Things to Consider when Evaluating a Platform for Teaching and Learning.
There are a variety of factors to consider as you investigate a system to best fit your school or district. It is important to factor in both internal and external stakeholders, recognizing that a teaching and learning platform should streamline workflow for all stakeholders and provide more bang for your buck.
1. Learning Tools
Often students, teachers, and parents are overwhelmed with too many systems. There is a lack of consistency, and disjointed processes cause unnecessary frustration and decreased efficiency. Teachers have a variety of tools at their disposal, but are unsure of where to go for what they need to support curriculum and instruction, in fact 59% of teachers complain of too many systems to interact with.
Students, teachers, parents, and administrators need a central hub for resources. So, while a variety of tools for learning is a must, a platform must allow for the sharing and integrating of digital curriculum resources into teaching. In addition, learning tools need to fit the age range within your school or district – flexibility being a key factor in the platform you select.
Opportunities for Collaboration
Learning tools must allow both teachers and students to collaborate, work at their own pace, access various resources, and extend their learning beyond the four walls of the classroom. The learning environment must be device-agnostic and support anywhere, anytime learning.
Users should have spaces to participate in authentic learning experiences with their peers; to collaborate, create, discuss, and solve problems. This may occur in a course setting, but users should also be able to create their own groups or communities. Group pages allow students to communicate with a sub-set of classmates to share files and work collaboatively. Integrated instant messaging and video or text-based conferencing tools are two additional features to look for because of their obvious benefits.
The beauty of a teaching and learning platform is that the integrated curriculum and content provide teachers with scaffolding, but the autonomy to modify and create meaningful learning experiences for students. Teachers must be able to create (and share) assignments, discussions, surveys, tests, media, files and more. Additionally, teachers must have the flexibility to design experiences that support a range of ages and skill levels.
[Our] platform saves our instructors time and allows them to focus on more important tasks—like teaching their classes instead of searching for and/or creating digital content to support curriculum. We’ve created strong links between curriculum, assessment, and standards, and connected learning to our pupils’ personal goals, aspirations, and interests.
Assessment and Evaluation
Digital assessment tools should allow for easier delivery of assessments and more reliable data analytics. These tools must go beyond what traditional paper and pencil assessments can offer by evaluating higher-order thinking skills and performance tasks.
Students must be supported to move at their own pace, allowing teachers to use monitor students’ needs in real time and push unique materials to selected groups of students. A teaching and learning platform that encourages actions linked directly to learner preferences, strengths, and gaps increases instructional effectiveness.
There is no denying that parental involvement plays a critical role in a child’s success. A teaching and learning platform should stimulate family involvement in student learning, enabling English-speaking parents to learn along with their children.
Solutions communication tools that can be delivered in the native language for non-English speaking families. These communication tools should provide more than grades. Parents should be able to view assignments, lesson plans, support materials, student work, and more. When parents have access to a variety of resources they can better support their child’s learning.
The characteristics of adult learners support the need for integrated and self-paced professional learning opportunities. Adult learning must be relevant, practical, goal-oriented; and encourage collaboration. A platform that allows teachers to develop their own learning goals, implement what they learn, and allow for their contributions to be acknowledged will result in more productive staff who are willing to put forth their best work. Tools may include learning communities, personal learning plans, digital portfolios, and self-paced coursework, with rubrics for self-assessment.
2. Curriculum Support
The integration of a curriculum and learning management system allows for a “living and breathing curriculum.” Curriculum leaders should have enough control to provide scaffolding and constantly changing instructional support, while still providing teachers with the flexibility they need to succeed. Changes should not be hard to implement. Look for a solution that ensures all changes are automatically reflected throughout your school or district.
Facilitate Best Practice
Historically, instructional design has focused on teacher- and classroom-centered instruction. As we move to a learner-centered model of instruction, planning becomes less of a schedule of events and more of a roadmap for learning. Teachers, parents, students, and administrators should all have access to these plans so that they understand how learning will be generated, supported, and assessed. Ensure the teaching and learning platform you select provides all stakeholders with visibility into the learning process.
Tools should address both short-term goals and long-term outcomes, focusing on each learner’s types of thinking, skills developed, and what each student will be learning daily. Adopt a system that will encourage best practices by building it into your course design, making all curriculum resources easily accessible to teachers, students, and parents.
3. Digital Content
It is essential that users have an environment in which they can access, develop, curate, and share digital content with each other. The Learning Counsel’s survey found that 67% of teachers spend 2-6+ hours searching for resources per week. So, while a teaching and learning platform doesn’t always provide content, it should be able to ingest digital content from commercial providers, open educational resources, and district-created or teacher-created… saving teachers valuable time.
Interoperability is key. The last thing that teachers, students, and administrators need is to log in to separate systems to access resources. In 2013, when Houston Independent School District was shopping for a high-quality teaching and learning platform, they decided it had to be IMS Global conformance-certified. The IMS Global Learning Consortium facilitates a complete set of initiatives to effective digital teaching and learning.
Open Educational Resources
OER provide free and equitable access to content because these materials can be modified and freely distributed. In addition to the obvious cost savings, these open educational resources remain up-to-date and relevant in our changing world... something we can’t say about traditional textbooks. There are many ways to access OER (Learning Registry, OER Commons, Gooru, etc.) but it is important to consider the potential obstacles. The implementation of OER can be time-consuming, overwhelming, and confusing for teachers.
A teaching and learning has the potential to streamline and simplify the application and use of OER. Ideally, a learning platform will ingest content rather than linking to external search engines. A central repository of content allows these resources to seamlessly integrated into the learning environment. For example, itslearning and Gooru have formed a partnership allowing educators and students to curate publisher, district-developed or open education content with standards-aligned instructional support. This strategic alliance provides itslearning's users with over 2 million standards-aligned resources, 5,000 collections, 3,000 assessments, and over 35 courses.
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