By: Michael Johnson
Learning management systems—LMSs—are vital to the everyday academic career. As someone who easily forgets to jot down the homework in most of his classes, I would be lost without them. Moreover, at times, teachers’ pre-test reviews and and all past assignments are available online. Our LMS, Moodle, gets the job done. That being said, in a sea of competing and high-quality learning management systems, just getting the job done does not cut it. It is time that we, as a school, upgrade from Moodle.
While at first glance, aesthetics may not seem all that important to a service like Moodle, when you visit the same site perhaps multiple times a day and you are greeted by the same unforgiving blank white background, one can become somewhat despondent. The cons of Moodle go past aesthetics. Solana Craig, Bryn Mawr junior and user of Canvas, Bryn Mawr’s LMS, and Moodle while at Gilman, explains, “In Moodle I feel like I have to click on a lot of things to find my class,” displaying a fatal flaw of Moodle: organization. To get to the necessary homework or classwork assignment, one has to sift through an unnecessary number of pages and links. At a school like Gilman which demands lots of time for homework and other work, convenience is critical. Even a twenty-second pitstop on Moodle that could have been avoided with better organization feels like a major obstacle.
There does emerge a solution. This year, two new LMSs are in use at Gilman besides Moodle: Canvas by Dr. Chris Ciarleglio, Mr. James Spragins, and Mr. Robert Heubeck and Schoology by Mr. Bartley Griffith, both of which offer a vastly different, more efficient, and generally better approach to the online classroom.
Canvas immediately solves Moodle’s problem of poor aesthetics, as Bryan Huang (’18), who uses Canvas in his Gilman biology class, commented, “I like Canvas because just aesthetically it looks pleasing.” Craig also prefers the more pleasant design of Canvas over Moodle, explaining, “I like Canvas because it has … an easy display and it’s colorful. [Canvas] is better than Moodle because … [Moodle is] really kind of bland and not really fun.”
Additionally, Canvas provides a more organized layout and design that can streamline the process of finding homework and other assignments. Huang states that “[Canvas] organizes stuff a lot better than Moodle. I feel like its features are better fleshed out than Moodle’s.” He describes the benefits he has experienced from using the better organized Canvas, adding “I personally have benefitted from the use of Canvas … the in-house syllabus feature is very useful.” Craig echoes Huang’s sentiment, noting, “Canvas has really easy guidelines as to what to do. There are assignments and announcements … and I think it’s really easy for me to organize all my [work].” As detailed by Huang and Craig, Canvas’s superior organization aids the student in more efficiently finding and completing classwork and homework assignments, which can lead to better academic performance in the class.
Besides helping students, Canvas’s organization and features help teachers. Gilman uses multiple LMSs for attendance, grading, and assigning homework and class work. Canvas can help join these processes under one software. Gilman Biology Teacher Dr. Ciarleglio, who uses Canvas this year instead of Moodle, details Canvas’s utility in consolidating attendance and grading into one system—“Canvas actually has built in its own marking period function, attendance [function], ..[and] I would think that if you ask Canvas about a plugin for disciplinary stuff they could do it.” Ciarleglio also commends the automated-grading-quiz feature on Canvas as incredibly useful and time-saving. “Why spend umpteen hours grading [quizzes] when [Canvas] will instantly grade it for you? Why create extra work for yourself when you could be using that time … going and making things better in other parts of the course?” In saving time, Canvas allows teachers to perhaps improve the course, further evincing the advantages and benefit of the software.
Also, Canvas currently demands no lofty cost to use; Ciarleglio states, “If you are test-driving [Canvas], which is what I am doing—Mr. Spragins and Mr. Heubeck are all kind of testing it out—… that is free.”
Another attractive option is Schoology, which Assistant Headmaster Bartley Griffith is utilizing. Mr. Griffith also stresses aesthetics as a positive and important aspect of the LMS. “I like the aesthetic of [Schoology] … imagine that Moodle and Facebook had a baby; it would probably look like Schoology, so students are really familiar with the way that it is designed … The color scheme and all that looks really friendly and inviting.” Mr. Griffith notes that Schoology too has an intuitive and organized “gradebook feature” that perhaps can consolidate the grading of PCR and the posting of assignments and classwork of Moodle into one overarching LMS. Furthermore, Schoology can also help Moodle’s general layout and navigation woes; Griffith states “[Schoology] is really nicely organized. It has got a simple navigation system for students. I think it is a little easier to navigate for students than [is] Moodle.”
Finally, he explains that his use of Schoology has been met with positive feedback from his class: “More than anything else, my students have like it.” Student in Mr. Griffith’s class and Schoology user Sophomore Will Dowling (‘18) agrees, “One thing I really like about [Schoology] is that you can see your semester grade right on the homescreen.” He also describes Schoology’s superiority to Moodle: “In my opinion it is just like an advanced form of Moodle; I think it is a little better.” Dowling’s classmate and fellow Schoology user Noah Jun shares this positive view of the LMS: “I like how when you turn in assignments on Schoology the teacher can instantly look at it give you your grades.” Jun likewise concludes, “I would say [Schoology] is better than Moodle.”
With such positive feedback from both teachers and students regarding these novel LMSs, I support a transition away from Moodle. On the topic of the future of Moodle and LMSs at Gilman, Upper School Headmaster Mr. Robert Heubeck discloses, “We have to as a school determine whether or not Moodle serves our needs the way that it should … in the future we are going to evaluate all the LMSs out there and see if there’s one that best fits Gilman’s purpose.” As Heubeck expresses, Gilman should utilize the best possible online learning system; I do not believe Moodle fits that description, so let’s move forward into the pinnacle of online education resources.