Finding the best classroom LMS: not a teacher’s job

Frustrated teacher

If you’re a teacher, chances are you were taught how to teach. You likely didn’t get training on how to be an IT guru.

Which is why it’s so wonderful that some teachers are doing as much as they are when it comes to figuring out technology in their classrooms. Some technically inclined teachers are finding and configuring their own classroom management systems, for instance, or trying to make multiple apps work together that weren’t designed to. Hooray to teachers who have these skills and tenacity.

But should teachers even be shouldering this burden?

Learning management systems (LMSes) are possibly the worst time sinks. Should individual teachers have to assess the pros and cons for themselves of systems like Edsby, Google Classroom, Edmodo or Moodle to find the best classroom LMS? Should they have to be canvassing colleagues for recommendations? Should they then have to set up their own accounts and manage their students and, in K-12, their parents?

Here are a handful of reasons why I think it’s time teachers got more help in choosing and setting up applications like the best classroom LMS:

Teachers have more important things to do. Teachers live to teach. Yet a good LMS, for instance, is something many individual teachers—if Twitter chatter is any indication—are investing a LOT of time comparing and configuring. Time that could be better spent on lesson planning, grading, parent communication and helping students succeed. Is professional development the answer? Should teachers be getting trained in how to find and configure LMS-like applications? That’s pretty technical stuff, and not everyone has the time and interest.

Too many apps make parents unhappy. A given teacher might be using a handful of apps, e.g. for learning management (Edmodo? Moodle?), parent communication (Remind?), classroom management (ClassDojo?), Google Classroom for assignment submission, Twitter for homework notification, say. And their kids’ other teachers might be using different things. Parents often now need whole handfuls of apps, often with different logins, to follow their kids’ progress. Can you imagine what that’s like for parents?

All these apps are likely making TEACHERS unhappy. Do the apps teachers have chosen talk to each other? Do they find themselves duplicating information? How many different apps do they have to update themselves, or “codes” do they have to send home, when students enter or leave their classes? It’s a veritable jungle of apps in schools and classrooms, and it distracts from the primary purpose: teaching and learning.

Parent & student management headaches. Teachers shouldn’t be managing lists of students and parents and their contact info themselves. Students come and go. Parents get separated and divorced, and their relationships to their kids change over time. Occasionally, parental access needs to be revoked to students’ information. Teachers shouldn’t be expected to have to manage this.

Legal exposure. If parents or others get sensitive student data when they shouldn’t because of apps teachers have installed and manage themselves, they and their employers could be liable, according to CIPPA, COPPA, FERPA and other regulations. This culpability is unnecessary and easily avoided by district administrators.

A digital divide between teachers hurts students. If individual teachers are setting up their own apps, a disparity emerges between students whose teachers are clever and/or motivated enough to incorporate tools like these, and students whose teachers are not. If this is the case, some classes will have collaboration, standards-based assessments and modern parent communication, and some won’t. Is that fair?

So what’s the answer?

I feel strongly that school districts need to lead when it comes to sourcing and rolling out complex systems like these. My business partners and I have spent more than 25 years building enterprise applications for education, and time and again we’ve seen that district-level introduction of complex communication and assessment systems makes sense.

Why? Reasons include:

One app, one login, for teachers, students and parents. One learning management app, for instance, can function as a single point of contact for all communication between teachers, students and parents in a district. Even individual teacher websites can quietly go away when everything that needs to be shared between all stakeholders is being shared using a good education engagement system. With a good, well-used LMS that can be accessed any time from anywhere on anything, students and parents know where to go for latest information.

School & district database connections manage class creation, enrollment and contact information. Teachers never have to put students in classes or manage parent contact information themselves when software is connected to district systems. It’s a huge time savings! When students and parents come and go, connected systems magically update themselves. Without teachers having to do updates. The management work of free systems like Edmodo are one of the reasons teachers stop using them after a few years. Keeping them up to date is a lot of work.

All teachers—not just clever ones!—benefit, as do all students. When the district investigates, configures and rolls out software and ties it to its central student information system (SIS) and other district databases, all teachers get to use it. Not just the ones (like you?) willing to invest time on the bleeding technology edge. District-managed approaches put critical tools like learning management systems in the hands of EVERY teacher—and as a result every student and every parent in an area. This is key to really moving the needle.

Uniform assessment and reporting. When installed at the district level, an official district-wide electronic gradebook saves teachers time and hassle. Especially if it’s been configured to use the district’s official grading scheme and reports grades the way the district wants them at report card time. Bonus if it can share students’ grades, and other important information like attendance and teachers’ qualitative observations, securely with parents throughout the year without teachers having to do anything extra.

Customizable to the way districts do things. Some systems can be customized to use the terms and assessment schemes a district uses. If they can embrace the educational standards in your area, you can assess your students and report their progress against them. And be in compliance with state, provincial and/or federal guidelines. A generic, free product won’t have customization specific to your state, province or district.

A throat to choke if needed. If a school district rolls something out district wide, it’ll likely be a commercial product from a software vendor. So if the system doesn’t work as planned, the company can be held accountable to make it right. Teachers adopting tools willy-nilly don’t have any clout individually with software companies. Especially if using free products. And if their free tool goes away at some point in the future, tough luck.

So, if you’re a teacher, make friends with the instructional technology people at your school district. Introduce yourself. Share your needs. Invite them to investigate systems like the best classroom LMS on behalf of all the teachers in your district. The better they understand your requirements and how they might be similar or different from those of your colleagues, the higher the likelihood they’ll find a district-wide solution to your needs. It lowers the probability that you’ll have to become a tech guru yourself. And by being a force for improved transparency and effectiveness, you’ll help make things better for all the teachers and students and parents in your area.


Scott Welch is Co-Founder of Edsby, a learning management system for K-12 school districts. Learn more about Edsby at Variations of this article were published by Scholastic Administr@tor magazine and TeacherCast.