Why do we need a comprehensive learning management system?
Oshkosh Area School District
The Oshkosh Area School District in Wisconsin planned to give a personal laptop to each of its 10,000+ students, but administrators wanted to make sure that they had the correct digital infrastructure in place first. As they began building that infrastructure and planning their 1:1 rollout, one question kept coming up: Do we need a comprehensive learning management system (LMS)?
The district’s new initiative is called “Learning Without Limits,” and teachers wanted to customize their instruction and personalize learning for each student. From a district level, they wanted resources in one place that everyone could access. They wanted an LMS that talked to their student information system and would maximize their ability to create and share digital content. Oshkosh teachers used a variety of digital applications and software programs, including Google Classroom, but recognized that Google Classroom was a transactional space with no standards-based learning feature and did not support teachers, students, and parents. In short, a good tool, but not an LMS.
Administrators say Oshkosh students and their parents were managing numerous online accounts and logins, and teachers spent too much time cobbling together content and resources to support their lessons. The district’s technology leaders knew a real LMS would create new and more efficient workflows—“a transformational change instead of everyday transactions,” said Corey Jeffers, a technology integration coach for Oshkosh. They decided an LMS was essential to reaching their technology-initiative goals and ensuring the best education and opportunities for their students. “Teachers don't realize LMSs have changed so much and come with accessibility and universal design features. They don't realize how interoperable they are,” said Kristi Levy, a technology coach for Oshkosh.
Canvas is like looking in your kid's backpack, opening their folders and opening their binders with them.
Technology Coach, Oshkosh Area School District
In agreement that an LMS was essential to the success of its 1:1 initiative, Oshkosh’s technology team led the initial research and evaluation of options, and then narrowed it down to three finalists. A teacher-based selection committee, comprised of teachers from different grade and technology levels, was then assembled to pilot, evaluate, and ultimately choose the district’s new learning management system. Using an evaluation rubric created by their administration and technology team based on district priorities, teachers compared and evaluated critical areas including ease of use, curriculum, integrations, technical operations, and support. Canvas scored high in areas that were important to teachers: standards-based assessments using Common Core standards and a learning mastery gradebook to help along the way. Teachers reported Canvas worked well with other tools and apps, especially the Google Drive integration, and that course-building and content-importing were easier in Canvas than in the other LMSs. Oshkosh was encouraged by the support they received from Canvas throughout their evaluation, which ensured the product and its capabilities met their needs.
After an extensive evaluation, Oshkosh chose Canvas, and began training administrators and teachers (with Canvas Support team guidance) in the summer of 2015.
In fall of 2015, teachers who completed the initial summer training began using Canvas with students. In conjunction with this implementation, the district’s technology coaches created a robust, multi-level professional-development program that offered an array of training, including:
- Getting started in a connected classroom for reluctant users
- Blended learning in Canvas
- Professional development with a for-credit course from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh
- Integrations of other software and tools, including Google Classroom
Teachers have already noticed a difference when using a true LMS in conjunction with Google: “With Canvas, there’s more potential, it gives you more opportunities in the classrooms to do what you want to do versus classrooms that are a little more constricting. There are only a couple functions you can do with Google Classroom versus Canvas; the opportunities are endless, the potential is endless,” said Patrick Lawton, a social studies teacher at Oshkosh West High School.
With such a strong foundation in place, early Canvas adopters are now focusing on innovating pedagogy, increasing student achievement, improving communication, and providing new opportunities for personalized learning. Alexandra Griffith, an English teacher at Oshkosh West High School, said, “With Canvas we have the ability to reach more students and individualize our instruction more, to differentiate when need be. So it just makes it easier to manage and do all those tasks, and we’re reaching more than just the ‘middle student.’”
Oshkosh’s commitment to a 1:1 initiative fueled the quest for and implementation of a new LMS that has already begun improving workflows and communication. The goal of Oshkosh’s 1:1 initiative is so much more than just a device for every student; it’s about empowering them to take control of their own educational journeys, anytime, anywhere.
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