Building A Non-LMS

There are many components necessary for a complete Learning Management System.  Commercial LMSs come pre-packaged with a specific set of tools, although all may not be useful to the student or instructor.  Choosing not to use a LMS requires careful research and thought regarding which non-LMS tools will meet both instructor and student needs.I approached my non-LMS build by considering which web tools would meet my needs in three categories.

  • How will I provide content, interactivity with content and organization?
  • How will I build community and inspire discourse?
  • How will I assess as, for and of learning?

The following describes the tools I felt met my teaching and learning needs.  Some of the tools meet my needs in several categories and are repeated, with specific reference to how they address the category they are in.

Part  1.  Getting organized
I have found it very challenging to keep all my websites organized as I move through OLTD.  SymbalooEdu allows me to visually organize all my links as tiles, and create my own personal webmix.  I could create a course webmix that contained tools and resources that I think my students might need or want to use for the course and share it with my them as a jumping off platform for the course.  I like that the webmix is available from any computer with an internet connection.  So even if you have quicklinks to special sites on your home computer, you can still quickly access them via SymbalooEdu, without having to remember the URL.
Part 2.  Content, interactivity and organization
Google sites would be my choice for housing content, lessons and course calendar.  Content can easily be uploaded as a file, or typed directly into a page in the course template.  Other media, such as videos or photos, can also be uploaded easily.What I don’t like about Google sites is that the templates have limited visual appeal, and you are very restricted in what you can change.  You have to be very careful to start with the template that you want.  I am also concerned about security and privacy, since Google owns the site, and information is stored on US servers.
Google Drive (specifically Google docs) is a great way for students to share files with each other for peer review or collaborative writing (building community).  It is also a good way for teachers to share material with students and provide feedback.  The drawbacks are the same as for Google sites.
Part 3.  Building community and inspiring discourse
For face-to-face discussion, I would use Blackboard Collaborate.  Collaborate meetings combine text, audio and visual media, allowing real-time conversations and help to build community by encouraging interaction among course participants.  Smaller groups of students can meet in breakout rooms to discuss topics.  The whiteboard feature allows collaborative writing, and slides can be saved to be reviewed later.  Students can become moderators and have the opportunity to teach their classmates.  Instructors can also use a Collaborate room to meet with a student one-on-one for tutorial help or feedback on course work.  Challenges to working in Collaborate mainly involve problems with technology (for example, not enough bandwidth or malfunctioning microphone).  In addition, students will need to own a set of headphones with a microphone and perhaps a webcam.  This may be a concern for students with low income.
For ongoing group discussions, I would use Google Plus.  Even though I was a reluctant user of this tool, I have grown to appreciate the power it has as a platform for generating thoughtful discussion.   This tool can be used for developing a learning network, discussion, and peer mentoring or helping.  I like that Google Plus is easy to categorize; you can create different circles for each class, or even create circles within your class for project discussions.  It is easy to access from anywhere you have internet access and is easy to post and upload links, photos or text.  My concerns with Google Plus are similar to Google sites.  The information resides in the “cloud” and is under the purview of Google, and any information stored on a server is stored on US soil.  It is also easy to get overwhelmed, as all new posts appear at the top of the list and older posts can be buried quite quickly if students are prolific “posters”.
Using Google sites to create wikis is a great way for students to collaborate on course topics.  I like that the wiki can be kept for future students to learn from or add to.  Wikis created using Google sites are fairly easy to use.  I do find formatting to be a challenge, however, when wanting to go outside the standard text in paragraph form.
Part 4.  Assessment
For reflection and journaling, I would again turn to Google, this time using Google Blogger.  Blogger is easy and intuitive, and posting content is simple.  Some drawbacks of using Blogger are that Google owns your blog site so the site could be deleted without notice as well as a limited selection of templates and designs.  If students are simply using this tool for reflection, design should not be a of concern.
To keep track of student marks, I would use Engrade.  This tool includes features such as attendance tracking, gradebook, and calendars.  There is an option for communication between instructors, students and parents.  Another benefit of Engrade is the ability to create assessments within the tool.  You can create a variety of different question types for student assessment.  I do have concerns about the location of student information; as best as I could tell data is stored on US soil.  There is also a cost for the upgraded version of Engrade.
For quizzing, in addition to Google forms (see below), I would use Examview.  I have used this tool in the past, and really like how easy it is to include graphics with questions.  This software works with a wide variety of publishers test banks, so if you are using a textbook you should have access to its test bank.  Creating your own test bank and generating quizzes is easy.  A drawback to Examview is that students must be registered to take tests online, and this information is stored in servers on US soil.
SymbalooEdu can be used as an e-portfolio, where students can gather and organize digital examples of their work, evidence of online collaboration or projects.  I like that this tool is available to students after the course is completed, and allows for continual addition of evidence of life-long learning.  As a teacher, perhaps the main drawback of SymbalooEdu is that you do not have control over what students link to in their webmixes.  This may be a consideration for younger students.
I would use Google forms as an assessment tool, particularly for self-evaluation and peer-evaluation.  Google forms can also be used to generate basic quizzes.   Another use for Google forms is as a “dropbox” for student assignments.  Students can complete a form with a link to their Google doc or assignment URL.  Feedback can be given directly on a Google doc, but other methods are required for projects made using other online tools.  I have only scratched the surface of uses for Google forms, and look forward to experimenting further!
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