"Do We Really Need a LMS 'Layer'?"

I love the scene in Shrek where Shrek explains to Donkey that, “Ogres are like onions, they have layers”. It’s a great analogy that plays upon itself since Donkey interjects guesses as to what this means, adding unnecessary layers to the conversation.

Often, technology adds layers of complication by the nature of adding something new to what we have done before. For instance, it used to be that if you went to someone’s house, you could turn on their TV and it was a simple task to watch a TV show. But this summer I spent a number of nights couch surfing with friends and family and it seemed that everywhere I went I needed a guide book to tell me which remote turned on the TV, DVD, PVR and/or satellite receiver. “First turn the TV on with this remote, then you need to select the input with this remote, then you change the satellite stations with this remote.” Layers, layers, layers!

– – –

I’m at a small school with under 200 kids. To start this year off, my senior teachers and I have just implemented a 1-1 Bring Your Own Laptop program at our school for our 50 senior students. One key thing that I spent a fair amount of time thinking about was, “What Learning Management System (LMS) do I think we should use?” The answer I finally came up with is ‘NONE’!

Well, that’s not exactly true, but what I actually decided to do was to remove an unnecessary layer of management, or rather, I decided to remove an unnecessary layer of tools needed to be learned before my teachers and students could start talking advantage of the power of being one-to-one.

Instead of Moodle or Sharepoint or any other LMS, my 3 teachers and I are signed up with Edublog Pro accounts. This gives us more than enough freedom to sign students up for ad-free blogging (and ultimately e-portfolio) accounts. We’re now adding student blogs to Google Reader and our next step is to set up specific blog categories for our students so that their work becomes more easily searchable in our Readers.

Our teachers are going to use the blogs in slightly different ways, but two key things are important:

1. Sharing. We are sharing the links to our Google Reader folders (one for each grade), and we will be posting these on our blogs and making it easy for students to access other students’ work. Commenting and contributing to each others’ work will be an expectation in our classes. As students get familiar with sharing, we hope to extend this beyond the school… though it already is, as all the blogs are open to public viewing.

2. Documenting. We will use our blogs for classes across the curriculum and we will have students create blog pages as a form of digital e-portfolio(s).This isn’t about polished work, it is about a digital record of student learning. I love Jan Smith’s quote on her class blog, Huzzah!:

“Please notice our successes, not our mistakes. Our blog is a invitation to see what we are up to. Some of our work will be polished, and some will be in draft form. Please honour our attempts.”

We are documenting our learning journeys and sharing them… with the world!

To get students started with blogging, I first offered sign-up instructions.


Then I created a challenging scavenger hunt that helps teach students to:

• Create their own blog posts.

• Link to a blog post

• Add images to their posts (and give appropriate credit for them)

• Comment on a blog


I’ve done this because all 3 of my teachers are new to blogging and so I want to support them as well as their students. The scavenger hunt is something I’ve done before, as a means to help students learn how to appropriately use the digital tools we plan to use.

We’ve had a few challenges though, as things don’t always work as they should (especially here in China). Despite checking it out first, most students could not access the photo sharing site I linked to, and we are temporarily shut out of Edublogs right now. There are often issues that we must face when dealing with technology… there can be layers of challenges on top of the challenges learning itself provides. This is why it is so important not to add unnecessary layers to what we do!

Throughout the year teachers may use wikis, mind-mapping tools and many other interactive/social websites for different projects, but through the use of Edublogs and Google Reader, we have the tools we need to manage, track, link to, and store what our students do online. I have not looked into them yet, but Edublogs even has discussion forums that we might use as well. It is our blogging and portfolio tool and also our learning management tool. So, why add another layer to this? Why add an additional LMS? This would just be another layer that both teachers and students need to learn in order to share what they are already sharing. It’s an add-on that adds on more stress and greater challenges rather than something that serves us. Learning Management Systems are not (yet) user-friendly enough. They consume both training and learning time.

For a big organization a LMS might make sense, but for a classroom or a small school, why add an unnecessary layer?


Related to the topic of sharing, see:

Dean Shareski on Sharing: The Moral Imperative and David Cormier on being Open and Connected. Also, for administrators and school leaders, check out Connected Principals.

Connected Principals

We live in an amazingly connected world and there is tremendous value in administrators, teachers and students sharing what they do.

18 comments on “Moodle Schmoodle and no point to Sharepoint

  1. I think size has a significant influence on this decision. But also, organizations, certainly here in BC have a responsibility to provide private, safe in-house spaces for aspects of their work including for students. Our approach is to have a common safe secure platform AND to embrace external tools and services. The next big thing is to easily marry the two. Students, I believe, need to make a gradual shift from K to 12 where their learning portfolio increasingly exists outside our walls BUT there needs to be easy connections back into the secure space for teacher assessment, parent access, etc. Both and is the approach that I think is a win-win.

    BTW, Sharepoint isn`t an LMS 🙂 It`s a content management and portal platform. An LMS can be added on top but as you say, it adds complexity so that so far we have not gone down that road with it.

  2. Thanks for the input Brian!

    Having been both a teacher and an administrator in your district, I’ve always been impressed with your support for me as someone who tended to push the envelope (and always went beyond the use of Sharepoint). I know Sharepoint is getting much more user-friendly, but I still see it as a very challenging ‘layer’ for teachers that are not tech savvy.

    For a large district I think your ‘AND’ approach is exactly what is needed.

    If I had just two messages to share in this post they would be:
    1. Don’t add any technical layers you don’t need to add in order for students and teachers to engage with learning tools. and,
    2. SHARE what you and your students do!

    With respect to #1, using a blogging platform and feed reader as the management tools makes blogging easier to enter as you need to learn the blogging tool anyway and the reader is a one-time set-up.
    With respect to #2, I wonder just how gradual we need to be in shifting “outside our walls” for student to share their work? For example, Maria Knee’s KinderKids are sharing their whole classroom with the world: http://classblogmeister.com/blog.php?blogger_id=51141

    Beyond that you bring up excellent points about having a secure space for assessment etc. and that definitely goes beyond my post. The (secure) district portal, (AND it’s easy link to external tools), is important… but for the sake of my post, what I really wanted to share is that on a small scale of a classroom or a single school, it is easy to get started and keep the technical ‘layers’ to a minimum!

  3. On reading your post, I found a lot to agree with, particularly since my experience has been with a small district and small schools. Brian’s observation about wanting to keep in-house spaces for students in order to manage safety and confidentiality issues is one I have read on many occasions. In our district, we have tried using FirstClass to meet the in-house needs, but, without much success. Some teachers have opted for the Google tools for work with students, and some have chosen Blogger. I don’t know of any who have chosen Edublogs.

    That aside, one of the more difficult things has been to have teachers embrace ANY system for sharing student work, whether within the classroom, the school, or beyond. And, many of the teachers who have supported that idea as a tool for learning have been ones who have not had permanent contracts in the district and so their work with these tools has been very short term. Yes, there are some teachers with seniority who have embraced change, but not many, and, my thinking is that the sharing is the important concept, as highlighted in the K12 keynote you link to above by Dean Shareski. I will be working with some teachers in two weeks at our district’s smallest secondary school about using blogs and perhaps moving to a school based wiki. I’m hopeful that Blogger and Google Reader will be all they need to get rolling.

  4. Hi Dave,
    another great post with a lot of great questions. I really like the layer analogy because I think that is a source of frustration. Sharepoint does offer a lot of opportunities and benefits but it does open up some concerns. I know trying to explain to my staff and the intranet vs internet is confusing to some and then we talk about the privacy issue about what can or should be posted where. This is a layer, perhaps a necessary one, but a layer that neverless adds confusion and frustration. Also platforms that struggle with Macs is an issue because there are signigicant numbers of families and staff with a Mac that can trumped by sharepoint or other systems (don’t want to call sharepoint an LMS per BKuhn), another layer to deal with.
    I am pleased that many members of my staff are willing to become engaged, but every time a new layer is thrown their way, I can see the exitement become deflated very quickly. Change the version, change the policies, change the set-up… these things are not good for the faint of heart. I find myself scrambling to remove those layers or find ways around them.
    In a nice Utopiac world, there is something out there that is private, secure, monitored, easily set up, easily removed that can be used at the elementary level. I do worry about some of the blogging companies changing their privacy settings and then the work that was once private is no longer. I love what the technology offers but I do think it is responsible for at least half of my white hairs.

  5. David, I commend you for trying to simplify the sharing and learning processes for your staff and students. My school is fairly small and I feel like I have a lot of autonomy, but there are things I have to concede to before I can begin the “Adventure.” Right now, for instance, I have to wait for board approval of student blogging guidelines that I drafted a few weeks ago. Won’t be a-go until November. Kind of frustrating when I’ve been hyping up blogging to my staff and they’re geared up and ready to go!! We have Moodle in place K-12, but I’ve shyed away from using it with my elem. staff. I think it’s a great LMS that has a lot of merit and use at the MS.HS level, but everytime I’d approach the subject with my teachers I could sense that it overwhelmed them, which is exactly what I wanted to avoid. So…we’re working around it! Thanks for sharing what you’re doing at your school!

  6. David, I had a lot of fun with a response to this blog entry. Thanks!

    With appreciation for your thoughts,

    Miguel Guhlin
    Around the Corner-mGuhlin.org


    Greetings Miguel,
    This comment got tucked into my spam filter for some reason so I only just retrieved it after responding to all the other comments below. This isn’t the first time you’ve had fun with one of my posts (Don’t Panic), and just like last time it is thoroughly appreciated! 🙂

    I hope that my comment response to you helped to clarify my view, and similarly, I appreciate your thoughts!
    Thanks again!
    Dave Truss


  7. I’m in my 4th year of using Moodle with 3rd and 4th graders. Teaching without it, or something that offers as many options,is now inconceivable to me. This year we added Google Apps; it adds some features, especially for sharing, that aren’t available on Moodle.

    Effective utilization of Moodle requires at least a 3:1 student to computer ratio in the room, in my experience. Having access to the machines is key to successfully using Moodle, probably any tool. A laptop cart for 1:1, but not all day every day,is not as handy as 2:1 desktops all day anytime. Part of the reason for that is that attitude or habituation that comes from knowing that you can always use the machine at a given time during the day. Also, logging laptops on, in our system, at least, takes longer than most 8-year-olds can tolerate.

    Having options, as Miguel Guhlin points out in his commentary on this post http://ff.im/-s7B5k is why Moodle is such a good tool. Knowing how to use them is, of course, essential. So, it takes time and resources to use Moodle effectively. Education is not easier today, but it’s easier than not educating.

  8. Your scavenger hunt is so creative. I’m teaching middle schoolers to blog, but my presentation is rather bland. I’d like permission to use your scavenger format, but tailor it to my school and students.
    Sheryl Grabow-Weiss

  9. I comment quite a lot on class / student blogs & would never think to point out those bits that are not quite right. I need to start posing questions which may lead them to see those areas but a comment is not a mark.

  10. Hi Dave,

    I let a lot of the technical details blow over me, but I was really impressed with your scavenger hunt. I’d like to use it as a template to create something similar at my school.

  11. Thanks for the comments everyone!

    It can be so frustrating when the teachers who are bravest with trying new things are ones that you can’t keep in your school! Great that you will be working with the staff and it seems that in this case we are taking similar approaches. I like Edublogs as it is a platform specifically for educators and when I had an issue with blogspot a few years back it was all but impossible to get support. Good luck & hopefully you’ll share your experiences with us.

    “Change the version, change the policies, change the set-up…” Yes, these are true frustrations. Ning is a perfect example as they switched from free educational sites to pay sites with very little notice. See “Who owns the learning? ” for more on the topic of preserving our student work as we move to different platforms & versions etc.

    Yes I am in a different situation with you in that I don’t need to follow your steps to get approval just for guidelines… yikes. That said, do share your guidelines with us so that those that have to jump through the same hoops as you can get some guidance!

    Great to hear about your use of Moodle. I think the best way to respond to your comment is to invite you to take a look at my comment on Miguel Guhlin’s post Peeling the Layers – #Moodle vs Blogoliath that you linked to. I had no intention to discredit Moodle as a good and useful tool, simply to say that as a starting point with a staff and students new to blogging, (in my case, but it could be wikis or discussion boards etc. too), maybe it is an unnecessary layer to add (right away).

    I’ll skip to Julia now to say that I love your point that “a comment is not a mark”… and I might argue that a comment is better than a mark, especially when it poses questions or challenges ideas. Dan’s comment above, and Miguel’s post that he links to, both required me to clarify my points for writing this and actually pointed out that I was not really clear in delivering my intended message. No ‘mark’ could have done that for me.

    And finally, to Sheryl and Greg, please go right ahead and use the scavenger hunt idea! I liked my first one that I linked to in the post better than the second one I recently did because the first one didn’t only focus on learning the tool, but also had students reflecting and learning about the things required in our course. I share everything on this blog with a Creative Commons BY::NC::SA License, but in the case of the scavenger hunt, don’t worry about giving credit, just use it and promise that if you improve on it, that you will share your improvements so that others can also share and share alike!

  12. Hi Dave,

    Most of this discussion has focussed on students and staff. I am curious of the reaction of parents. We are trying to marry Edublogs and some other more open tools with Sharepoint and getting largely good feedback from teachers and students. The concerns we are hearing are from parents who really appreciated the closed nature of Sharepoint and worry that Edublogs, even when they are not wide open, are too open for kids.

    While we all know this a journey for people to become comfortable I am curious of your community reaction or what you have done to work with the community.

  13. David,
    I have been following your 1-1 initiative and am so glad that it’s up and running! I am posting to ask you to please tell Ms. Smith that I admire her bravery and that the ‘mistakes’ ARE successes! There is so much good, thoughtful commentary here.

    I teach in a *school* of 2300 students. I actually teach almost 150 grade 11 and 12?s. It’s a little scary to think that I teach 3/4 of the population of your school…there are almost 70,000 children served by the district.

    I am not sure we’ll ever be at the point that we can do what you’re doing, but we do have the opportunity to use a district based moodle this year. It’s better than nothing, I guess. I had set up a ning (blocked) then used grou.ps (blocked) and it was wonderful because the kids created the content. I have been told that I may not use any external, social media sites for my classes. It’s quite distressing because the kids loved the live chat features. They were on so much and I had virtual office hours. Loved it!!! I long for the freedom to use technology to advance thinking, participating, and learning…not just assigning and monitoring.

    My district is very big on control. There are also parents who complain about what content kids MIGHT be exposed to. I suppose that any community school is a reflection of the community. It sounds like you have a wonderful community!

    Keep up the inspiring work…and if you need an English teacher call me!

  14. Great point about involving parents Chris,
    I have to be bluntly honest and say that I have not really done much to inform parents about the use of blogs, and it was similar last year with using wikis. With both we have been and will continue to work with students to build expectations of appropriate use. Every one of our seniors that were here last year were on wiki’s, and blogs are just another online tool.

    I don’t think my response helps you much, but we are talking on two very different scales. I’ve got 50 senior students that already have online (wiki and other) profiles with the school and you’ve got an entire school district and students of all ages blogging (which by the way is fantastic).

    Still, I’m going to take your question to heart and think about how I can be more informative to parents in the future!

    You already know my thoughts on filtering, and you have commented a number of times and shared your struggles with it too.
    I think ‘control’ stems from two things, 1. Lack of awareness and 2. Legitimate concerns for safety.
    But although concerns for safety are something we all need to think about, I think the fears that feed those concerns are often inflated.
    Sonya Livingston London School of Economics: In 1,000,000 children 5 of them molested on the internet, and 50,000 of them in the home or the neighbourhood! (Info heard hear: http://blip.tv/file/3333374 via Howard Rheingold)

    To both Chris and Yvonne I have a question. I wonder how we can use the power of parent groups to help advocate for changes? As much as some parents complain, are there not a number of parents who can see the trends and realize that times have changed? For example: Local newspapers publish photos of students and announce game times for young sports teams, and many of these already have online versions of their papers. Students are going to have a digital footprint… shouldn’t we be advocates of this being appropriate from a young age, rather than shielding them from control over their own footprint? I guess that was more than one question. 😉

  15. Hi Dave – I am a parent (in Canada) and a workplace learning consultant. I am a huge advocate of technology to support learning in schools (and workplaces) and live in a district where we have some very strong opinions against technology, however the majority are not. We invite speakers (high school students, mainly!) to come to PAC meetings, and I personally have: created a blog for one school PAC, helped our DPAC identify web collaboration tools to help and shared some of your cyber-citizenship resources with parents. I have also created screencasts for them to view things and used the tools as much as possible to communicate with the parents, so that they can see there is some value in the variety of tech tools. Otherwise we end up in the Facebook debate, which isn’t all that productive.

    I think you need to treat this as a change and figure out what the stakeholders (in this case parents) need and/or want to know. It will help you identify specific issues and uncover what’s driving them. Here’s a link to some info on stakeholder analysis: http://www.brighthub.com/office/project-management/articles/3713.aspx – the other aspect to consider is influence on the outcome of the change, which doesn’t sound like an issue for you, but might be for others.

    PS – the other aspect that struck me with this post is that an LMS (Moodle) or DMS (Sharepoint) is directed at administration of learning, rather than tools for learning, for kids.

    1. Thanks for the comment Holly,
      I think you would connect well with Heidi @hhg and http://www.learningconversations.ca/
      I’m really not anti-LMS’s, and they do encompass some good learning tools, they just have a rather large learning curve that I think for individual classrooms, or a handful of classrooms, or small schools, or even small districts perhaps they are not an ideal entry point for teachers (and students) new to incorporating technology into their teaching and learning practice.

      It sounds like given the circumstances you have to deal with, you have been a wonderful advocate for getting learning tools where they matter… in the hands of students. Here in China, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, wordpress, blogspot, Tumblr, Posterous, Wetpaint (wikis), Diigo, Flickr and Picassa are all blocked, (just to name a few). Students survive here on instant messaging such as MSN Messenger, and tend not to have a lot of online profiles. They also tend to play a lot of video games and not embrace web2.0 tools beyond multi-player online games. As such, I am not dealing with anti-technology parents, I think I am mostly dealing with either very informed parents or parents that are not informed (aware) at all of what their children do online. This presentation is one of the things I have offered to parents to help: http://pairadimes.davidtruss.com/parenting-in-the-digital-age/

      Currently with 50 students and no complaints about what we are doing online so far, my intention was to work with students to help us design the expectations and what is acceptable, safe use… and send home a permission slip. What I may do now is still do that process and then invite parent input before the permission form goes home. Still, I would rather start with students and teachers designing this rather than parents. It isn’t about leaving parents out, it is about empowering students to be in control of their online presence because that is what we all want to see!

  16. Thanks for the connection – how ironic that we go through China to do so!

    I agree that you need to design with students/teachers first, and you have a good grasp on what your stakeholders situation is. I just find that in general when putting together something new, the focus is on what “they” want, and in reality there are many versions of “they”. Sitting down and charting it is a useful exercise for me.

    I am an advocate, for sure, but I differentiate between using tools for classroom and using tools to increase collaboration between staff members, providing teacher training (such as orientation to a district), administrative planning, etc. Sometimes it is easier to experiment with back office type of stuff and gain comfort, then teachers can examine their curriculum and see where technology might really enhance the learning. With parents, it is also about increasing understanding and a show/tell would be another option to add to the permission form…

    Thanks for the opportunity to participate in the discussion.


  17. It’s me that should be thanking you for participating in the discussion Holly. I appreciate the time you’ve taken to comment… Thank you!

    It is pretty neat how connections work. I’ve started thinking of geography as a time gap rather than an issue of distance. It isn’t how far away I am from people that determines my connections (or lack of them), it tends to be the time zone differences that do so.
    You make a very important distinction in classroom vs collaboration tools. I’ve often found that providing teachers with a tool they want to use outside of school is also useful. In my school I’ve been working with teachers to share their digital resources on delicious bookmarking (not blocked here), and I’m impressed with the attempts to share so far. Save a link for yourself, and add a tag to help out your colleagues. Next week we start the collaboration blocks where every teacher, once a week, (sometimes two depending on their schedule), has a block with another teacher in their room, and one block where they go to another teacher’s room. We speak so much about the value of collaboration in education and yet most teachers can spend the entire day teaching on their own… it doesn’t make sense to me.

    Thanks for the ‘show and tell’ idea. I’ve been involved in a parent orientation for a laptop one-to-one program with Brian Kuhn (commenter #1 above) in the past, but for some reason did not think to do it here.

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