Unleash Your LMS: Preparing Faculty to Embrace All Capabilities of Today's Learning Management Systems

By Shein, Esther | University Business, February 2017 | Go to article overview

Unleash Your LMS: Preparing Faculty to Embrace All Capabilities of Today's Learning Management Systems


Shein, Esther, University Business


Online faculty at Castleton University don't just dole out tests--they take them, too. Full- and part-time instructors who have no experience teaching online with Moodies learning management system work through a self-paced, six-module course created by associate academic dean Cathy Kozlik.

The course resides on a Vermont State Colleges System Moodle Sandbox website, where professors can practice setting up their own classes.

The lessons teach professors how to introduce themselves online, and how to create the course, syllabus and assignments. But not every instructor passes the final. "We have had a couple of individuals who were experts in their particular field but not very good at online," Kozlik says. "I have spent hours on the phone with those individuals stepping them through the process."

Most U.S. colleges and universities have an LMS for academic activities, including posting syllabuses, grading and sending out announcements. But the level of usage varies depending on the school and the instructor. Not surprisingly, observers say newer faculty are more likely to embrace and even expect their LMS to have all the features they need to teach a course.

There are three basic reasons instructors may embrace an LMS: convenience, compliance and as a hub where students can find all their course material, says George Kroner, product director at data services firm Client Stat, which runs the Edutechnica blog that publishes an annual LMS update.

"You use LMSs to meet that particular desire for students to have a reasonably good online experience," says Kroner. "Students demand it--they're used to growing up with consumer technology that is extremely user-friendly and responsive, and they expect the same of their university experience as well."

When it comes to technology adoption or technology upgrades, "many schools are slow-moving beasts," says Kroner. That said, Kroner sees higher ed catching up, either by installing the latest versions of traditional systems or by implementing modern, cloud-based, native solutions.

"All signs are very encouraging that they are cresting some sort of hump and taking their educational technology more seriously and more proactively than in years past," he says.

And as institutions implement the new technology, campus administrators are taking action to ensure faculty can use an LMS to its full potential.

Boosting student engagement

Lack of interaction between students and instructors can prevent an LMS from getting full use.

Blackboard studied more than 3 million students using its Learn system at 927 North American higher ed institutions in 2016. The majority of courses (53 percent) fell into the content-heavy, low student-interaction category. Students in 24 percent of courses were using Learn mainly for one-way teacher/ student communication.

Only about one in 10 courses included high peer-to-peer interaction through discussion boards.

Ryan Hazen, the academic technologist and instructional designer at Carroll College in Montana, says faculty are slow to adopt, but would find lots of use for Moodies LMS features. Workshop, for instance, lets faculty and students conduct peer assessments, and Rubrics provides an advanced grading platform.

"The creation and replication of rubrics is very flexible and you can do all sorts neat stuff with it," Hazen says. "I think a lot of faculty are still at the point where they need a stack of papers and red pen. Most of the faculty at this point in history were educated in a time when there wasn't an online classroom."

Part of Hazens job is to help faculty transition to developing interactive and engaging courses. "A lot of faculty haven't seen an online course before," he says. "Younger faculty find me almost immediately when they get here--newly minted faculty have an expectation there will be an LMS available. …

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