Article 7 in a series
“The online learning environment and learning resources should be available – and useable – anywhere and at any time. This simple statement has wide ranging ramifications.”
When and where are students going to use the resources in your LMS/OLE (Online Learning Environment)? Ditto for teachers. Do you have a clear vision, because you better!
Let’s look at possibilities.
Student use – only at home
If students are going to access online learning from home, they need a ‘good’ connection to the Internet. Hopefully your courses contain a lot of video and interactive activities, so a fast connection will be essential.
Students will require a ‘suitable device’; a computer or tablet with sufficient power to allow learning to occur transparently/without problems as their main study device.
This means that you, the leadership of the school, need to research hardware in order to advise parents of minimum requirements. Otherwise, someone is certain to purchase that $99 tablet on special at the local discount store or online– and then complain that their child can’t easily access all the learning.
If you have advised minimum device requirements, this is the parents’ problem. If you haven’t advised minimum requirements, this is your problem.
Student use – at school as well as at home
If students are expected to use the learning resources in the OLE at school, either during class or outside class (in study sessions, in the Library, etc.), you need to do even more.
Not only must you provide minimum specifications for the tablet or laptop computer that a student will need, but you also need to ensure that the school’s wireless network will handle the large number of extra devices – seamlessly – and that the school’s Internet connection has enough bandwidth to allow all students and staff to have smooth, fast simultaneous access.
You need Internet filtering and a lot of other things in place to ensure ‘duty of care’ so that students cannot easily access inappropriate online materials. You also need clear policies and procedures in place on how the devices will be used at school in general, and in class in particular.
And then there are all the ‘incidentals’, such as where students will store their devices when they are not using them? In their lockers (if they have one)? In their school bags? If so, what happens if a device gets lost, stolen or broken while in a school bag?
These statements assume a BYO (Bring Your Own) program has been chosen by the school; each family purchases and maintains their own computer or tablet. There are alternatives. The school can provide the device, either as a take anywhere (including home) device, or for use only on campus.
Each of these options comes with another range of things to consider; but they must be considered when first embarking on providing online resources. Working them out ‘along the way’ will create a multitude of problems. I will not outline all the possibilities in this article, as there are many things to consider.
Student use – in class
Do you want students to access the learning resources in your OLE during class? If so, you also need to create guidelines and policies on when and under what circumstances students are allowed to use their device. You also need to train teachers on the teaching and learning paradigm that should happen in the technology enhanced classroom.
What interaction with the OLE do you want from your teachers?
Which of the following is the model you will use to create the online resources? Do you want your teachers to
- Not create the online resources, but instead only access teaching resources that the school has created, possibly by outsourcing to subject matter experts and learning designers/content builders?
- OR create and maintain the learning resources and course materials for the subjects they teach?
How do you want your teachers to teach using the OLE? Do you want them to
- Continue to teach in a traditional manner, without the use of the materials in the OLE during class time?
- Teach in a near traditional manner, with some of the OLE materials to support them in class?
- Evolve their teaching approach to fully leverage the OLE, by moving to one of the blended learning teaching models (including flipped learning)?
The model of teaching that the OLE will support must be decided at the start. It will impact everything, such as the
- Type of computer needed by each teacher. (If all a teacher has to do is access the learning materials provided, the laptop computer can be of a relatively low specification. If teachers are expected to be content creators, the game changes. Creating and editing online resources require a more powerful computer, and sometimes specialised software. Screen recorded tutorials (think Khan Academy) and editing short videos should be an integral part of a resource rich and engaging online learning experience.
- Support equipment needed in each classroom. (Things such as large displays mounted on the wall – short throw data projectors, LCD screens – speakers, cabling, power and even lighting. Some classrooms have sunlight streaming in at some times of the day; this bright light negatively impacts the view of the large screen in the room.)
- The training needed to allow teachers to understand and embrace a modified method of teaching. This is the BIG one. It takes planning, excellent execution, and long-term effort, but is essential.
An LMS/OLE is not an isolated system
An LMS/OLE is one part of a larger ‘whole’ – the entire teaching and learning ecosystem. It impacts the infrastructure of the school, the data and connectivity requirements in each student’s home, the teaching and learning paradigm, privacy and security, IT staffing, the need for staff with specialised eLearning knowledge, training and familiarisation time for all (staff, students and parents) and more. It can also have a significant impact on the school budget, and not just for the LMS.
The leadership of a school contemplating the introduction of an LMS/OLE containing rich and engaging online courses needs to be aware of, and needs to plan, all these requirements.
The alternative – not providing a rich and engaging online learning environment to support their educational community – is not something any responsible school should consider in 2021; the disadvantages for all are too great.
 Note that student and staff laptop programs, school tech infrastructure, classroom tech facilities, tech and eLearning staffing and staff training to facilitate effective technology enhanced education are large and complex topics. They are mentioned here briefly purely to highlight their role in supporting the introduction of an LMS, but effective coverage requires their own series of articles.