Today I attended my second day of training in the LIFE Learning Management System. In spite of my own reservations about the suitability of this product for my particular needs over other available software by this afternoon I felt much more confident about how this product might be used in my school to enhance teaching and learning.
I have three main concerns about this learning management system and the way that it is being rolled out across the system I am working in (or at least in my own school).
Firstly, the package is not as useful for my early years classroom as it might be in other settings. I see that LMS can be very beneficial for tertiary and secondary educational settings, in organising coursework, communicating between teachers and students and allowing collaboration between learners with flexible timing, however, I am currently teaching Year 2 (7 year-olds). Simply plonking something that it great for adult learners into an early childhood setting is not necessarily a good idea.
The process of logging in to the program, digging through the pages to the activity of the day is not simple and is made frustrating by the very slow loading. The "one-stop shop" package presents some advantaged in keeping the activities in one place and some uniformity across activities, but the tools themselves are not as useable and useful as other Web 2.0 tools freely available on the web, and much simpler for my young learners to access.
Secondly, the program is being forced randomly into our practice, rather than being used to address particular needs. At my school there are three teachers who are being trained in the first round and trying to implement the package. Due to the physical distance between our classrooms and the fact that we are in different grade levels spread across the school, it is difficult to feel like we are being supported by each other through this process. In our school we are expected to plan in Year level teams
(consisting of around 4 teachers) but each of us trialling LIFE are in different teaching teams, so we plan units, activities and assessments with our team and then go off on our own and try to "invent" reasons to implement LIFE into our planning and do this on top of everything that the other classes on our year level are doing. If our whole team was using LIFE then needs would arise during the planning phase (e.g.: how can we get our students to collaboratively brainstorm their initial thoughts on the topic) and then some of these needs would be able to be met with LIFE. The use of technology should be to solve an existing problem, not to create new ones. Our current approach is arbitrary implementation to use technology for technology's sake.
Finally, I strongly believe that the strength of technology (including LMS, Web 2.0 tools, iPads and the like) is the ability to enable true collaboration amongst learners. The LIFE LMS system is a walled vault. No-one from outside can see what my class is doing and they can't communicate with anyone beyond those that they could easily turn their heads and talk to. Where is the point in using a cumbersome program to talk to the person who is sitting beside you? How is this providing students with a real audience and a sense that they are part of a global community?
As learners ourselves, the program restricts teachers from easily sharing ideas about what they are doing. I can't view the great activities that might be being done at other schools within my system and I can't make contact with other teachers who might be working through the same issues as me.
The team implementing the LMS at a system level created a collaborative workspace for staff. One of the team wrote a post on a discussion board inviting questions and discussion. After my first training session I responded to this post and asked a question and also started my own conversation thread. Two months later there have been 7 views of the original thread (mostly by me) and only one view of my starter (which I think was me also). No-one, even the person who set up the collaborative discussion board, has bothered to read or respond to the conversation threads. Why are we hell-bent on having our 7-year-olds collaborating using the software if we don't see a place for such collaboration in our own professional learning?
So, this morning I voiced my concerns (quite strongly because I was feeling very frustrated) and to the credit of the person facilitating the training session, by this afternoon, I truly felt that my concerns had been heard and that there is some future for this initiative after all.
I am proposing to our principal that we change tact from our original implementation plan (which, in fairness, was devised before any of us knew much about what we were doing). I propose that the teachers who are in the initial implementation phase be placed in a single year level teaching team to address the concern that it is being treated as an adhoc and ill-fitted addition to our existing planning. I would suggest that year level would be older than Year 2 to increase the likelihood of initial success. Finally, I have proposed that we begin to use the tools as staff for our own collaborative planning so that all staff begin to develop a sense of what the program offers and how to use it before they are expected to implement it in their own classes.
After today, I am very confident that the LIFE Learning Management System can have a positive impact on the teaching and learning in my school.