Over the past several years digital classrooms have grown at a tremendous rate. Ten years ago it was not very common for anyone to take an online course and now there are millions of people across our planet taking online courses every day. The pedagogy of online courses has evolved from a course where a student listens to a lecture and completes assignments to courses that have students interacting with instructors and each other in a wide variety of ways. We have gone from live classes only, to choosing between live and online classes and today we even have a third option. We can take classes live, online or in an blended environment. The tools educators and schools use in order to provide online and blended courses have expanded and there are several different options for providing a online or blended class.
As I have explored different digital classroom environments over the past few years, I have noticed a fundamental shift between digital course software that has been around for many years (such as BlackBoard and Moodle) and newer digital environments (Edmodo and Schoology). The software that has been around for many years seems to have a connection with a more traditional style of education. They are simply digital versions of a traditional classroom. The educators control what is going on in the room, share documents with students, hold discussion with students and provide a space for students to turn in home work and check their grades. I am not stating that these programs are bad or inappropriate, I am simply stating that they are traditional. Personally I believe we need non-traditional online options for classes to fit our modern day non-tradtional classroom. This is why I have turned to Schoology.
If you haven't seen Schoology, you should...it's just plain cool. Schoology was built in a fashion similar to Facebook and is very easy for anyone to navigate. It allows for students or teachers to form groups, connect their learning to Google Docs, hold a wide variety of discussions (including adding audio and video in the enterprise version) as well as a great quizzing module. More impressive than all of this is the fact that my teachers can be introduced to Schoology and in less than an hour they are experts. (ok, they aren't experts in using Schoology, but they feel like they are). My educators have not gone through the stressful process of trying to understand how to navigate through an online classroom system such as BlackBoard or Moodle. They are using an environment that seems, at least, vaguely familiar and comfortable. Schoologys interface is laid out in a way that makes sense in our modern world.
As our students have been introduced to Schoology, there have been very few cries for help. Students have enjoyed the discussion board and love the idea of making their own social groups within Schoology. Educators love the ease and versatility of the discussion boards and the quiz module. My IT person loves how easy it is to adjust the settings to allow everyone to do everything for their classrooms. Overall, it's a win win situation.
Let's look at it from this point of view. My spanish teachers have been searching for a way to use audio more within their classrooms. We have tried, with varying degrees of success, VoiceThread. This has helped, but was just different enough from everything else they do, that my spanish teachers would get lost or confused. They needed a SIMPLE solution. The Schoology discussion board is just what the Education Technology person ordered. It is easy enough for the adults and provides the authentic learning experiences students need. The fact that this discussion board ties directly to the student calendar and grade book is simply icing on the cake, and I love icing.
Although I tout about Schoology, it is not the only game on the block with this more modern look at the classroom environment. One comparable, and popular, program is Edmodo. Other programs worth checking out are: EduOnGo and Udutu.
If you know of any other modern digital classroom environment, I'd love to hear about them. You can contact me through my website at technologyskills.net