Our school district just adopted Schoology as our official learning management system. When I first heard this news I thought, “I’m so set with how I use Google sites and drive and docs to manage my courses that I don’t think I’ll need Schoology.” But then some colleagues whom I respect said some good things about Schoology, and I know the people in IT who made this decision and trust that they think it’s a decent resource, so I started to explore Schoology to see how I could use it in my classroom.
Here’s the thing: technology evolves and so must I. And ever since I made the jump from overhead projectors and transparencies to PowerPoint slides projected from my computer, my thinking about technology remains the same. I use technology only if it allows me to do something important I cannot do without it. Sometimes the chalk board is literally the perfect tech tool for the job. In the case of PowerPoint, I could work more efficiently in designing slides rather than overhead transparencies, I could keep from getting overhead marker ink on my hands, and the slides engaged my students more effectively than what I had on the transparencies. It was technology that allowed me to do some important things that I could not do without it.
One of the best examples of a technology application that allows me to do something I cannot do without it is using Google Docs for writing. The collaborative nature of a Google Doc makes it possible for a student and me (and peers who read and respond) to engage in a conversation in the margins of a piece of writing. All of my feedback and the discussion we have about it is preserved right there on the document. Revision history shows the evolution of the piece of writing from the very first letters typed on the page. And suggesting mode makes it so easy for me to see the changes my students make as they revise. Google Docs is indispensable for me as a teacher of writing. I will never go back to dealing with writing on paper, with multiple drafts stapled together, with having to carry stacks of papers to and from school. Students can’t lose papers anymore (there’s no physical paper to lose or floppy disk to become corrupted or flash drive to disappear…) and my students and I will be able to see exactly what has happened to a particular piece of writing from beginning to end through the writing process and several iterations of feedback and revision. Powerful.
Since those early years of my teaching career (I’m now starting year 20) when PowerPoint seemed so sparkly and new, my technology tools have evolved significantly. Google’s apps shifted the landscape completely. I was religious about keeping a lesson plan book for years. I used the traditional teacher’s plan book with the grid for each week to do my week-by-week planning and wrote more detailed daily plans in a spiral that I kept at my side constantly. Once I set up a Google Site, where daily plans showed up in the “what happened in class” page so students could easily see what we did if absent, I stopped writing my daily lesson plans in a spiral–it felt redundant. I simply taught off of my lesson plan posted on the website each day–where I could link to the resources I needed for that day and students could access everything later as needed.
And because google documents were hyperlinkable, all of the resources I created for my students could be available on my website as links. This way, if I updated the document in my google drive, the link to it from my website would take the student to that updated version. This was a huge efficiency for me.
I loved how the Google Site was infinitely customizable. Over five years, I built and used a site that became not only my daily teaching tool, but a rich archive of all of the materials I had created during those years. Resources lived in my Google Drive and I used my Google Site to link to them and make them accessible to my students.
These powerful tools changed everything. And I imagined that I would never step away from my Google Site.
But it’s time. Schoology allows me to do more that I cannot do without it.
Years ago while working on my master’s degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I remember vividly the first time I went to the graduate library. I knew that the library housed the largest collection of a public university in our country, so I was intrigued to see it for myself. Only graduate students are permitted to enter (if undergrads need books that live there, they submit the call number at the desk and someone goes to get the book for them), and the first room you go into is massive. I walked around looking for what I needed, but something was amiss. It seemed that there were gaps in the call numbers–not everything seemed to be there. But then I noticed a big door near the back, and I headed toward it. Very slowly I began to realize that the room I had entered was essentially an anteroom. It housed only new arrivals or something… (can’t remember exactly which books lived there or why). Beyond it were (I think) nine floors of books, nine floors of moveable book cases in order to make the very most of every inch of floor space. This creeping feeling slowly took over me–the library was far more massive than I had imagined, and I stood at the doorway to it, ready to slowly and carefully make my way into the stacks to find the books I needed to form the theoretical underpinning of my master’s thesis.
I tell you this story because from what I’ve learned thus far about Schoology, I feel like I’m standing in another anteroom at the doorway to a much larger landscape with resources I can only barely glimpse and imagine from where I am right now. Schoology will permit me to do everything I’ve used my Google Site for–posting daily lesson plans, linking to resources, posting everything students need to complete the work for my class. But it will do this in a fully socially networked space, one that students will be familiar with pretty much instantly because it functions much like other social network spaces, and one that has the potential to connect my students and me to the world beyond our school in ways not possible without Schoology. I can use Schoology as home base for a PLC with teachers across the country, for example. I can share resources with teachers in Mississippi or Ohio or Alaska. Students can see on ONE PAGE all of their work, current and upcoming for all of their classes, and can post questions to teachers and classmates right there. I can post assignments of many types: quizzes (with instant feedback to students about how they did), discussions–and it will keep track for me of who has completed things and who has not. All of these are huge efficiencies that will enable me to spend more time responding to students and planning instruction to respond to their needs. There is potential here for rich, engaging, interactive work for students too.
At first I thought I would still keep up my Google Site as home base for my classroom and just use Schoology to link to the resources there, but I have known for a while that my Site is cluttered and visually overwhelming to some students. There’s more there than they need. Moving things to Schoology is forcing me to identify exactly what students need so I can have everything there in one place for them, archived for them to find it easily, and in a space where they can send me questions at the moment they have them. Schoology will enable me to work faster and smarter, able to better individualize my instruction for my students.
So I’m totally jumping ship. Well not totally. I’m not abandoning the powerful google apps that I use for teaching writing, collecting student data, and creating resources for my students (google docs, drive, slides, forms). And a Google Site is still the choice for our department’s new grade 9-12 digital portfolio. We built a template and filled with the Common Core State Standards, where students can collect their work across four years. There are portfolios within Schoology, but not something that my department can structure with a common template for all students so they all have the same pieces from year to year. And I will maintain my google site that’s about me, my professional home base as a teacher.
But Schoology will become my new home base for my classroom, and I can’t wait to see where it takes my students and me. I’m just peeking through the door right now–aware of the tremendous potential but not totally understanding how it all works. So I will just walk in, slowly, carefully, and see what I can find and learn.