I work in Calgary, Alberta in one of Canada’s largest urban school boards. Most of my career has been spent in middle schools with students in grades 7-9, and in my current role, I work closely with a group of students with identified needs related to literacy. All of my students are incredibly intelligent and insightful, and their progress as learners is nurtured by outside the box thinking. Over the years, I have learned, and have come to appreciate, a few things about junior high students in general. Junior high students like to put forth a tough exterior image, but in reality they want to be loved and appreciated. Junior high students often carry burdens that the average adult would struggle with. Junior high students do not want to stand out as different from their peers. For many students, the most stable and comfortable part of their lives is the predictability and routine of the school day. My experiences as a teacher and these understandings led me to connect immediately with Weller’s 2002 chapter on the Learning Management System (LMS).
In March 2020, the world as we knew it changed in an instant. Covid was spreading globally, and the doors to schools across Canada were closed to students for an undetermined amount of time. Within a matter of days, teachers, students, and parents shifted to emergency online learning. It is an understatement to say that it was a time of chaos, stress, and fear.
With one small exception. The good ol’ LMS.
There has always been an expectation for teachers at my school to maintain a presence online using our board’s LMS. When we shifted to emergency online learning, it was a relief that we had a tool at our fingertips that teachers, students, and parents were familiar with and somewhat adept at using. I certainly agree with Weller’s argument that “part of the appeal of the LMS is its steadfast nature” (p. 67), because that nature supported my school’s experience in the early days of the pandemic. I think it was a comfort, albeit a small one, to students to be able to have the LMS as a familiar tool in a time when their world was consumed with uncertainty. I hear and agree with many of the criticisms brought forth about the LMS including its restrictive nature, closed environment, lack of linkability, and separation from the “real” internet (Pasquini, 2021). However, I am inclined to agree with Weller that “the LMS provides a structured, “safe” environment within which to learn” (p. 74), especially in the uncertain and ever-changing landscape of a Covid-ridden world.
Working with students with literacy needs has been an eye-opening experience. I was a Humanities teacher for years, and I have always taken my ability to read for granted. When I moved into my current role, I realized just how much reading the average person does in their daily activities. I challenge my blog readers to spend an entire day noting how often you read something. Using street signs to find a destination, checking the weather forecast, or perusing the menu at the Tim Hortons drive through – all of these activities involve reading skills, and for people who struggle, this is exhausting!
Weller’s 2005 chapter on video also caught my attention. I was particularly perturbed by his comment that video’s “use as an assessment format is still relatively limited” (p. 89) because I strongly disagree. In my context, video has been an incredibly useful and informative assessment tool for many reasons. Video can be used as an assessment tool for students who struggle with written expression to communicate their thinking. Students can use video to create fabulous stories or dialogues that they would otherwise struggle to express using traditional methods. It is also a useful tool for encouraging students to interact with content they may find dry or boring. Creating original Heritage Minute videos to demonstrate an understanding of historical events is an exciting way to approach the study of history. These are just two examples of many, but video has been and will continue to be a useful assessment tool. As educators become increasingly aware of the complexities of their student populations, assessments that stray from the traditional text format will hopefully become accepted as mainstream assessment formats.
Pasquini, L. (Host). (2021, January 7). Between the chapters: The LMS (No. 9) [Audio podcast episode]. In 25 Years of Ed Tech: The Serialized Audio Version. https://25years.opened.ca/2021/01/07/between-the-chapters-the-lms/
Weller, M. (2020). 25 Years of Ed Tech. Athabasca University Press.