The traditional learning management system is designed more for centralized control than maximized learning. I instead wanted one that more closely aligned with the social media systems that were most familiar to my students. After extensive research, Schoology was the clear winner due to its user-friendly platform and similarity to Facebook's platform.
With only four tabs, navigation is seamless. Instead of being centered around static course content, such as lessons, the system is designed around dynamic user contributions, similar to how the landing page in Facebook is comprised mostly of the new postings by one's friends. Schoology's homepage allows the student and instructor to post updates, as well as see updates from others. To the right of the Recent Activity and Post options are reminders for the instructor of assignments yet to be graded and upcoming calendar events and assignments for students.
Schoology also mirrors the “appified” world we live in where instead of being given a large system with many features we may or may not want, the teacher is given basic features and then can choose to add whatever features he or she wants as apps. In order to install these free apps, all that has to be done is go to the “Resources” tab, select “Apps,” then “Install Apps.” Unlike the closed learning management system, these apps often connect to outside resources, such as YouTube, Vimeo, Microsoft OneDrive, Khan Academy, Google Drive, Dropbox, or Evernote, and the apps are now available for use. There is even a “Suggested Apps” box that directs teachers to apps that may be useful to them. Thus, Schoology is designed to make the resources of the world available to be used in a course, rather than wall a course off from the rest of the world.
Another helpful feature of Schoology is the ability to allow collaboration between students in different courses. The instructor can create a group such as “Research Paper Discussion” and allow students from any course who want to get input on their research papers to post to the group. This might be especially helpful among graduate students who are trying to develop work for publication. If a number of faculty in a particular department use Schoology, then all those who teach a particular course with it can allow collaboration between students in different sections of the course. There is even access to public groups that allow for collaboration with users around the world.
The quiz option is excellent for creating both formative and summative assessments. Quizzes can include multiple choice, true or false, short answer, essay, fill in the blank, or matching questions. In tune with the theme of integration with outside sources, the instructor can import quizzes made on Google Forms or Microsoft OneDrive. Once students take these quizzes, the grading is done automatically as scores are assigned based on the answer key that is created. This became the most efficient way to buy back class time as I used these online quizzes as items that may be in need of remediation, and also saved me from grading these quizzes manually.
While course set-up is normally done by instructional designers at an institution, Schoology set-up is easy enough that anyone can do it in a matter of minutes. You simply create a new course, and can give it a name, section, subject area, and learner level. It is also very easy to archive a previous course. Once created, the instructor sends students an access code and they go to Schoology's website to join the course.
An instructor can use the basic version for free, while an institution-wide version has a charge for additional features. I have the basic version, which does very well for what a classroom teacher needs such as the ability to develop, manage, and distribute course materials, create auto-graded quizzes and tests, give students activities and their progress, and allow collaboration between students.
Faculty often default to their institution's learning management system for any technology enhancements to their courses, but Schoology provides an option that many will find more flexible and natural to the student. It might also be the case that the social media-based design encourages more student participation and enthusiasm. An instructor might want to start by using just a few functions as a companion to their course, and then add functions as added apps as they see more and more possibilities to enhance student learning.
Tiffany Moy is an English teacher at Proviso West High School.