Pioneering the Use of Learning Management Systems in K-12 Education
Hill, Ezra E., Distance Learning
In the Baltimore City Public School System (BCPSS), many of the teachers, administrators, staff, and students are using the district's learning management system (LMS) as a part of their daily practice. The Teacher Student Support System, or TS as it is now called, unites the entire professional learning community across the district. TS , which is powered by Blackboard, loads a portal page that offers quick links to the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE), the BCPSS intranet site, the BCPSS Technology Plan, the district's Media Center catalogue, Discovery Education/Unitedstreaming, the BCPSS Master Plan, and a plethora of network resources.
Andres Alonso, the system's chief executive officer, uses TS to communicate with the staff through weekly and monthly newsletters. The BCPSS school calendar and other circulars are also offered as links. There is a tab for and links to educational opportunities. Other information, such as grant opportunities, surveys, and pertinent announcements are also featured. The "See What's New" section keeps users abreast of recent developments in BCPSS. TS3 "Users of the Week" are featured with a digital photo and a link to their personal testimony. Other BCPSS publications are featured, as well. The Parent Portal is the portion of TS3 that provides access (for parents) to student courses, resources, and grades. The uses of TS3 are limited only by the imagination of its developers.
The vision began with Bert Ross, the manager of the LMS, about 10 years ago. He received a federal Technology Innovation Challenge Grant and set out to, as he says, "create an electronic learning community so that teachers could break out of their walled classrooms and share resources across the district" (in Shein, 2008, para. 2). His efforts led him to Blackboard, a platform that offered the ease and functionality that Ross required. The project was aptly named "the Teacher Support System," or TSS. It was piloted with a group of six middle school teachers. Its eventual success led to its growth into every grade level and into every school. Today, the district uses the LMS to post 27,00 classes online for 83,000 students and 6,200 teachers. More than 2,500 Baltimore city teachers currently use TS3 at least twice a week. Teachers use TS3 to post announcements and to disseminate assignments and resources. Some teachers use the Discussion Board feature and the Digital Drop Box. The assessment feature allows teachers to post tests and quizzes that are automatically graded and entered into the online grade book. The latest, upgraded version (Blackboard 8) even allows for blogs, podcasts, and wikis. Through TS3, educators and students are offered the opportunity to receive professional development and training online. This service is delivered through a multitude of resources, including print media, audio, and video.
Michael A. Smith, a functional analyst and BCPSS TS3/Blackboard guru, considers himself to be a Bert Ross disciple. Smith says that TS is "mission critical" (in Shein, 2008, para. 7) to the district's operation. He adds, "It's a one-stop shop. Teachers can plan a lesson, see the curriculum, store and obtain resources, engage their students, be notified of upcoming professional development, get informed on happenings in the district - they can do it all packaged at this one location." As a former math teacher, Smith has seen the system's potential and benefits firsthand. He adds, "It was a way for me to share information without having to run to 20 different machines." He also found that this platform served to motivate his students. "In a typical algebra classroom" he says, "if you ask a question you may get one or two hands. By using the discussion board or chat feature associated with this application, you may get 100 hits within 15 minutes. It is student-to-student learning. You become the facilitator and not the person who has all of the knowledge. If you use this technology in the way students are accustomed to, you get the desired outcome. …