25 May 2015

LMS Heavyweight Smackdown: Schoology vs Edmodo vs Google Classroom

My house is so much neater since I discovered Learning Management Systems. Well, I mean, it would be if it weren't for the first grader and pre-schooler I share it with. But you get my point: no more piles of papers sliding off various surfaces, and my little paperclip stash is no longer strewn throughout four different rooms.

Suffice it to say, Learning Management Systems (LMS) like Schoology, Edmodo, and Google Classroom have changed my life for the better.

But which LMS is better?

I've tried all three of the platforms above, and there is no denying that I have my preferences. Let me give you a little insight as to what they are and why

There are basically eight things I'm looking for in a Learning Management System:

  • Schoolwide integration
  • Assignment delivery to students
  • Assignment collection from students
  • Messages/reminder relay to students
  • Grade tracking and feedback
  • Mobile access
  • Setting customization (ie gradebooks weights and grouping)

And above all, it must be a FREE platform.

An LMS can also earn brownie points with me for things like having a hopping educator community, possibly communities for students. I'm also a big fan of badges, but I've got workarounds if they're not built into the LMS. Integration with other web apps is another big bonus.

Things I, personally, don't care much about are quiz functions and forum options. The closest thing I've given to a quiz in the last year or two is an EDPuzzle IPA listening section, so integration with sites like EDPuzzle is a lot more useful to me than self-grading quizzes I have to go back and score with my AAPPL rubrics anyway. Also, I try to keep interpersonal exchanges out loud as much as possible, though I think blog comments are a good place to "talk" to each other online.

The fight was rigged. I got a taste of Edmodo, but then moved to a school that already had all of its students on Schoology. I could have rebelled and made my class join yet another site, but schoolwide integration is a Big Thing for me because it means that students are on that site getting notifications daily one way or another. Also, they've been suffering from login overload already, the poor dears.

And so I used Schoology for two years, albeit grudgingly.

I've got to say that the assignment delivery for Edmodo and Schoology were comparable, but the student turn-in for Schoology was slightly more complicated. You'd THINK syncing with Google Drive accounts would make things easier, but mostly it left kiddos dumbfounded as to what to do if it didn't work for whatever reason. And there were so many ways to turn something in.
Actually, on both Edmodo and Schoology, kids would often leave a comment instead of turning in, which was vexing when I was trying to quick check who had submitted something and who hadn't.

The gradebooks on both of these sites were pretty nice, though Edmodo's was more navigable, and Schoology's was more customizable (handy in a district with six-week grading periods, . The ability to highlight, doodle, and add comments on documents for both sites was AWESOME, especially when I was teaching Creative Writing (although Schoology's fickle highlighter caused me a few hours of cumulative frustration those semesters).

What I missed most with the transition from Edmodo to Schoology, though, was the communities on Edmodo. AmigoWeb was a cool thing for students to practice with each other across the country, and there were also some cool communities for educators to connect and find each other. Schoology's communities have been growing lately (I still get the notifications) so there is that, but it's harder to connect students to each other or find random language teachers with whom to collaborate.

The badges were pretty cool on both (until Schoology made it a PAID feature!!), but Edmodo definitely has it all over every other LMS for integration--they're almost a baby Google with how many ways you can post to and from Edmodo! Plus their app was SWEET. I could casually grade assignments from my phone, either as I walked around or tried to stay awake during boring whole-school assemblies. Schoology's was pretty handy, too, but opening files to score on the phone was not as easy.

Schoology totally lost me, though, when access to the school roster of students became a paid feature. A school of under 250 does not need to fork over enough for a whole school account, sorry.

But then Google Classroom came along. We were already a Google school, so slam dunk for schoolwide integration. And, yeah, Google "targets your interests" with ads, but personally that doesn't make me feel squicky or double-plus bad, so FREE. Plus the push notifications from both the site and the kids' Google e-mails makes it more likely the young ones will get their assignments. In fact, my kids would rather have a Classroom class to coordinate our after school club than a Facebook page! Now, you can't trick out the assignment itself with so much as an underline, but you can attach a Google Doc with all the italics and bold and formatting you want.

And Google? Google IS integrated with everything. Although I'm still disappointed that the it's mostly just log-in level at this point, that much is a godsend to the memory-deprived among my young ones. Still, I wish ForAllRubrics and Google would work out a deal so Classroom could use their badges too, like Edmodo does.

But the assignment collection COULD NOT BE EASIER. And I LOVE being able to see how many have what turned in at a glance (and of course being able to send them a quick "can I help?" email). The Drive integration is less convoluted, and students can turn in files and even links to other sites (hint--they know they can turn in a link instead of submitting from their Drive if they don't want you to see their revision history, ie work completed after due date/time). Also, they have a glaring red LATE mark that they can't get rid of until they click Turn in.

And while I KNOW Google is continually improving, I'm still a little cheesed about not being able to GRADE from my mobile app. Also, I would kill for a Google gradebook--there simply is no spreadsheet functionality to see a kid's grades for multiple assignments. So you can forget about setting up grading periods or weighting (although that does make it easier to give feedback in forms they're used to without sullying your standards-based gradebook).

I'm a Google girl. I'll wait for my app accessibility and just keep using Classroom on browsers to grade in the vet's office. I'm required to enter grades in PowerSchool separately anyway (Schoology's PowerSchool integration? PAID.) I do occasionally miss Edmodo interactions and easy badging, but there's no substitute for the familiarity, the ubiquity of the Google machine when it comes to helping kids.

23 May 2015

Local LangCamp

We have yet to pull off a face-to-face LangCamp to get our LangChat compañeros together to plot and plan over the summer. But that doesn't mean we can't have our own LangCamp parties close to home!

I think North Carolina's Analysis of Student Work portfolios for teacher evaluation are pushing a lot of people to begin the shift toward proficiency-based courses. Turning in a bunch of vocab and grammar quizzes is NOT going to align with NC Essential Standards for world languages, and it will NOT get you labeled an effective educator.

It was all I could do not to burst out in song during that snow day meeting of language educators in my district when one colleague voiced what she thought would be an unpopular suggestion: maybe PD in the summer to get ready for next year?

Heck. Yeah.

So I've been thinking about what we could do and how we could do it to meet everyone's learning needs. I really want this to happen.

What I envision is a sort of Edcamp for language educators. Basically, everyone who wants to work shows up, and we decide what we want to work on specifically and break off. Edcamps are typically a day-long event, so we could probably get a few different rounds in for those who want to work on a few different things (more if we could figure out lunch! Maybe we could go in on some pizza?) We could have 2 or 3 concurrent sessions (depending on how many show up) for maybe three or four hour-long rounds, and then a final sharing time.

I brainstormed some topics I think local amigos might go for, but of course with the Edcamp model, people could add more suggestions, and we'd all vote to decide which sessions we'll actually do!

Possible local LangCamp topics:
  • understanding and assessing proficiency levels
  • project-based learning
  • novice units and activities (levels 1 & 2)
  • intermediate units and activities (levels 3 & 4)
  • AP planning
  • finding and using authentic Spanish texts & videos for novices 
  • finding and using authentic Spanish texts & videos for intermediates
  • finding and using authentic [other language] texts & videos for novices/intermediates
  • rubrics and assessments
  • ASW backward planning
  • assessing for proficiency
  • personalization and student engagement
  • teaching in the target language
  • adapting textbook activities
  • infographs in the language classroom
  • interactive notebooks
  • cool apps and websites for language learning & communication
  • community connections
  • focus on interpretive skills (reading/listening)
  • focus on interpersonal skills (conversation)
  • focus on presentational skills (writing/speaking)
  • student portfolios
  • flipped classroom
My question to my LangChat amigos is this: if we build it, will you come? I mean, I'm not 100% sure that we could invite outside parties, but I'm checking on it. I'm sure we could accommodate a few fellow Carolinians at least.

If we still can't work out the face-to-face time, rest assured that we can still collaborate via LangCamp Google Community this summer. Plus we'll have ten LangCamp Google Hangout sessions during the month of July, starting on the 1st. Edcamp style, we're going to figure out who's going then pick the topic for each session, so be sure to vote on days and times for week 2, week 3, week 4, and week 5.

Either way, I can't wait for a summer of mind melding!