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DeKalb County (GA) on eSchool News - "The simple LMS move that has made our teachers more effective"

This piece originally appeared on eSchool News. Read the full article on eschoolnews.com

By Gary Brantley, the Chief Information Officer for Georgia’s DeKalb County School District.

"Migrating to a single platform for assessment, data analysis, and instruction has simplified most everything for one district

Teachers today are responsible for so many things.

They have to plan instruction for all of their classes. They have to tie this instruction to rigorous state and national standards. They have to assess their students’ understanding on an ongoing basis, look at what the data say, and adjust their teaching based on the results. They have to differentiate instruction for every child. They have to foster deeper understanding among their students, addressing not only core content standards but also key 21st century skills such as communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and problem solving.

Teachers can’t do all of that if they’re constantly logging out of one software system and into another. It’s far too much for them to manage.

That’s why we at DeKalb County School District —Georgia’s third largest school system, with about 103,000 students and 14,000 employees in grades K-12—set out to find a single system that could tie together assessment, data management, and instruction. We wanted our teachers to be able to manage the entire learning cycle through one easy-to-use platform with a single sign-on.

We suspected that having a single platform unifying instruction and assessment would make our teachers more productive—and more likely to use data to drive their instruction. We’ve found that to be true, while realizing a number of other key benefits as well.

A single platform

Our search process began in early 2015. We wanted representation from a wide range of stakeholder groups, especially those who would be using the system in their classrooms every day. So, we convened an evaluation team that consisted of about 70 teachers, curriculum specialists, principals, and assistant principals, along with another 15 technical personnel.

We invited the companies that Gartner had identified as the top seven providers of learning management system (LMS) software to visit us and tell us about their products, and we set up a “sandbox” environment in which teachers and others could evaluate these systems.

Our evaluation process lasted several weeks. In the end, we chose itslearning as our new learning management platform. Not only did we like the system’s functionality, but we also liked how well it integrated with all of our other software programs, such as Infinite Campus, our student information system, and TrueNorthLogic (Performance Matters), our professional development and talent management system.

With this LMS platform, teachers can create, share, and assign lessons to their students; build and deliver a variety of assessments and checks for understanding; track and analyze student progress toward learning goals; and extend their students’ learning beyond the school day with rich discussions and activities—all from a single interface.

Simplifying assessment and blended learning

Delivering SLO assessments

We have been rolling out the LMS platform to our teachers in phases, using a “train the trainer” model. Because we wanted teachers to be invested in the platform right away, we began with a process they were already familiar with: delivering assessments built around Student Learning Objectives (SLOs).

We have pre-loaded existing SLO assessments within the system that teachers can administer electronically to their students, and teachers are able to create their own SLO assessments as well. Teachers use the information they receive back from these assessments to guide their instruction and help close achievement gaps.

Although the data dashboards within the system allow for rich analysis of the assessment results, we have built our own data visualization tools using an analytics program called Tableau that we use to supplement this information. From within the LMS interface, teachers can drill down and see exactly how their students are performing in relation to each standard and learning objective, and they can group students appropriately for small-group instruction or assign personalized content to each child to help fill the gaps in students’ learning.

Having access to all of this information in one simple place makes teachers more effective. It’s something our teachers are very excited about, because it allows them to be much more productive. But they’re also excited about the possibilities for teaching and learning that the platform opens up for them moving forward. These include opportunities to create communities for collaborating across the district; share, rate, and review instructional resources from a single location; communicate through discussion boards, chat, and video conferencing; have students create electronic portfolios demonstrating their work; and extend their students’ learning online.

Extending the learning

Now that every teacher is using the system to deliver SLO assessments and track student progress, we’re moving to the next phase of our rollout, which is to use the system for online and blended learning. We currently have about 750 early adopters using the platform to extend learning opportunities for their students online, and our goal is to have all teachers doing this as of August.

Our early adopters are finding that students are using the platform’s online discussion tools to connect with each other outside of class, leading to powerful discussions that take their learning deeper. Teachers are finding that students are more likely to open up in this online format; it’s a lot easier for them to ask a question or comment on each others’ ideas when they don’t have to speak up in front of the class.

What’s more, the system also gives parents a window into how their children are learning, so they can participate more fully in their children’s education. It’s leading to greater engagement among both students and their parents.

One of the most common reasons teachers don’t use technology to support their instruction is because of the complexity involved, and that includes having to remember multiple passwords and log in and out of various systems all day.

We’ve imported more than 250 courses into the platform, and teachers and students can access all of their content and all of their data from a single online interface. By adopting a single platform for assessment, data analysis, and instruction, we have reduced complexity and improved the learning return on our ed-tech investment."

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