Love them or hate them: Learning management systems are here to stay.
Last year, I taught a course at a school with an administration that moved, ah, a bit slowly for new hires. Because of various glitches in the paperwork, I wasn’t assigned a login for the campus learning management system, Canvas, until I’d been teaching more than six weeks — much to my students’ detriment.
Asking my students to print out assignments nearly sparked a mutiny. Many seemed to think the class wasn’t real until it finally appeared on Canvas.
Before that, when I showed them grades in my grade book, they typically squinted their eyes dubiously and said, “And that’s what’s going to be on Canvas?”
“The exact same thing,” I’d say.
“Hmm … When?”
It just wasn’t a proper grade until it appeared online. After I was finally able to activate the course, attendance picked up, and more assignments arrived on time.
No LMS pleases everyone. Count me among the benighted faculty who once complained about the way the technology seemed to incentivize students’ grade obsession. My first-hand experience with the difference in student engagement in that class, however, forced me to look at things differently.
I began to see an LMS as a retention tool. The better the design, the less vulnerable to crashes and bugs, the more likely it is to keep students attentive to class and help them make vital connections between their actions and their grades. Example: the better your attendance, the stronger your grade.
I could repeat that advice until I was breathless, but the words would be meaningless until the grade flashed to life on a mobile screen.
My experience wouldn’t surprise the number-crunchers at Blackboard, who published a report last year on the click-habits of students using their software. Although analysts were careful not to interpret causal relationships in their data, they found some tantalizing correlations and predictors of student success.
Here are a few key takeaways:
- The more often students check their grades online, the higher their grades
- Students who never access their grades are more likely to fail than students who view them at least once
- Students who spend more than the median amount of time in the course contents section have lower grades
- Students who don’t complete quizzes have lower grades (of course), but that’s still not the biggest predictor of student success: checking grades is more important
- Students who spend more than the median time answering questions on quizzes also have lower grades
Whatever we make of the causality, it’s clear that students who use their LMS grading tool are likely to have better grades.
Does that mean finding ways to encourage students to check grades will boost retention? Blackboard doesn’t know for sure. It could be those who review their grades often are already better workers. But it also could be — as my experience seemed to suggest — that regularly accessing grades online helps students stay on task.
That alone is a good reason to ensure your school’s LMS shines. As the industry leader, Blackboard has the largest collection of anonymized data to mine. One thing it’s lacking: excellent reviews. PC Magazine’s 2017 best LMS article doesn’t even mention the ed tech juggernaut.
Blackboard earned a lukewarm “good,” the editors’ equivalent of a shoulder-shrug.
If you’re looking to make the most out of an LMS, the data suggests you’d better go for excellence.