Google Apps as a Free LMS

It works. Simpicity in design. Simplicity in workflow. Google Apps as a free LMS just works. That is at least according to the early feedback from my students.

Let’s contrast this with the recent launch of Blackboard’s Learn 9:

Message Three

We have discovered a problem in Learn 9 that is causing issues in Discussion Postings.
In some instances, student replies to other student posts are appearing empty. In testing the issue, we have found the problem is occurring because the initial post made by the student was copied and pasted from Word into the text editor.
Until a permanent fix is found, we ask that all students avoid copying and pasting from Word. If you wish to work offline, you can save your Word document as a .txt file and then copy and paste. This will strip any offending code from the text prior to copying and pasting.
For any faculty who have already discovered this issue in their course discussion postings, we do have a fix that can be applied so all the discussion replies can be seen.

Message Two

Dear Southern Connecticut State University faculty, staff and students,

In the eventuality that we continue to experience instability on our learning management system, Blackboard Learn, we are providing some information and a few suggestions that may help minimize the effects of not having access or having slow access.

For Students

· Do not wait until the last minute to submit.
· Keep a copy of all submissions for safekeeping.
· If you timeout while taking an exam, try to immediately log back in. In most cases, you will be able to continue where you left off.
· Compose items offline using Microsoft Word or plain text editor.
· Report all issues to your professor.

For Faculty

· Be flexible
o Provide a larger window of availability for items.
o Accept submissions via email when the system is unavailable.
· Do not select “force submission” when creating tests. This allows students who timeout to go back into the test and resume.
· Download assignment submissions and work offline: download assignments
· Download the grade center for safekeeping: download grade center
· Use Banner to email your classes
· Contact the helpdesk ( 203/392-5123) for assistance in troubleshooting issues that you or your students encounter.

In the meantime, the System Office and the ConnSCU institutions are continuing to explore permanent solutions, and we will keep you updated. Thank you for your patience

Message One

Dear Southern Connecticut State University faculty, staff and students,

As you know, the Blackboard Learn 9 learning management system in use by all institutions in the ConnSCU System is working intermittently, unreliably and slowly. The System Office and all the institutions in the System are exploring possible solutions. Regrettably, it will most likely take months to solve these problems. We will keep the community informed as new information becomes available.

As you can see BB Learn 9 does’t work, at least not well. To be fair this has more to do with server issues on the State of Connecticut side than it does with the learn 9 platform. In Connecticut all of our universities and community colleges were merged into one behemoth bureaucracy. This of course lead to IT nightmares. UCONN, where I also teach, was given autonomy from the ConnSCU and Blackboard does not have as many issues (Each school in UCONN also has an IT staff almost equal to the size of our entire University so this may help as well).

To the students the cause of the problems do not matter. For the students Learn 9 does not work. For my students, however, Google as a Free LMS does.

In fact, after two weeks of the course I posted an anonymous, and optional survey for my students to complete. Overall the results were very positive. Students love the hybrid approach using Google Apps. They are slightly overwhelmed with the number of tools involved. Finally they prefer to have direct instruction (via recorded lectures) included with the hands on performance assessments.

Students ranked the tools on a scale of 1 (lame) and 5 (Totally awesome).

Tool Averge
Google+ 3.285
Google Groups 3.14
Blogger 4.14

Too many Tools?

I then asked students if there were too many tools. All of the students, except one, expressed some confusion over Google Groups or asked that we just use Google+ instead.

I can’t lie I am slightly hesitant. As you know I do not think stackable Social Media posts have the best affordances for ongoing student discourse. A quick, and unscientific, content analsysis confirms my belief. The posts on Google Groups are much more in-depth and cite the readings. The posts on Google+ appear to be more one offs with very little follow ups. This of course could be an artifact of how I segt up the class. If I asked for students to reply to prompts fromt he readings on Google+ maybe it would be different.

We as the Google as a Free LMS should study this issue.What happens when the same prompts are given in Google Groups and in Google+? How do the students feel? Are they overwhelmed by the tools?

Due Dates and Module Learning

I also tested up two different set ups for my expectations. In the first module I had strict benchmark due dates throughout the module. In the second module I just had a targeted date to finish the module. Based on the results of the survey all but one student preferred the benchmark due dates rather than the flexibility of just one end date.

Supporting Student Learning

I also asked about ways to support student learning. The students, with a mean score of 4.28 all wanted me to record and post lectures. This suprized me. I did not believe students wanted to sit through 30-40 minutes of direct instruction on their own. Yet the hits on my YouTube channel confirm that they are watching. The students, also with a mean score of 4.28, like text based tutorials over video tutorials for any tool or assignment (I used Skitch and Google Docs).

I was posting the lectures as my introduction videos. Yet students with a mean score of 3.85 asked for short introductory videos describing each module.

My Plan Moving Forward

I am going to stick with the class as I built it. The students woould like a reduction in tools so I may try moving the discussions to Google+ for one or two modules later in the semester.

I will continue to record full lectures for the class.

I will start to record short 5-10 minute introductory videos explaining the expectations and objectives for each module.

I will post the discussion questions for each module ahead of time to give students a purpose for their reading.


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