Saturday, January 19, 2013

Why I Chose Schoology Over All the Rest

With so many Learning Management Systems (LMS) to choose from, which one should you adopt in your classroom?

Without a doubt, Blackboard has the largest market share in the field of LMS's, and I believe it's because they were one of the first companies to offer a product many colleges and school districts needed.  However, being the biggest company out there doesn't equate it to being the best.  I've tried Blackboard and found it frustrating.  Their layout is clumsy and their features are illogically named.  One of my colleagues told me that they actually sell a Blackboard for Dummies.  Surely an LMS shouldn't be that complicated.

Many dissatisfied users of Blackboard have turned to alternatives such as Moodle, Haiku LMSCanvas by InstructureEdmodo, and Schoology.  Not having truly tried Moodle beyond a superficial dabbing, I can't render an opinion.  However, I have used the latter four extensively with my many classes.

Haiku and Edmodo are great products.  These sites are aesthetically pleasing to the eye and are easy to navigate.   I know many who love these products, and I do, too.  I thought my search was over.  I could easily have chosen either of them for my classes.

Until I found Schoology.

Schoology has a Facebook-like feel to it, with its news feed (called Updates) and the ability to upload your picture or avatar.  Students and teachers can post to the Updates page and "like" or add comments.  Since most of my students are 13 or older, this similarity to Facebook is a big plus.  No need to purchase a Schoology for Dummies with this product.  I'm sure such a book would never exist.

What makes Schoology a clear winner is that it works well multiple platforms - whether you're using a web browser, smartphone, tablet, or even the Kindle Fire.  I can't think of many products that offer this last option.

So what about Canvas?  Canvas also has a clean interface and is definitely superior to Blackboard in its ease of use.  As a matter of fact, Canvas was created by two computer science graduate students who were inspired by the comment, "Think of the worse software you use and you probably have a business idea."  They realized that it was Blackboard, and thus, Canvas was born.

I really liked Canvas, too.  Navigating through their website is easy, and they have an awesome iPad app called SpeedGrader that allowed me to give audio and video feedback for student assignments while reclining on my couch.  However, it was originally created for colleges and graduate schools, and it looked serious and plain, not quite as appealing for the younger students.   (Nevertheless, it looks like Blackboard has some competition here because in December of 2010, the Utah Education Network of 17 colleges chose Canvas to replace Blackboard, and they've continue to convert many other universities since then.)

In the end, I found Edmodo to be most similar to Schoology, but I discovered that Schoology has richer features and does everything I want.

In my English language arts class, discussions are vital to my needs.  The only place to host discussion on Edmodo is on its "wall," which over time becomes buried.  I appreciate the fact that Schoology has its own discussion section, and I can create different topics for my students to discuss.  These discussion threads are always stored separately, and I can go back at any time to check them or view a student's response.  Plus, Schoology offers analytics so all  I have to do is click one button and instantly I can see how many times a student participated.



Additionally, I can embed videos, insert a link, or host my Google Slides in these discussion threads.  This is great for flipped learning because students can react to these teaching resources in the comments below.  Lastly, I am given the option to score their responses if I wish to grade them on their contributions.

Schoology also has some nice features like creating students groups.  If your class sits in teams like mine, this comes in handy if you want to issue group assignments.  A quick click to assign work to a pre-determined group, and you're go to go.  You can also assign work to individual students.  Another nice feature is the ability to align your lesson to the Common Core or to your specific state's standards.  This is helpful if your site administrator wants to see how your lesson meets these standards.

Being an English language arts teacher, I tend to assign written responses and essay exams, but I think many teachers who teach other content areas would appreciate the rich features offered by Schoology when it came to quizzes.  Here's a brief overview of what options you have as a teacher.

  • Create timed tests.  You can time the entire test or time each question.  This deters cheating since students won't have enough time to look up the answers on the Internet.  
  • Randomize the questions and the answers.  Students who sit next each other will have different questions even if they're on the same number.  On top of that, even if they're on the same question, the multiple choice answers can be randomized.
  • Create math tests with formulas in the test question and test answer.
  • If students are taking the test on the iPad and they exit the Schoology app, the test will end and be scored at that point.  This also prevents students from going on the Internet to look up the answers.  (Of course, if you allow students to retake the test multiple times, then they can try again so keep this in mind.)
  • There are many types of test questions available: True/False, Multiple Choice, Fill-in-the-Blank, Reorder, Matching, Short Answer/Essay.
  • The quizzes can be self-grading.
  • There's an option to allow students to retake the quiz multiple times (as a teacher you determine the number of tries you will accept).
  • You have the ability to score answers on the best score out of X number of tries or on the last score.
  • You can configure it so that only one test question is viewable at a time.
  • You can determine when the quizzes will be available 

Here's a screenshot of one of my classes in Schoology.  I love how organized it looks.



I've been converted.  And I'll never look back.

Here are a couple more resources to check out.


How about you?  Which LMS do you like and why?

42 comments:

  1. Thanks for the breakdown here of your featured LMSs. As a doctoral student, I have become very familiar with BB for the last 3 years and I can tell you it is still not an inviting interface from the student standpoint. Their acquisition and integration of Elluminate or BB Connect is far superior to Wimba which was horrible for synchronous meetings. In the end, from a teacher's and technology coach's (me) standpoint, Schoology is still the top choice.

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  2. I start Schoology tomorrow after 3 years of Edmodo. I feel like such a cheater! Edmodo got a little too cluttered and its test feature hasn't advanced. Work always gets lost on the wall. I love the organization of schoology as well-I hope it doesn't let me down. Thanks for the review!

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  3. JDungan,
    Thanks for reading my post! I'm glad that you also feel that Schoology is a top choice. I have not yet met anyone who can sing the praises of Blackboard.
    Alice

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  4. Robin,
    Thanks for stopping by my blog. I agree that the wall is not meant for academic learning. It's fine if students want to ask a quick question about an assignment, but not if they need to post discussions. I hope Schoology works out for you, too. I'm a huge fan because it's made my life easier! Let me know if I can help in any way.
    Alice

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  5. Hi Alice,

    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences! I am in the process now of reviewing our LMS options and presently put both Schoology and Haiku LMS at the top of my list. I just wanted to add a few points to the discussion:

    1. Haiku now supports Google Apps integration. I can easily select one of my Google Docs and submit it as an assignment.

    2. Although not as ideal as Schoology's native iOS app, Haiku now has a student web site that is optimized for mobile devices. Their native iOS app is in the works and is due out this summer.

    Thanks!
    Ken

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  6. Hi Ken,

    I appreciate the feedback. I've updated my blog to respond to the two points you raised.

    1. I verified with Haiku, and they said that only students from a Google Apps for Education school can use the Google integration in Haiku. With Schoology, there's more freedom since students can also use their personal Google accounts, a big advantage for schools that haven't deployed Google Apps for their students.

    2. I'm glad to hear that Haiku will be coming out with an app. I know many teachers who have been told two years ago that it was going to be released back in 2012, but it never materialized. As for Haiku's mobile web version, it still has more limitations than Schoology's, but I agree that it's a long-awaited improvement from before.

    Thanks for visiting my blog.

    Alice

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  7. Hi Alice,

    Thanks for taking the time to clarify those two points. Hearing from others who have gone through this selection process is extremely helpful.

    Thanks,
    Ken

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  8. Hi Alice,

    Just dropping by from Haiku to clarify that Haiku/Google is an awesome combination if your school uses Google Apps for Education. In fact, we offer _more_ google integration features than any other LMS if your school uses Google Apps.

    We have been slow to release our native iOS app, but it's looking amazing and will be out this summer ('13).

    Schoology is also a great product and we're glad you're happy with them!

    -Anthony Showalter
    VP Strategy and Business Development
    http://www.haikulearning.com/

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    1. Hi Anthony,

      Thanks for dropping by. It's nice to hear from your perspective, and I know many will be glad to know that Haiku will be releasing an app soon.

      Best,
      Alice

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  9. Thanks for detailing your thoughts, Alice! Our school switched from Moodle to Canvas this year, and we've generally been happy with it. Canvas has recently improved its integration with Google Apps, which has been great, given that we're also a GAFE school. We're hoping, though, that the peer review system and calendar also receive similar improvements in the near future. Canvas also has an iOS app, but it's really only for students. It'll allow them to record audio/video directly in discussion forum posts, which makes for a fantastic mobile tool for foreign language teachers.

    We chose Canvas over Haiku, even though we really liked what Haiku offered. Our decision was largely based on the "disruption" factor Canvas would introduce, in that it has the potential to inspire new ways of thinking about pedagogy, so we hope.

    The biggest downside right now for us is the variety of ways one can set up a course. We love the different tools that Canvas offers, but students have found the different course structures problematic and sometimes unintuitive. We're working toward more of a unified structure to page design, while also allowing for creativity and flexibility.

    I'm eager to see how others are making effective use of their LMS, and so I'd love to hear more of your thoughts, as you continue to explore Schoology!

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    1. AnonymousJune 07, 2013

      We're in a similar position and have reviewed a number of LMSs as well. What you've detailed about Canvas is EXACTLY the same that we've documented. Although the interface looks clean and inviting, it's quite cumbersome to navigate content within Canvas. And if you've ever tried importing content from a Blackboard course, you might as well just delete it and start from scratch... The whole import process is very unintuitive.

      Overall, I'd love to give Canvas a thumbs up since it does provide that wonderful contextual help. But the lack of a streamlined interface with visual aids such as icons in the main course navigation, make using the system a completely different experience from the initial impression.

      We've noted a similar initial response to Schoology, as it seems to lend itself more to the Facebook look, which will end up supporting user adoption, but the big differentiator is that the views can be easily switched from update to materials, similar to a traditional LMS.

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  10. Hi Moss,

    Thanks for your detailed input. Glad to have you visit my blog.

    Have you tried using Canvas' SpeedGrader app? It's really handy for grading on the iPad. With it, you can provide audio, video, and text feedback. It even allows grading with a rubric, too.

    Alice

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  11. Hi Alice - enjoyed reading your article. I've setup and been admin for Moodle, Edmodo, Haiku and (in a recent field test) Schoology. A couple of things that might be helpful:

    I would look very closely at the integration of Schoology with Google Apps. At the moment I don't think it's been implemented very well at all. An example of this is when you submit a document (either as a resource or for an assignment submission) Schoology makes a pdf copy of it, rather than keeping a link or embed to the doc itself. This may seem a small matter, but in practice it creates all sorts of issues.

    We found the annotation and feedback module in Schoology to be almost impossible to use productively, and would often crash. There are big inconsistencies between the workflow for marking assignments online and on the iOS app.

    You CAN upload and download files via the Schoology iOS app - via the 'Open In' dialogue - this is an advantage over Haiku, although imagine this will be enabled in their upcoming iOS app.

    We encountered many authentication issues with students/teachers able to log in to Schoology on the web but not on iOS, and this would change from day to day.

    If you use Google Apps Edu, Haiku's integration is superb, with SSO and proper docs / calendars / mail etc all linked.

    Rik

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    1. Hi Rik,

      Thanks for your input.

      I'm interested in why you feel that making a pdf copy of the Google Doc would create problems. As for authentication issues, I've never encountered them with Schoology at my school. Since I teach in a 1:1 iPad classroom, we've only been able to use Schoology on the iPads, and we've always been able to log in without issues.

      I, too, am interested in what the Haiku app would bring. It seems that developers are constantly working on their products, and I look forward to improvements each time there's an update.

      Thanks for stopping by.

      Alice

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  12. Thanks for sharing. I have used Edmodo and I almost don't consider it an LMS. It is more of a social tool for in class work. I find students can use it to post questions and we can poll eachother but its not based with the workflow that I need to run my class as a blended high school class.

    Schoology is a close 2nd on my top LMS list right now. Although it does many of the same things that Canvas can do it has too many bugs and annoyances, like course set and grouping and workflow that force me to move away from it. It does have a modern social like feel to it though which is nice at times and sort of annoying at times.

    I think Canvas meets my needs as an educator. It provides a very clean interface and easy to post and update content. I can allow for multiple assignment turn in, graded and ungraded assignments, peer reviewed work and even grouping. It allows me to upload content and even has a quiz option for writing formulas. Love it.

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  13. Thank you so much for this wonderful review. I am working on a product review and though I have a free account, I would never have discovered all these great features without your help. I too currently use Edmodo and am swayed by some of the excellent things Schoology has to offer.

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  14. Hi Brandi,

    Thank you for your kind words. I hope Schoology will fit your needs. :)

    Alice

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  15. Hi,

    Thanks for the very informative post. This pointed me to schoology, and I am just beginning to try out schoology and edmodo to see which one fits my needs best. I also found Edu2.0 which seems to have fewer free resources, though.

    One thing I have seen that is easier and better with edmodo is the "poll" function. It just doesn't look as good or work as smoothly in schoology (after one try, that is what I conclude...) -but that is a minor problem.

    I'm also thinking about whether one of the two might be easier if I want to use Jing for student feedback. Do you have any experience to share?

    Lastly, which may be more important than I have yet figured out - how do these platforms work overseas? I'm in Sweden, and haven't seen many Europeans at schoology yet. What limitations might there be for us? I see that customer service is quick to help overseas teachers get their accounts verified, but other than that, I don't know if I may encounter any problems on either of these platforms. -Of course, I don't expect you to have knowledge about this matter, I'm just asking anyway...

    Have a good day over there,

    Cecilia

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  16. Hi Cecilia,

    Thank you for taking the time to read my post. I love that my blog has made its way to Sweden!

    Unfortunately, I'm not sure how well Schoology works outside of the United States, but since it's a free LMS, I think it's definitely worth trying.

    Personally, I've found that the Schoology team has been quick and courteous whenever I reached out to them with questions or needed assistance. I've only had positive experiences with them.

    Good luck!

    Alice

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  17. Hi,

    Thanks for posting about Schoology it was really useful.

    We are just about to start using it for the first time and we have a few fears!

    We were hoping to move towards paperless homework and recoup some of the time we lose checking homework in the lesson or marking it at home. However, some of the things we were hoping to do wont work as we had hoped.

    For exampple, in terms of quizzes I find it frustrating that true/false questions cannot be made into one section with multiple true/false questions. It is messy having each one as a seperate question.

    Also, manually reviewing subjective/long answer questions seems very cumbersome, I wonder if there is an easy way?

    I am a language arts teacher and I would like to give them reading comprehesion activities to do at home on Schoology. I am not keen on them opening a seperate PDF with the text and referring to that as they answer the quizzes (although that would work OK I dreamed of everything being integrated). I would like to insert the text at the top of the quiz and have it pinned there as they scroll through the questions below.

    If anyone has found better ways to do these things I would be very glad to hear from you!

    Regards,

    Mike

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    1. Mike, you might try copying/pasting the text you want them to read as part of *each* question. Then set it the quiz to have each question on a different page. That way, the text they need to read is always visible together with each question.

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    2. Hi Mike,

      I have found that Schoology is open to suggestion and change. For example, many teachers asked for badges, and now Schoology offers them. Like many companies, Schoology is constantly evolving and will try to meet the needs of their users to the best of their abilities.

      I recommend posting your suggestion on Schoology's Community Feature Request page at https://support.schoology.com/forums/22550347-Community-Feature-Requests

      You can also try the idea from the person who commented above. (Thank you, Anonymous!)

      Thanks for visiting my blog!

      Alice

      Delete
  18. Thanks for the article. I am hoping that Schoology will introduce small groups (sub-groups within a class for example) like Edmodo have. If they do that we would seriously consider swapping our school over to Schoology.

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  19. Jonathan, I have good news for you. You can create groups in Schoology. It's a new feature that was added in the spring of this year. Here's the post on how: https://www.schoology.com/group/25228991/blog/post/37810723. :)

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  20. Thank you for posting information to help sort through of of the choices for LMS. However, as an MAT student trying to get a jump on the technology available and create a bit of a game plan for when I hit the classroom I feel overwhelmed! I have played with Edmodo, looked at Schoology, Haiku, and Google Sites. Have also played with other tools that seem to integrate well into an LMS system - like LiveBinder and Educlipper. But just got an email "introducing" the new assignments feature in Educlipper. Sure is looking like Educlipper is moving into the LMS market. So - is there one resource where you can see very detailed side by side comparisons of these tools? There are obvious pros and cons for each but trying to make an informed decision is becoming impossible!!! I realize that some tools the school must pay for and others are free and that certainly will play into the equation. What I ideally want is a tool where I can create groups, manage assignments, allow for real-time chats, have a calendar, rubrics, permit access by parents, allow for tracking formative and summative assessments - and have integrated email. I guess I don't want much :-) Any guidance greatly appreciated.

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    1. Hi Sharon,

      You asked for "a tool where [you] can create groups, manage assignments, allow for real-time chats, have a calendar, rubrics, permit access by parents, allow for tracking formative and summative assessments." You actually just described some of the features found in Schoology! :)

      Alice

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  21. Thanks Alice, that's great!

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  22. Has anyone tried Open Class by Pearson? What are your thoughts?

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  23. Thank you for the helpful comments.

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  24. Great information! Thanks a lot.

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  25. We are looking at replacing Edline for 2015-16 as our K-8 LMS. A big concern for us is ease of use for our parents. A specific issue is the ability to log in just once to see a combined calendar, check each child's class, etc.. A nearby high school that many of our students attend use canvas and that is a specific complaint of parents.

    Any info would be quite helpful, thank you.

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    1. Hi Mark,

      Teachers can give parents a specific code that links up their account to their child's so that they can also log in and see all the information the teacher has provided for the class.

      Thanks for reading my blog.

      Alice

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    2. Do you have an efficient and effective way of distributing the parent account codes?

      Delete
  26. https://www.schoology.com/group/25228991/blog/post/48706661
    Another awesome feature on schoology.. Let the gamification begin!

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  27. I just happened upon this post and noticed it's almost two years old. I'm wondering if you still feel the same and what might be updated.

    Thanks!

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  28. HI Jennifer,

    I still think Schoology is the best LMS out there, and they are improving it all the time based on user feedback. Like Ulisses shared above, there are more new features. Check out his link and the Schoology blog for the latest updates.

    Alice

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  29. Teachers can give parents a specific code that links up their account to their child's so that they can also log in and see all the information the teacher has provided for the class.facebook

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  30. Emily McNeil
    Badge 1

    I think Schoology gives students a platform similar to what they use on their social media sites which makes their school work feel more like a fun activity rather than a tedious task. The ability to put assessments on Schoology as well as submitting test questions and answers with audio files appeals to me as a band director. I'm looking forward to using this platform with my classes and hope we stick with the same one this time. It will be a good way to communicate with classes as well as sharing information they need to help them be successful.

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  31. is your review based on the use of the free version of Schoology?

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    1. Yes, I've only used the free version my students.

      Delete
  32. You should try NEO LMS, I’m sure that both you and your students will love it, it has a lot more cool and useful features.

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    1. Thanks for the recommendation, Olivia. I'll check it out!

      Delete