How does Schoology’s course building functionality compare to other learning management systems?

In three parts, we will take an in depth look at the learning management system, Schoology.

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Founded in 2009, Schoology has come to be known as the middle ground between K-12 and higher education learning management systems.  PC Magazine gave Schoology the Editor’s Choice award for 2015 and 2016 and it continues to be included in their top 5 best learning management systems.  Common Sense Media gave the system 4 out of 5 stars, while teachers on Common Sense Media rated the system even higher with 5 out of 5 stars.  Overall, the consensus seems to be that for the price (free), the management system has a lot to offer and is overall user-friendly.

For this post, we are looking specifically at the course building functions in Schoology.

Course quality control

Schoology uses a code sign-up system.  Registration is available to any individual, not just certified educators or schools.  Schools can personalize their courses through the paid premium version of Schoology. Schoology also allows instructors to verify their account.  This account verification step (done with a mobile generated code) verifies that the user is an educator.  Further, to conform with CIPA policy, Schoology requests that teachers who are instructing students under the age of 13, upload a typed, signed form stating that they are an educator and they have made parents aware of their child’s involvement with Schoology.

There are no less than 150 resources for instructor use as professional development or trainings for students and parents.  The negative to these specific resources is that they do not actually come from Schoology itself.  All of the resources found under the public resources section are resources uploaded by Schoology users.  What Schoology does offer, is a resource database outside of the actual Schoology class.  Schoology’s website (https://www.schoology.com/) includes videos, webinars, articles on best practices, research on Schoology, success stories, and product information.

Interactive Tools

In 2015, Schoology published a white paper about teachers using their LMS to gamify their classes. Part of what allowed Schoology to work as a gamified LMS for that model teacher in Florida is the management system’s ability to incorporate third party apps, tools, games, and sites through the app center.  The app center can be found under the resources tab on the instructor’s home page.  Some very common and useful apps that are available through the center are Khan Academy, Dropbox, and Google Drive.  The integration of these tools allow instructors greater flexibility when creating and assigning course content.

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Template Courses

Upon creating a course, instructors are guided through a tour of their homepage from on-screen pop-up commands.  These pop-ups help the instructor gain familiarity with the homepage and the options offered.  As an instructor starts to grow their course, by adding resources to the folder section, the system prompts the instructor on his/her options and makes suggestions on other resources to add or visit.

A large collection of public resources are available to Schoology teachers that can be downloaded (if set to public).  In some cases, whole courses are even available to download and import into an instructor’s course.  For example, I recently download an introduction to SmartBoard course for my teachers in our new professional development course.

Gradebook Interface

The Schoology gradebook can be accessed from the right column dock on the homepage.  Instructors can toggle between inserting grades and attendance in this section.  The gradebook is fairly simple, but does allow for quite a bit of customization on the instructor end.  Instructors can organize the gradebook by categories to make it more user-friendly, and there is no maximum number of categories that can be created.  Instructors can use various grading options such as percentage, points, or the recently added, grading by a rubric.

Although the functionality of the gradebook appears sufficient, there are some concerns with this type of attendance/gradebook system.  Most schools or districts purchase a separate student information system to collect data, record attendance, and coordinate admissions.  These systems also (characteristically) keep the instructor’s official gradebook.  If the school or district employed both Schoology and a separate SIS, the multiple gradebooks would potentially be very confusing for parents and students. Schoology does have the option to integrate with a school’s SIS with their paid version.

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Social Networking

Although Schoology looks like a popular social networking site, there is little additional social networking that can be done through the LMS out of participating in the classes.  There are groups that instructors or students can join to share and receive ideas and resources.  There are a limited number of “official” Schoology groups, and other groups can be created for a class, school, or district.  There is no way to search groups, so individual users must know the group code in order to join.  Users can connect their schoology account to their Twitter or Facebook accounts.

Calendar Builder

While the Schoology calendar has many nice customization features, there are also some areas of improvement.  All users are able to see a running tab of recent activity and upcoming events upon login.  For instructors and users, the color coding option makes it easy to differentiate what events are related to what class or extracurricular activity.  Users and instructors can also filter events.  Instructors are required to set a due date for an assignment or event for it to appear on the calendar.  This function could cause the calendar to get confusing if instructors have long run-times or multiple turn in dates for the same assignment. Also, once the due date is passed, the assignment is deleted from the calendar, causing absent students to be unclear about what was missed.

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Course Assessment Function

When creating an assessment in Schoology, instructors can assign tests to individual students or to whole classes.  The standards function allows assessments to be linked directly to state standards from Schoology.  As students complete an assessment, the file submissions are converted into PDF files, which the instructor can annotate over and grade.  Schoology offers a web-based viewer, giving instructors the freedom to grade anywhere without downloading many files.

One addition to the premium paid version of Schoology that would allows instructors to create more in-depth assessments is the AMP function.  This function allows groups of teachers to collaborate on assessments, or even allows the school or district to assign a test to all of its users within the school/district.  This assessment function is also available in multiple languages.

Resources Sharing Function

Schoology allows the practice of learning objects to be implemented using the folder function.  All content uploaded to or created in Schoology is placed into a folder, that is built similarly to units in a traditional class setting.  Students can access all information pertinent to that unit underneath one unit folder.  Instructors can also hide or schedule folders to appear at certain dates.

 

 

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