Critical Review of a CMS

Today I will be reviewing a Content Management System (CMS), for this particular assignment, I chose Schoology- a CMS that the school I work at currently uses. We switched over to Schoology after a few years of using Google Classroom, so many of the features that you find in Google Classroom you will find in Schoology.

Here is a basic idea of what Schoology looks like when you enter into a “classroom.” For the purposes of this review, I used my 2018-2019 “Advisory” course to look over. Advisory is a course that all middle school students take, and while there are limited assessments given (if at all, it’s more of a social-emotional learning class), it has the full features that any other class would have.

Screen Shot 2018-10-24 at 10.36.59 AM

 

As you can see, there is a navigation bar on the left-hand side, which has all of the features listed. Some of these are specifically for teachers (Workload Planning, for instance) while others are for both the student and the teacher (Updates, Materials, etc). In the student’s view, only Materials, Updates, Grades, Members and Turnitin are available options.

So, with all of that being said, let’s dive into the features!

Course Options: This is a simple drop-down feature that has several different options:

  • View Course As- This feature allows a teacher to view the course as any one of its students. That is, they can see exactly what the student would see, from the layout to assignments and due dates/grades. This is a nice affordance so that teachers can simulate and understand what a student might do when they land on the page and navigate.
  • Send Message- A quick pop up option that allows the teacher to send a message to all members, admins and/or parents. This is great for quick feedback, but also for the ability to quickly get in contact with a parent or other teachers making the course. Unfortunately, this does not go to their school email (unless there has been a notification set up), so a student can often miss messages sent through Schoology rather than when they are sent directly to their school email address.
  • Edit Info- Basic information editing section. This feature allows the teacher to name/rename a course, its description, who can see what (privacy),  what external tools are being used, moderation of posts and a recycle bin. This is a pretty basic affordance, but it allows a teacher to customize their class at their discretion.
  • Edit Privacy/Course Settings-  A shortcut to the aforementioned privacy settings
  • External Providers- A shortcut to the aforementioned external tools feature
  • Moderate Posts- Ability to delete and see deleted posts by a course administrator/teacher. A constraint of this is it doesn’t appear you can actually moderate the post- that is you can’t edit or put on hold for the student to review and edit. You must delete or keep.
  • Recycle Bin- Ability to see anything that has been deleted from the course

Materials: The materials section of the CMS is where the bulk of the content lies. As you can see below, the materials page is where folders of information, assessments and discussion pages can be created. A constraint of this feature is that it can be a little overwhelming. EVERYTHING is here, so it’s a great affordance because it’s organized, but setting it up could take literally days the first go around.

Screen Shot 2018-10-24 at 12.10.04 PM.png

  • Add Folder: Adding a folder is exactly what it sounds like- it is the ability to organize information in specific places. Folders can be a specific color, have a description, be available/published and date for which you wish it to be shown. This is a nice affordance for organization. This allows both the student and teacher to stay within a particular unit/module and not get lost. It is a bit of a constraint though, as you are not as readily able to see connections from one piece to another.
  • Add Assignment: This option has the ability to assign a specific assignment. This is more when you would want to assign something short term that a student would submit (think homework). In the pop-up, you can assign a name, description, and due date. There is then the ability to give the assignments attributes such as assigning to specific people, align with learning objectives, locking, and then, of course, enabling submissions, publishing, disable/enable comments and finally the option to use statistics in the grading. Another thing involved in the assignment feature is the ability to choose a rubric and a scale for which it is to be graded. A large constraint is that you cannot simply do a math problem on a piece of paper and turn it in. You must scan of some variety. The other option is to have it turned in during class and have the teacher mark the grade. Either way, it’s a nice option if the student can complete easily online, but gets a little dicier when considering the typical pen and paper way of going about assignments.
  • Add Test/Quiz: The Add Test/Quiz has two options- import your own test/quiz from another source, or create your own. For teachers, this is a nice affordance as it can be graded quickly by a computer and there are so many options. Unfortunately, as with other materials, it can take a while to set up. Another constraint is that you must obviously have the internet to do such a test/quiz. As you can see below, there are a lot of options when creating your own within Schoology:
(picture from: https://support.schoology.com/hc/en-us/articles/207163137-Course-Materials-Tests-Quizzes)
  • Add Assessment: An assessment is used for gathering more information than your standard test/quiz would. In addition to the standard multiple choice, true-false questions that the previous feature offered, an assessment allows a student to highlight, drag and drop, and also do short answer math questions. This is great for teachers looking to check-in for understanding. It has more options than just a test/quiz and allows the teacher to have a better idea of how the student is thinking. Again, this is difficult/impossible without internet, and also requires a lot of set up
  • Add File/Link/External Tool: If you have something you want students to see (say, a formula sheet), this is where you can add a file for students to see and download. This is also where you can add an external tool (ie google docs, other digital tools, etc). This is nice because it is a quick jump to a tool or resource, but it also requires the child to understand tabbing to a new window, having another program that might need to be run, etc.
  • Add Discussion: For those that want their students to be a part of a discussion away from the classroom, this option offers a platform for that, along with a grading option. This is an AWESOME feature that allows students to interact beyond the classroom. Students can create new threads or reply to one another, and the ability to grade is also nice. One thing to keep in mind is that students are left to their own devices, so it may and probably will require moderating.
  • Add Page: This is for those looking to organize further.
  • Add Media Album: Similar to adding a file, adding a media album allows students and teachers to collaborate using digital media.
  • Add Package: This could be adding web content or SCORM
  • Import from Resources: This allows you to upload anything from your computer

Updates: Updates is like your Facebook feed, a place where you can quickly update students on information that day. It works similar to Facebook, where you can post text, photos, video or even audio and all students will be able to see it on a “wall” just as they would on other social media platforms. This is something that most students understand off of the bat, as it is similar to social media. Understandably, not everyone in middle school has social media, so getting in the habit of checking the updates page can be tricky at first.

Gradebook: The Gradebook is an in-house solution to grading. Anything you assign is automatically added and calculated in a virtual grade book. You can sort by name, category, due date or by a specific column of work. Again, this is great for the compilation of grades so teachers can understand where students are (and vice versa), but it takes quite some time to set up.

Grade Setup: Grade setup is where you create your grade book and rubrics (see below). It houses any kind of setting you could want in your grading system.

Screen Shot 2018-10-24 at 7.18.22 PM.png

Mastery: This is where you set your learning objectives for the year/semester/trimester. You can set your level of proficiency that you want the program to calculate (for example, meets expectations could be 50% minimum, exceeds expectations could be 75% minimum). All of the math calculated shows reports based on where all students are and their trends in this feature. This is a nice affordance so teachers can quickly analyze where a student or class is in relation to his or her goals, however you’re also relying on a number system rather than really checking in with the student for understanding. That is, you cannot solely rely on this feature if you’re interested in how much learning and understanding students have acquired.

Badges: A teacher can add badges that any student can get. These include things like perfect attendance or you’re a good listener to you’ve completed your homework and showing great leadership. In this section, you can both create (anything you want!) and distribute to members of the class. Badges are great for students and encouragement, but it would be wise for a teacher to fully understand rewards and how they may affect their students (ie encouraging them to get a reward/badge over learning the content for information and understanding).

Members: The members page shows everyone who is in the class, from admins to students. Here, you can also add or remove students/members or find the code so that students can add themselves to the class.

Analytics: The analytics feature helps show the analytics of how often Schoology is used by each member of the class. This includes the last login time for the class and how long it lasted for each thing you assign or provide (links, discussion pages, etc). This is a great affordance for teachers to learn how their students are using the CMS. With that being said, it might provide too much information and teachers may read into it too much with regards to how much or when a student is using (or isn’t using) their course materials.

Workload Planning: Workload planning is a very nice feature that shows teachers how much a student is taking on. This includes assignments and tests/ quizzes from other teachers to make sure that students are not overwhelmed by work inadvertently by teachers– for example, a student having 3 tests in one day. You can see specifically what other assignments have been assigned, and a nice addition is the chart is color coded and has numbers so that you can visually see if any students are being overloaded. I only see a benefit with this feature. The more teachers can coordinate with one another, the better. Students can easily be overwhelmed, so if you know when it may be a tough week in another class, it may be wise to provide a lighter week for them so they are not overly stressed and material goes in one ear and out the other due to lack of focus.

Turnitin: This is a well-known addition to many CMS platforms, and in this feature, students turn in their work and the program calculates the likelihood that the work has been plagiarized. In this tab, all work is shown with results from Turnitin.

Upcoming (Calendar): The upcoming is basically a calendar that shows any upcoming assignments and/or due dates for the following week. Students can see for specific classes or for all classes at once.

Notifications: Similar to social media platforms, notifications can be turned on so that any time a teacher updates or student comments on a discussion page, others are notified in the notification section (as well as email, if preferred). This is a nice affordance because all students can get notifications for pretty much any activity that is done by a teacher or another student. Unfortunately, this can also be a huge constraint by being a distractive mechanism that keeps the student chasing for feedback/comments.

Terms of Use: The terms of use for Schoology is actually pretty small. As it turns out, all of the data is kept internal with the school that provides the service. There is a note that any 3rd party features (such as external tools) are not included in this. Overall, it seems as if this is a pretty closed circuit CMS, which is rather refreshing. That being said, teacher DO have access to a lot of information about the students’ activity, which could be used against them should a teacher feel like the would want to.

 

Overall, I have found Schoology to be a great CMS. Most everything you could want to do, can be done. It doesn’t seem overly invasive and it provides an opportunity to keep everything organized in the area. The biggest constraint of this is that you must have the funds to purchase this CMS, all students must have access (a device and internet) and teachers must take the time to set up the course materials and grade book. As with most things in life, however, once the first year/course is over, it is much easier. Content and material can be copied over to the next year, as with grading materials and rubrics. If a school has the means, I would highly recommend Schoology!

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