Thursday, December 27, 2012

LMS, SIS, VLE, oh my!

If I thought education had a lot of alphabet soup before, I clearly hadn't delved into the world of LMS (learner management systems), SIS (student information systems), VLE (virtual learning environments), LCMS (learner content management systems), CMS (content management systems), and social learning.

These various terms are like comparing apples to kumquats. They all kinda have to do with each other, but they all focus on different things. The history of each of these acronyms also differs quite a bit; LMS and SIS seem to have been around since the beginning of the internet, and have found happy roots in higher education. On the other hand, social learning seems to be relatively new (perhaps under 5 years).

Instead of trying to explain the intricate commonalities and differences, let me attempt to summarize the purpose of these pieces of software and web-tools in three words: EFFICIENCY. WORKFLOW. COMMUNICATION.

OK, great. That wasn't very elucidating. Let's delve deeper. Various of the aforementioned acronyms accomplish to varying degrees the following:

  1. Create a massive database of students with all pertinent information relating to them that can then be shared appropriately with the instructors, administration, students, and parents (i.e. course information, grades, health, attendance, behavior, address, etc)
  2. Create/curate/organize and distribute educational information (i.e. documents, videos, web resources) to students for their consumption inside and outside the traditional school environment.
  3. Create assessments and activities for students to complete, with which teachers can use the results to tailor their instruction.
  4. Communicate easily in synchronous/asynchronous time (i.e. forums, instant messaging, FaceBook-like commenting) between students, teachers, and parents.
In other words, the point is to completely digitize ALL of the paperwork of teaching, systemize all communication, create meaningful assessment data, and generally streamline the learning process. 

In my opinion, the theory is mind-blowing, revolutionary, and the nirvana of people like me (I love efficiency.) In practice, the implementation is a headache, the alphabet soup don't play nicely together, and more energy is expended trying to make it all work than would have been potentially saved.

The problem is that no single acronym does EVERYTHING. I am oversimplifying here, but roughly speaking, each tool focuses on these different aspects. To add to the confusion, some tools can be considered a few of these at once:

LMS does 2, sometimes 3 and 4.
SIS does 1.
VLE does 2 and 3, sometimes 4.
LCMS/CMS does 3.
Social Learning does 2, 3, and 4.

Now, I could also be overlooking some tools, because there have to be about 2 to 3 dozen different implementations of those acronyms. As I said earlier, SIS seems to be relatively mature at about 25 years old, and does what it does very well. Startups in the "Social Learning" arena are much newer, and cover many of the issues above, but you ultimately still need an SIS to keep all the data.

My plea to the designers, code junkies, and educators out there is this: MAKE ONE RING TO RULE THEM ALL! Make it cheap. Make it common sense. Don't reinvent the wheel. Make it open source and let it play nice with others (proprietary stuff is like the kid in the lunchroom who, in an effort to assert her dominance, won't share her homemade brownies, which backfires and repels any potential playmates.) If the majority of our students are using FaceBook, can't we integrate that platform with these educational tools to minimize the number of separate logins and streamline the experience further?

In any event, here are some of the better known examples of the various acronyms. I am not going to categorize them because so many of these tools have various overlapping properties.

My original goal when I set out to write a post about these tools was to compare them. I found, though, that there are too many variables (i.e. between SIS and LMS) to do any sort of real comparison. Also, some of these sites are more user-friendly than others. Some are free, others are not. And none are easy to preview in a few minutes; one must sign up, create classes, and use the systems with their students to actually get a sense of their efficacy.

What I did find, however, were that the last 4 on the list above (all LMS/social networking) function in roughly the same way. They have taken their cue from FaceBook, and use a running comment-like notification system on the main page. All have modules that allow for sharing calendars, files, and assignments. They are also free (for now) and some have apps for iPads or Android. If you are trying to figure out which would be best for you, I'd recommend asking your colleagues. Since they are so similar, the real benefit comes from a community using the same system to create less headache for all parties involved.

Lastly, I'd just like to emphasize that this is just a cursory look at these emerging tools. If you have more to add, or can set me straight in something I said, please leave comments below. Thank you!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Twitter Tips

So maybe you have started to use Twitter. You've realized that it is a great tool that can keep you abreast of new developments in your field. But with this new tool comes the headache of organizing, participating, and streamlining your experience. Below are some ways to create a smoother experience.


Tweetdeck and Hootsuite are two of the more popular Twitter clients out there. They add more robust functionality to the standard web based Both allow people to create "channels" that filter incoming tweets according to hashtags or search parameters. These clients are useful if you follow lots of people and want to organize and filter the content you see.

Within Twitter itself, you can also create Lists. Add different people to your lists, then use the lists to filter only posts from those people. Twitter has many ways to filter down information. Hashtags, Twitter handles, searches, and lists all do the same thing; make the chaos into some order.

Twitter Chats

One of the greatest uses of Twitter is the "chat." Simply put, people come together at a predetermined time and use a predetermined hashtag (#thisisahashtag) in their tweets. By filtering the specific hashtag, you can follow a conversation. Here is a great list of many of the educational hashtags that exist. Often, hashtags devoted purely to chats often have -chat as a suffix (e.g. #edchat, #edchatri, #1to1techat, etc). Also, many chats are discoverable just by watching your Twitter feed for the time and hashtag that will be used (you've been following important people in your field, right?)

You can follow and participate in these chats through the regular Twitter client or the clients mentioned above, but Tweetchat and Twubs are two tools that allow you to focus on one hashtag at a time. They also automatically append the hashtag to your posts, which saves time and can easily be forgotten if you manually append your hashtags.

Automation and Synchronization

If you want to receive or send posts to Twitter via other services (like Facebook, a blog, email, SMS, etc) there are tools for this, too. Facebook and Twitter both have settings that allow you to link the posts, so that you only need to post on one service while the other will copy that message. 

Twitterfeed lets you track an RSS feed to directly post its contents to your Twitter account. You might use this so that every time you update your blog (or website), the updated content automatically posts to your Twitter account.

Grouptweet and twitfwd allow you to manage a few different Twitter accounts and easily send content between the accounts. For example, I have a main Twitter account, but also have created accounts for each of my classes. I can use the tools above to post once on my main account, which will then retweet the content on the appropriate class accounts. This is perhaps unnecessary since I could broadcast all info for all classes from my main account and use hashtags, but I like the ability to keep the content separated. My main account is more for my own professional development, whereas the specific class accounts are for letting students know about HW, assessments, and class info.

Lastly, I need to mention Ifttt (If This, Then That) and Wappwolf. These deserve their own blog posts (perhaps I can follow up over my winter break) because they are very full-featured and there are some steps involved in setting them up correctly. Both services are masters at automation, and can transfer information in many forms (docs, pics, music etc) to many different services (FB, Twitter, Instagram, Dropbox, Google Drive, and many, many more). I have created a workflow where I can send an email with a subject like "#Lat1 Don't forget about the test on Friday" and it will automatically be posted both to my class-specific Twitter account AND to a Facebook Page I set up for the class. 

Twitter Shortcuts

All of the above is well and good, but sometimes simplicity is key. There are some shortcuts you can use within the regular Twitter client. This post from Edudemic has summed it up nicely.

One last caveat. Twitter is a service that is bound to change and improve over time. I don't know how long this post will remain relevant, but one way to stay on the ball may be to follow @Twitter itself.

Sunday, December 9, 2012


Wow, this is a neat website. It lets strangers collaborate on stories, poems, songs, and other narrative styles. It is like the game where a person writes a sentence on a sheet of paper, then passes it on to someone else, who writes another sentence. Eventually the whole class creates a shared story, with everyone's input. ThumbScribes does this exactly, yet in a digital format. The stories can be made public or kept private.

I can see this as incredibly useful primarily in English and Foreign Language classes. Or it could be used to show understanding of a concept (ex: "Class, write a story tonight for HW about the process of cell division.") Because the collaboration is linear (unlike Google Docs where people can insert text wherever they want), it forces people to build upon what is previously written and fosters creativity and communication.

For your reading pleasure, one of my contributions. (Latine)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012 and Mobento

Quick post today. The two websites above are aggregators, of sorts. allows people to curate links to resources they've found online. I've found topics related to Latin, and know there must be others important to educators.

Mobento collects videos from many sources (Youtube, TED talks, etc). What is nice about this is it also scans the audio of the videos for keywords. So when you search, you are getting a more accurate result for the topics you want.

There are more than these two sites, but off the top of my head these are really good.