Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Your Learning Sandbox or Ours?

Regular readers of this blog know that our school has embraced BYOD as an approach to integrating technology in our day to day teaching and learning.  We are learning lots of valuable lessons along the way.

Recently I have had many conversations with various people about creating a common "digital learning sandbox" for our teachers and students.

As it stands today we have some commonality  - for example a common file sharing system for staff and students, common school email for staff and students and other aspects of both Google Apps and Microsoft's 365.

But as of yet, we have not felt the need to deploy one mandated digital platform for all our students.

Instead we have allowed the "digital learning sand box" to grow organically and in a personalized manner.

For now students and teachers choose which platform is best for them.

Increasingly I can see some limitations to this.

As more and more teachers start asking students to demonstrate their learning in a digital space I worry that managing this information will be difficult for both teachers and students.


What if every teacher gives every student the choice to choose a platform that works for them - starting in grade 8.  A student can maintain a digital space/portfolio that is relevant to them and is fully transferable once they graduate.

Recently a few teachers shared with me some student projects that had been completed.  Students were given the ability to choose a digital platform - many/most chose platforms that they had already established for personal use and made the crossover to "school use"  (eg. Facebook, Tumblr, Blogger or Wordpress, etc.).  It should be noted that some students made the perfect-ably acceptable choice to produce a "traditional" paper product.

As we continue to shine a necessary spotlight on the digital citizenship of our students (and staff) I can't help but think of how effective it is to have students freely choosing to broaden their vision of how digital spaces can be used.  By inviting teachers and peers into their these digital spaces as a means to document learning, can serve to broaden the vision and raise the bar on digital citizenship..  

Another benefit, as I see it, is that it can mitigate the "school life" vs. "real life" crisis that exists in so many schools today.

Of course there are many other legalities and specifics that need to be considered in this conversations.     And who knows, we may move toward inviting all students into one big school learning sandbox.   But in the meantime I am intrigued by how we are organically allowing students to learn and demonstrate that learning in their own digital sandbox.

Any thoughts or advice?  


  1. Are you using a common LMS (Learning Mangagement System) and just wondering why you wouldn't use that as a platform and students could link into or out of. For example, Moodle integrates the MAhara ePortfolio that can be used in open or closed environments. Having an LMS would encourage students to consider open and closed environments based on what they want people to see - and not to see.

    A common LMS also avoids FOIP issues because it can be hosted in Canada.

    I'm trying to figure out how to connect f2f classrooms and online courses/schools - and I'm wondering why f2f classrooms tend to stay away from LMS systems - it might juts be my perception though.

    Just wondering?
    Verena :)

  2. “LMS or no LMS?” that is the question. The long and short answer is that it depends.

    An LMS can be an excellent tool for keeping teachers organized and helping students submit work in a structured way. With a technologically unsophisticated community of users, teachers or students, an LMS can be a great way of providing a framework for students to submit work, connect with peers, and receive feedback from teachers. Similarly, teachers have a streamlined interface for assignment collection and mark submission. 10 years ago, if educators were trying to work with students online, an LMS was an excellent way of eliminating the technical expertise overhead involved in teaching and learning with technology.

    However, now, in a BYOD world of smartphones, tablets, netbooks, and laptops, most students and teachers (with a bit of help occasionally from peers and/or Google) can find publicly available tools that can allow them to do what they needed to do easily. The publicly available tools have gotten better (apps, blogs, presentation tools, etc. have generally gotten increasingly easier to use as they evolved). Also, and more importantly, people have generally become more technologically proficient. The average student and average teacher of today is far ahead of his or her counterpart of a decade ago in terms of how comfortable they are with technology. Similarly, being technically inept is approaching the same stigma of being illiterate.

    While an LMS may no longer be necessary to help in the creation and delivery of work to teachers and students, one of the key benefits of an LMS (or school landing page or similar) remains that it can help teachers and students stay organized. Teachers, students, and parents can have access to all the information they care about in one place. This benefit is undeniable. The challenge currently in BC is that we are awaiting the province’s recommendation for BCeSIS’ successor. This announcement will have major impliations.

    Our school is currently looking at upgrading its library software, upgrading its student records software, and adding a possible LMS. As we are figuring our options out, what is clear is that the answer cannot be three separate, isolated systems --the duplication of work in such a scenario would be incredibly labor-intensive/wasteful/expensive. The solution really begins with knowing what the BC Ministry of Education will require of its schools and then building a system that allows an LMS and library system to exchange data with the front office’s student records.

    In conclusion, if an LMS is a stand-alone system that requires its own maintenance team, then it probably offers poor value to a school. However, if an LMS can be an extension of the main office’s student records system, and connected to the school’s library, then it becomes a very good thing indeed.

    I now have yet another reason to look forward to June.