Navigate: LMS Tool Categories Quest

posted May 18, 2016, 4:48 PM by Emily Kroutil   [ updated May 19, 2016, 8:01 AM ]
Learning Management Systems (LMS) offer a wide-variety of tools.  Some are useful to teachers, but not so much to administrators, and some are useful to students, but really don't offer much to teachers or administrators.  Often, an LMS will have lots of tools available and the administrators and students, but everyone doesn't always use all of the tools.  To me, as a teacher, these are the features that are the most useful to me when teaching online:
  • Informative Dashboard
    • I like a dashboard to have a calendar so students can see what is coming up (and also what we've already done).  Sometimes, I've seen calendars that directly link to the assignment, which is pretty handy.  Usually this means that when you create the assignment, it automatically populates the calendar, which saves a step.
    • I like when the dashboard displays announcements.  A pop-up for the first announcement is nice, and then if it keeps the announcement visible so students can continue to see the announcement is also helpful.

  • Announcements
    • I like to post things like "test coming up on such and such day", "make sure you study the following:..."
  • Assignment Submission
    • It's helpful in a virtual class to have a way for students to submit their assignments through the LMS.  Submitting assignments via email is messy and makes it difficult to grade them.  With an LMS, the assignments are often organized together and can be graded quickly and easily
    • Having a way to annotate or make comments on submitted assignments is also quite handy.
  • Multiple pages to organize content
    • If you are going to put an entire course worth of content online, it is important to have a way to organize that content.  I like having a "page" for each unit.  I also like to have every unit published at once, so students that like to look ahead can do so.
    • It's also useful if each page can be organized in some way.  Whether that is multiple columns or content blocks within the page
    • A way to upload photos and files.  If the LMS has a large storage capacity, that is even better.  Although, if necessary, I've been known to upload information to Dropbox or Google Drive and link to it in my LMS in order to not exceed the free storage limit.

  • Self-graded Assessments
    • I don't mind if I have to create the assessments on the front-end.  I get it.  Not every LMS is aligned with every textbook, but the software should be able to grade the assessments.  Coding-wise, that's not a difficult feature and it saves SO much time.
    • I also like it when an LMS allows quizzes to be available for students to review after they are due.  That way they can use them to study.

  • Discussions
    • In a completely virtual class, it is nice to have a discussion area where students can reflect on what they've read or have an asynchronous discussion about the things they've learned.
    • Having a way virtual chat would be useful too, but I'm not sure if any service offers this embedded in the LMS.  Maybe Blackboard?
  • Place to organize/view grades
    • Even if the LMS doesn't hold all of the grades and you use a different SIS to tabulate the student's final grade, it is helpful to have a place where you can view their grades, if only just to be able to enter them in the official SMS.
    • It would also be helpful if the LMS had a variety of ways to look at the assessment data - which questions are most frequently missed, assessment averages, which wrong choices are most frequently chosen, etc.  I've found that by analyzing this type of data, I gain quite a bit of insight into how the students are understanding the material and where the greatest misconceptions lie.

Administrators might have different features that are most helpful to them and students likely won't care about some of the features that I find really important.  But from my perspective as the teacher and content curator, these features are most useful to me.
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