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 LMS, Canvas by Instructure, Edmodo, 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.
- "Sorry Edmodo...Switching to Schoology" from my friend Jennie Magiera
- "Learning with Schoology in the Kindergarten Classroom."
How about you? Which LMS do you like and why?