The Comforting Embrace of the LMS: Weller’s History of Ed Tech (2002 – 2011)

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.

References

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.

6 thoughts to “The Comforting Embrace of the LMS: Weller’s History of Ed Tech (2002 – 2011)”

  1. Thank you for reminding me that junior high kids are only crusty on the outside. It’s a tough one to remember when they’re trying to be grown up and cool 🙂

    Learning a second language has shown me that you’re absolutely correct when you say “for people who struggle, this is exhausting”. I’ve been trying to do everything in French first, then in English and it’s frustratingly slow by comparison.

    Thank you also for your note about video assessments. I was a little bothered by what Weller said and you’ve described beautifully some applications that I hadn’t thought about!

  2. Hi Amber,

    Thank you for sharing those great points. I believe that video is a great assessment tool and in my world a picture or a video is worth a thousand words in getting a client/patient to gain a better understanding of their own oral health. I am reminded of a nutrition video my classmates created back in school. They were the only group to use video for their presentation and it is the one presentation that I remember to this day. Agreed, video is a powerful tool. Thanks.

  3. Amber, your commitment to this area is very timing as i have a daughter, in grade seven. Since she was in Kindergarten up to grade five I did all I could to have her assessed with reading and everyone kept telling me its because I don’t read with her at home and she’ll eventually catch on and one day reading will just ‘click’. I was persistent and by Grade six she finally had supports in place and her progress within that year was substantial. It tears me up thinking about her internal frustrations that she did so well at keeping in as a reader. The success with not being able to read has given her huge strengths in LMS, math, science, tangible activities, leading her peers in other areas. LMS has offered many opportunities and video has proven to be a huge success in my daughters learning.

    What strategies do you use to educate your peers on the necessity to provide supports for literacy for their students success?

    1. Hi Myrna,

      Thank you for your comments, and thank YOU for persevering so that your daughter received the supports and intervention she needed. I’m so glad to hear that she is having successes as a learner. It is so hard to watch kids struggle, and it is even harder when it is your own child!

      The teachers at my school are amazing and are incredibly student-focused. We do a lot of work in our teams to assess and screen all students at the beginning of the school year in order to flag students who require additional support and determine appropriate supports and interventions. We also work closely in our Professional Learning Community (PLC) teams to determine overall areas of need in our student population and then implement classroom based interventions and strategies to target these areas. I VERY firmly believe that all teachers teach literacy skills, regardless of the specific subject areas they work in, and I have been very vocal over the past couple of years about implementing school-wide literacy strategies. As an example, last school year our entire school focused on annotation as a high-impact reading strategy, and it was a resounding success. We also have a resource team that works with small groups of students who struggle.

      Being in public education, it can be challenging when political decisions have a huge impact at the school level, and it is very tough to see the resources being spread thinner and thinner while the need in our student populations continues to increase. Like I said though, the staff at my school is amazing and works so hard to do what is best for kids, even in tough circumstances. Love to all of the teacher folk out there!

      Amber

  4. I appreciated so much your junior high teacher’s perspective. As a mother of three and having experienced the lack of routine at the beginning of the pandemic was stressful for both kids and parents. It was more so for my junior high kid with learning challenge as he needs to be in school to learn. I was impressed with our French school boards with moving really fast on MsTeam and Google Classroom; although I am not sure if they really had a LMS, or they just created a pseudo one to get them going. If you had to experience those days again of moving your classroom online, what would you do differently? What did that experience bring to you professionally and personally?

    As always Amber, I love reading your blogs and thank you so very much for your commitment to your profession.
    Stephanie

  5. Hi Stephanie,

    Thank you so much for your kind words! One of the most powerful lessons I learned in the shift to online learning was that the personal connections students and teachers develop over the course of a school year are absolutely critical. When we first shifted to online learning, all of the teachers at my school noticed that some students began to withdraw and disconnect. We quickly realized that the small interactions that occur in schools in person – the casual conversations, the light banter, the humour, the encouraging words – were missing in the online environment. The kids who came to school because they knew they had a teacher there that was glad to see them were the kids who struggled most in the online environment within the LMS.

    As a school, we used Google Meet for synchronous sessions with our classes, and I often had a number of Google Meets open during classes where kids could jump in to ask questions (teenagers do NOT like looking different from their peers and would rather cook dinner for the queen of England than ask a question in front of their entire class in a Google Meet!), or work in a small group with me being present to address issues as they arose. Logistically, it was … interesting. I would compare it to the whack-a-mole game lol. That being said, it helped. I also liked to get the kids to do fun things as a class, just because. We would have would you rather debates in Google Chat, or padlet votes on unpopular opinions. I put my pride aside and I had my grade nine students meme-ify me at the end of last year, and it was hilarious! Having a casual lunchtime Google Meet open for kids who wanted to chat over lunch was also helpful, and it was sometimes somewhat surprising to see who would come and just hang out with their teachers. I have always known that the teacher-student connection is important, and my experiences confirmed just how critically important it is! An area that I would be keen to do some research in is around developing those relationships in online environments, and how to do it well.

    Amber

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