Schoology: an LMS that Truly Connects You with Your Students
In the digital era, learning management systems (LMS) have become a central part of our educational practices. Whether you send an electronic message to a student, post grades online, share a homework assignment in the cloud, or set up a web-based activity, chances are you use an LMS to accomplish this. With such a variety of tasks on offer, clearly no two learning management systems are the same. Schoology is an LMS with a strong emphasis on communication and collaboration, making it particularly useful for use with non-traditional course formats (active or flipped approaches, blended learning, distance teaching, etc.).
Choosing your LMS Wisely
At a basic level, a learning management system can be defined as a “vast repository where you can store and track information.” The precise way in which this happens depends on the combination of the users’ needs (teacher and students) and the platform’s functionalities. These typically include:
- Course content management (creation and distribution)
- Integrated assessment (online quizzes and offline tasks grade manager)
- Attendance manager and progress tracker
- Communication channels
LMS mostly differ on the fashion in which they implement and integrate these different features:
- Omnivox, which many institutions in the CEGEP network use to support classroom-based courses, does not offer the possibility to administer online quizzes and communication between users is limited to an email-like interface.
- Moodle, which is open source, is geared toward online lessons, which makes its structure less malleable for more informal sharing of content and student collaborations.
Schoology falls somewhere in between these 2 examples. Its interface is based on the principle of building blocks, which allow a teacher to structure content into lessons on different pages, or simply distribute different types of content and tasks directly from the course dashboard. This makes it especially suitable for teaching contexts combining classroom-based and online components, such as flipped teaching or active learning approaches. Content can also be shared with other teachers, which is useful for team teaching or co-teaching contexts. Moreover, Schoology makes it easy for all users to communicate in different formats, including social media-like feeds and chat functionalities.
Getting on Schoology
Schoology offers a free basic account that individual instructors can use with all of their groups, without restrictions. This account offers the same functionalities as paid institutional accounts minus a few administrative functions. For instance, unless your college signs up for a paid account, you will not be able to transfer your final grades directly into their database. This is but a small caveat, since the platform does allow you to export grades as a .csv file, which can easily be imported in most other systems, including Omnivox.
The registration procedure is simple. From the homepage, select Signup. On a first screen, you will be asked to provide your institutional email address and choose a username and password. On a second screen, you will need to select an institutional affiliation. If your college is not in the list yet, you can simply add it; it will be confirmed after review.
Once signed up, you will have access to a dashboard, which allows you to create new courses, administer existing courses, and manage students and grades. Students are enrolled in a course by signing up for an account and entering the access code that is automatically generated by the platform.
Example of a course dashboard. The drop-down menu allows you to easily add a variety of content to share with students enrolled in the course. The access code for students is displayed in a green box in the left-hand column.
Creating and Sharing Content
Schoology makes it easy to create new content, but also to share existing content from its Resources section. There are 4 types of resources:
- Content previously created and saved by yourself. This principle facilitates using and reusing materials across groups and courses, without having to manually copy and paste information.
- Content created and shared by colleagues. By creating groups, colleagues from the same department or teachers who collaborate in a team teaching or co-teaching approach can easily develop and publish content all of them can use in their respective courses.
- Content publicly shared by other instructors and organizations such as Khan Academy. A public resource bank allows instructors to search and use content and quizzes made available by others, for free.
- Content can also be directly embedded from other platforms, including Google Drive, Microsoft Office, YouTube, Dropbox and other web tools. This means that activities you have previously developed elsewhere can be seamlessly integrated into Schoology, so your students needn’t switch between platforms to complete different tasks.
Example of public resources.
Example of external platforms whose content can be directly embedded into Schoology.
Content can be shared with the entire class, but can also be offered in a more flexible manner:
- You can put students in collaborative groups, for instance to have them engage with different information in preparation for a class discussion.
- You can differentiate and personalize learning by creating learning paths for students, based on your own recommendations or on rules. For example, you can assign an additional homework task to those student(s) you know need some extra practice, or automatically assign a review task if a student scores lower than a certain grade.
Example of how a rule-based learning path can be set up.
Administering and Correcting Assessments
Different types of quizzes and assignments can be administered through Schoology:
- Self-graded quizzes can be created or imported from publicly-shared question banks. When used as a summative evaluation, the platform automatically processes the students’ grades.
- Assignments can take the shape of text, audio or video, and students can upload their files directly, or link them from external platforms such as OneDrive or Google Drive. Schoology contains a grading tool that allows you to open the submissions directly, without external software, to provide written and video feedback, and record grades all in the same place.
Schoology iOS and Android apps even allow you to provide students with written and video feedback via your tablet or smartphone.
Demonstration of the Schoology grading app in action.
Engaging Students through Exchanges and Gamification
In the fashion of social media, Schoology integrates different types of content in the same place. In this way, students not only access learning materials of different types, but also engage in online discussions, and can share ideas via videos or images, all in a teacher-moderated closed online environment.
Students might also be motivated through a gamification component that takes the shape of badges. These can be assigned by the teacher based on merit (e.g. “best public speaker”) or based on the number and type online quizzes and activities completed by the student.
Is Schoology Right for You?
The pertinence of a learning management system is based on your needs as a teacher, as well as those of your students. These needs determine the LMS that is best-suited for a specific teaching and learning context. If your teaching blends classroom-based and online activities, if flexibility and personalisation are important to you, and if you wish to engage with your students in a variety of communicative formats, Schoology might just be an interesting option for you.