What Learning Management Systems Are Still Missing

I only have a few classes left before I wrap up my master’s degree. I’ve enjoyed Boise’s master’s degree program, but one thing I won’t miss is Blackboard. Blackboard, the ubiquitous, bland “course management system,” was used in all but one of my master’s classes. My one class that didn’t use Blackboard was a new class taught by Chris Haskell about Quest-Based Learning (QBL). The QBL class was taught totally on Slack. I appreciate Dr. Haskell pushing us onto a new platform that focused on collaboration over content management because it made me realize what’s missing in Learning Management Systems (LMSs).

What is missing from LMSs are useful, asynchronous collaboration and communication tools. No LMS has nailed this aspect of learning yet. It seems like most of these LMSs understand how important collaboration is, but have settled on the comment board being the best it can come up with. Few have communication tools. We need better.

My rekindled search for a collaboration and communication-focused LMS or similar tools that work well with an LMS has been brought on by my evolving makerspace. I’ve been looking for tools to use with my students in my blended Innovation Lab that allow them to knock down the walls of the classroom.

I need a way for students to keep each other updated, share files, and collaborate on job statuses on a day-to-day basis in a way that I’m just not getting in LMSs. Next year, as I take our Fair Haven Innovates initiative into 4th through 8th grade, I’m looking for a way to allow students to tell their peers what they have been working on and what jobs are left to do because I see students one day a week for an hour. In that hour, jobs need to be done. These jobs, such as building our Raspberry Pi weather station, often take longer than an hour. I want a way for my students on Friday to tell my students on Monday what they’ve done and what is left to do. I don’t want to wait a week to have the project resumed, nor do I want to deny other groups the ability to work on these big projects because another group has started them. I want them to be able to transfer videos, pictures, or files throughout the week to better illustrate talking points and next steps so other groups can pickup where they left off. I want to get to a place where working with students in other classrooms on big, meaningful projects is as easy as working with someone in your class sitting next to you.

Another example: In FH Grows, our 7th grade class where gardening meets the Internet of Things, I’m want a way for groups to let other groups know what they’ve done in our garden. I’m hoping the kids will be able to communicate when a watering, weeding, or harvesting last occurred and when it should be done again. To do this right now, I have to use a combination of technology or track a host of Post-It notes neither of which I want to do.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of great LMSs out there. I’ve used Schoology for years, but they don’t have the collaboration tools I’m looking for. Schoology does have an app called Backchannel Chat that I really enjoy using, but it doesn’t have the communication piece I’m looking for. Google Classroom has the Stream, which can often be more of a headache than a help when it comes to collaboration. My students use Google Docs, rather than the Stream, to collaborate.

I’m looking for a jobs board like Trello, meets asynchronous communication like Slack, meets a Learning Management System. I want something designed specifically for students that helps them manage serious project-based learning assignments. My most promising piece of tech looks to be Flipgrid. Flipgrid is intended for teacher-to-student reflection and peer-to-peer responses, but I’m wondering if I can use it like a video answering machine. A group leaves a video message for another group, they respond, and the thread goes back and forth.

While I know I’ll figure out a process to let students communicate and collaborate between classes before next year, I wish better tools would be integrated into LMSs so we can have a blended learning and collaborating take place under one roof.