Earlier this week, I wrote about my need for a speedy solution to my Learning Management System debacle. I received plenty of encouragement to jump on the Moodle train (and with good reason - I've seen a lot of really successful implementations embraced by teachers and students), but in the end, some talking with school principals and teachers led me in a different direction.
Don't get me wrong...Moodle is very much on my radar. A slick demo easily installed on my MacBook (actually a fully functional Moodle server environment) convinced administrators and teachers alike that a rich online learning environment was something we should pursue.
However, Moodle isn't without its learning curve and administrative setup time. If we looked carefully at our goals, my "LMS debacle" arose from a need to increase communication and transparency with parents in terms of student work and grades, as well as to make sure that kids had ready access to assignments and homework. While Moodle can certainly offer that, we already had two elements in our district that could address most of our needs faster and with less training.
Making Moodle our long-term project (I smell professional development in the fall), we turned to our SIS and our website. As I pointed out in my debacle post, "Even with the powerful gradebook functionality, though, our SIS really isn’t a learning management system." That being said, an LMS is our goal; transparency is our more immediate need. I also noted that use of our SIS for communicating grades and assignments to parents requires really solid family/contact management. While this is true for a full, robust, single-logon-per-family, a model that provides parents with a single logon per student is relatively easy to implement in the short term. We'll pilot this with a few classes and see how it goes. While it might have parents logging into the "student portal" of our SIS 2 or 3 times for as many different kids, the information access stays student-centered instead of family-centered and will hopefully save some headaches.
I also noted that our SIS simply wasn't ready for prime time with our elementary teachers and students. This isn't through any failing of X2; rather, we simply haven't rolled out many of its core features at the elementary level beyond student data management. However, now that our Joomla!-based website for the district is live, we can leverage that framework to create subdomains for our elementary schools and provide teachers with easily updated sites. Since most teachers already type up a weekly "newsletter" outlining their assignments, it's a pretty simple matter to have them move this content to the web.
An added benefit is that this finally forces me to develop websites for the individual elementary schools that, again, are easy for school administrators and staff to maintain without knowledge of coding. I even figured out how to embed Joomla! sites within existing Joomla! sites and tie them to their own databases, simplifying management and access rights at the school level (I know, this isn't rocket science, but I'm still something of a CMS neophyte; I was happy with my discovery). So far, teacher and administrator response to both an improved web presence and to an easy system for communicating with parents has been enthusiastically received.
Full, rich, interactive access to learning management systems and more robust access to the capabilities of our SIS are on their way. However, Rome wasn't built in a day. Smaller steps help work out the kinks and create buy-in to new ways of doing business. Moodle isn't going anywhere and it just keeps getting better from what I've seen in the online demos and at other schools; it will be waiting for me this summer and hopefully for teachers in the fall.