Saturday, January 17, 2015

What do I want in a learning management system?

I am in a university work group where we discuss recommendations for a new learning management system (LMS). The point of this blogpost is to help me get my thoughts together on this topic.

General philosophy.
1. I would like a barebones open source or easily customizable system where I seamlessly can plug and play different modules such as quizzes, discussion forums, etc.  There could be a default for each, but if I find better options I should be able to use them.

2. I think it is better to encourage the use freely available tools (Google Calendar, Google Docs, Sharelatex, Youtube, Wolfram-Alpha, Reddit, Quora, etc.) that the students will have access to after they graduate. I think the university should offer tutorials, etc. on using these tools directly to students.

3. I think the default for material on the course page should be "viewable by anyone", with an option to change for individual elements.

Things I like/use about the current system (delivered by ITS Learning and called Absalon)
Quiz. I give use reading quizzes extensively.  There are two things about the I really like about the Absalon implementation.  One is that you can label the quiz "obligatory" (it's just a word that appear)s. Students really take this seriously even though there are no explicit penalties for not taking the quiz. Another very useful feature is that I can send email only to students who haven't taken the quiz.

Bulletin board. The bulletin board is very prominently displayed and you can mostly count of students seeing it when they log in.

Planner. Absalon has a rudimentary planner/calendar with links directly to assignments and quizzes.

Mathjax. Very useful for typing equations

Plagiarism detection. Very useful for reports.

Student activity. List of who has logged in when or taken quizzes.

Copy from last year. Of course it's very useful to copy quizzes etc from last years course page.

In-active files/view as student. Files and folders can be made active or inactive where the latter can be viewed only by instructors and TAs.  Very handy for sharing solution sets, etc.  It is pretty easy to see  if a file or folder is inactive, but if I doubt I can choose "view as student".


Things I miss
Quiz.
1. Option to schedule the email to students who haven't taken the quiz at a particular time and date.
2. Option to have the answer to a quiz question revealed immediately after the answer.
3. Some kind of badge system for quizzes, e.g. Genius badge = 10 correct answers in a row, etc.
4. For questions with free text answers: option to see answers from all student on one question at once.
 
Open.  The course page is completely closed to students who are not signed up.  It would be very helpful to give access to other students so they can see what the course is about before they sign up.

SMS or other notification/reminder feature.  Right now every interaction with students is through email, but what good is an email notification about a quiz that is due in two hours if the email is not read.  Actually, iPhone one can mark email contacts as VIP and get notifications when VIP emails arrive, so that might fix it.  Not sure if that works on Android or if students have set up forwarding. Also, next time I teach I'll set up and share a Google calendar for the course, which might help and/or use the remind app.

Integration with social media.  Some way to automatically share announcements, etc. on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc.  E.g. with Twitter I am thinking something send directly to their Twitter address, so they get alerted - not some hashtag.

Better discussion forum. I wrote about that here.

Dropbox integration. I spend a lot of time uploading files to the system.  I already keep my course material on dropbox, so it would be great of one could mirror drop-box folders (with some control over what files are visible to the students).

Mobile friendly/app. It is very important to be able access and work on the site with a smartphone or tablet.

In-active files/view as student. More detail is needed on student activity. Who has downloaded what file when?  Create contact lists for groups of students who match certain criteria.  E.g. who has not downloaded the last homework problem yet.  Also overview of single student's activity.

Extract student identifiers to create accounts on other systems.  This is currently amazingly complicated.


Comments and questions very welcome.


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