education leaders, moving the district’s education technology under a single umbrella allows much better management in general, including issues like user access and privacy, accessibility, and mobile access. The LMS, rather than individual tools, acts to ensure that everything is supported, that login is the same for every tool, and that content can be shared appropriately with others.

With this approach, the LMS acts as a “hub” for the district, creating a means to roll out new initiatives in a consistent and scalable way. When legislation like ESSA looms, districts have a scalable and centralized way to implement their strategies.

For example, parent engagement is now the law under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). However, there are questions around how much money will be assigned to ESSA plans and to what extent they will be enforced. Under U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, states need to submit their ESSA plans this September, including plans for parent engagement.

Because parent engagement is tough to do well, it serves as a good example of the sort of challenge districts face with diverse systems. Parent engagement needs to be done consistently and well across all students. To reach out to parents effectively, schools and districts will need common, easy-to-use communication tools, such as offering parent-teacher conferences via video over mobile devices, or giving parents secure access via a web portal to their child’s work.

That’s where a new generation of LMS platforms can shine. The right platform can make it easy for parents and teachers to connect effectively and often, using tools that are easy and familiar for both sides.

Involved parents lead to greater student outcomes – in the classroom and beyond. The right LMS can make it easy for parents to be a fly on the wall in their child’s classroom, creating a connected community that drives student achievement.

As their partner, it’s our job in edtech to work to remove barriers to technology for everyone, from students to teachers to parents to administrators. That means enabling all of the amazing teachers we’ve talked to, and all of their counterparts all across the technology spectrum, to use the best tools and techniques out there to be the very best educators possible.

Kenneth Chapman is VP of Market Research at Desire2Learn. “I exist to share my passion and expertise for how beautifully conceived and designed technology can have a transformative impact on learners everywhere,” says Ken. Follow him @D2L

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