Friday, March 25, 2016

Let’s Follow the Lead of the ACPS.

This post is a response to the comments made by Anthony Cody to a previous post. Anthony made his comment via a link to his blog.

Thank you, Anthony, for articulating your fears and anxieties about CBE. I think you’re voicing concerns that are shared by everyone who doesn’t, yet, understand learning management systems. As I said in my previous post “Using a learning management system (LMS) for instruction and teacher created assessments is not something that has been done by very many K12 public school teachers in the U.S. It's not taught in most schools of teacher preparation and not something that most large public school systems promote.” Let’s start with some of the basics. You’re correct that I didn’t define learning management systems in my post. I was referring to learning management systems like Moodle, Canvas, and Schoology which, I think, are the three mostly widely used LMSs in U.S. K12. It would have been more accurate to say that using an electronic web based learning management system (LMS) for instruction and teacher created assessments is not something that has been done by very many K12 public school teachers in the U.S., yet.

The truth is that almost all teachers have always used some kind of learning management system. Some teachers are still using spiral notebooks or 3-ring binders to keep track of student learning and then they transfer that information to the forms, usually electronic these days, that their districts require. When my dad was Superintendent of a small school district in South Dakota 50 years ago, he and his teachers used faux-leather spiral ‘gradebooks’ and then transferred the information about student learning to cards in pre-printed manilla envelopes that were sent back and forth between parents and teachers until the end of the year when they usually went home with the student. Before the cards were sent home at the end of the year, the teacher was responsible for re-recording the information about student learning in the official file in the big gun metal gray cabinet in the main office. The information recorded was a summary of what the teacher had observed and documented about student learning over the course of the year. Student created artifacts were not kept by the school.

Now, as I said, school districts have only recently begun to implement electronic web based student learning management systems and few have yet to promote using them for teacher created assessments. It is now practical to use Learning managements systems for instruction and teacher created assessments because devices and wifi have become ubiquitous and less expensive than paper systems. In addition to being less expensive, the new LMSs enable enormous potential for teacher and student collaboration within the classroom and with the larger community. But, the LMSs that enable teacher created lessons and assessment are facing huge very well funded competition from LMSs that don’t promote teacher created lessons and assessments. In some cases, far too many in my opinion, teachers are actually discouraged from creating authentic learning experience and are steered toward adaptive or computer suggested next steps. That’s the trend I’d like to see thwarted.

The way to thwart the machine driven learning management systems is to use teacher driven learning management systems.  Teachers don’t need to build LMSs; they’re already built. Teachers just need to collectively decide to use them rather than having the machine driven systems forced into service. But, please, let’s not be so desperately naive as to think that most school systems will not be using some kind of electronic web based learning management system as soon as they can practically get them working. The simple fact that LMSs make OER so much more useable makes the use of LMSs essential for schools going forward from today. The question is very clearly what kind of learning management system will we use in our schools. The spiral bound gradebook - manilla envelope - gray metal cabinet system is no longer an option.

If teachers don’t learn how to use the LMSs that maximize their skills and authority, they will be required to use LMSs that minimize teacher skills and authority. Opting out of using a learning management system that permits the use of free, customizable, remixable, revisable, retainable, globally shareable open education resources is not the same as opting out of standardized tests that are created by for profit corporations and scored by for profit corporations. Let’s spend the $9 billion per year we’re currently spending on textbooks developing our teachers’ capabilities to use free, customizable, remixable, revisable, retainable, globally shareable open education resources on free open source learning management systems and keep for profit companies out of our public schools.

Having teachers masterfully using LMSs and OER is what will enable districts to choose to use competencies like the very enlightened ones the Albemarle County Public Schools use. The  ACPS has very wisely chosen to focus first on creating wise competencies and then on creating content that fulfills those competencies and including teachers in the process all along the way. When the ACPS is asked to report on those competencies, they’ll easily input teacher and student assessments of learning into the LMS of their choice. Learning to use the CBE features of an LMS is not going to be a big deal for the teachers of the ACPS. They’ve already got the competencies defined and processes in place to report on student achievement of those competencies. Let’s follow the lead of the ACPS.

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