Technology 101: Learning Mismanagement Systems

I’m teaching a hybrid class, this term, and I’m using a learning management system called SmartSite, which is pretty horrible. It’s clunky, slow, and goes down periodically for no apparent reason. It’s difficult to navigate, and impossible to edit more than one page at a time. Getting around the site requires clicking various tabs, but if one tab is open in another window, changes don’t always save (except when they do), meaning that it’s very difficult to make the parts of the site synch up.

This would be less of a problem if I had built my course myself, as I’m used to doing. Instead, I’m teaching a section built by a team I wasn’t on, and using the format that they built. I have no doubt that they did their best with a bad system, but the end result is a course that I’m unfamiliar with, that I can’t easily edit, and that has activities and pieces in different headings. The group tried hard. The LMS is a mess.

So, what’s a teacher to do in a situation like this? I can’t just go and re-write the course, and even if I could, that’s a greater time investment than I can manage.

Step 1: Build an outline for myself of the semester’s assignments. Not just the major papers, but every little assignment. For many students, there’s no such thing as a “little assignment,” and if a piece is so little that it’s not work paying close attention to it, for me, then why am I assigning it? If the assignments are work asking them to do, they’re worth me being careful about scheduling.

Step 2: Make sure that links to all the assignments are in the same place. The calendar function might be the best place for this. Right now, the assignments are in three different places, and one of them (a list of all the assignments, sorted by week) is meant to be the go-to place for information, but that seems to be confusing. If I can set up the calendar, we’ll be okay.

Step 3: Weekly e-mail with the activity list for the week, with links. The fewer things students have to click, the more likely they’ll be to do the work. This goes back to the layout of the SmartSite, as well. If students have to click on a folder that says “Resources by Week,” a “Module” for the week, four different “Forums” for class conversation, “Assignments,” and a “Dropbox,” all of which take a long time to open, and none of which can include all the necessary information, they’re going to give up. I nearly gave up halfway through that sentence.

Step 4: Make sure that I have daily PowerPoints. I hate PowerPoint. I think that teachers often use it as an excuse not to actually teach, but in this case I think I need it. The LMS is so messy that I can’t reliably click around to find the next activity, so I need them all cued up, in the same place. As an added bonus, I can drop the PowerPoints into a folder so that students can access them. If they can find them.

Just to be clear: I don’t place any of the blame on the people who worked to build the course. I place it on the coding of SmartSite and on myself, for not having more time to get to know it before I started teaching. The team worked hard to smooth the process out, but they didn’t have much to work with.

I realize that I’m not making a larger point about teaching with technology, yet. Right now, I’m trying to get my hands around doing the task in front of me with the tools at my disposal, having come into this late. Some other time I’ll write about my assignments, how I’m building my PowerPoints, and other technology issues.

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