Or does it bring out those words we tell students not to use?
Kudos abound in schools and homes throughout the United States and Canada. Teachers, technology directors and superintendents report students taking ownership of their learning. Parents thank them for being able to easily assist learners at home. Teachers stop them in the hall to excitedly share the new things students are doing.
These educators have something in common, whether their schools are urban, rural or suburban. They’ve taken a hard look at what wasn’t working for their learners. Then they’ve forged ahead to create an environment where all students thrive. For most this has meant getting honest about how little they were getting from their current learning management system—and making the hard decision to migrate to an alternative designed especially for K-12.
All use Hāpara Workspace.
None have looked back.
Why free is too high a price to pay
The school district learning management system dilemma
What keeps schools married to a LMS not designed with K-12 students in mind? Let’s start with what probably jumps to mind for most leaders on either side of the border: money.
Art teacher Rebecca Recco recalls cringing a bit inside as she took the Hāpara proposal and quote to her new principal at the Oakland public middle school she’d just moved to. As a 20-year veteran art teacher with a degree in digital learning and leading, she had a dilemma. Her new school didn’t have Hāpara Workspace, a tool she’d fallen in love with for its intuitive design and ability to flex between digital work and non-digital work. To her other learning management systems are “clunky.”
“It seemed like a lot of money, especially because the school already had another LMS. But fortunately the principal [said], ‘No, this is actually affordable. If you’re so sold on this thing, we’d like to try this out because I think people are using the other learning management system out of familiarity, but don’t love it.’ He then asked me to train other teachers at the school,” she shares.
Robert Long is Coordinator of Learning Technology and Support for Ottawa Catholic School Board. He says if school districts use a free LMS or Google Classroom, they may not want to spend money. District leaders struggle to make the case, even if a paid LMS will better support what kids need. For example, in K-12, the development of executive functioning skills is critical.
The free learning management systems are primarily what Long calls “homework replacement tools.”
A learning management system that supports learning and pedagogy
In discussions with these leaders, Long challenges them, asking, “So is that what you want pedagogically? Instead of writing homework on the board, you’re adding a few tools. And you’re giving out homework assignments digitally as your core. Is that the pedagogical shift you want to make when you go digital?”
For his 46,000 student district he said, “No, that is wrong. That is not what we want to do!”
He states his biggest reason for not using the free learning management systems in his province. “They’re just not meant for setting up a structure that supports kids in K-12.”
Adelee Penner, a former assistant superintendent and consultant in Alberta, Canada, explains further. “When we’re looking at a learning management system, as you know, this is more than just tech, this is about ‘How do I want learning and pedagogy to look like in my school authority?’”
Ottawa Catholic School Board loves using Hāpara Workspace. “With Hāpara the learning is more student-centered and gives them a voice and really an opportunity to be part of the learning process,” says Sam Robinson, 5th grade teacher at St. Anne Elementary School.
“The learning experience really does become more reciprocal, and the students start to eventually realize there are ways to use these tools to make their own unique contributions to the learning environment.”
From an early EdTech adopter perspective, Long calls the introduction of Workspace “a revolutionary shift in digital pedagogy.” That’s because it allows educators to approach teaching in a very different way with learners. Teachers can present and set up material and units of study. They can also set up how it assists with student assessments and a cycle of feedback. These are tools they didn’t have before in a digital environment.
Why we resist leaving a learning management system that’s not supporting students nor teachers
Sticking with a familiar yet frustrating LMS is the path of least resistance, points out Penner. That’s not always the best for educators or students, like shifting anything in education.
“For me to change, I’m actually going to lose my efficacy and rebuild that efficacy. I’m going to be constantly fighting against my human nature, which says I want to be comfortable and go back to where I felt really good in my smooth groove. Now I have to sort of struggle and lead my way through.”
Along with being hard, change takes time and persistence. From Penner’s experience, it takes a good two, three years for a whole system-wide scale.
“As leaders get pushback in the first year, too many times they give up. They go back to what they know and repeat that cycle of ‘we talk about the change, we get some pushback,’ rather than pushing through and creating an efficacy across the system. If they were to see it through, they’d have what they’re looking for.”
A strong “why” across your team is key to staying on track
To overcome all this resistance, leadership must have a clear vision of their why, explains Penner.
That why is unique to each leader and school system.
It could be student achievement or being more inclusive and differentiated. It could mean improving teacher workflow or creating student agency. Or it could be attending to executive function or whatever problem a leader identifies from research and data.
For Penner’s district, what she called “embarrassingly low metrics” drove her team to implement a hard rollout of Hāpara Workspace.
The team at Wolf Creek school division in Alberta, Canada, has adopted an enhanced learning model. They wanted the same level of expertise and access for its rural schools (with 150 students) as its large suburban schools.
“We saw inequity. We saw need. We saw a demand for resources and instructional supports, and the need for flexibility,” says Sean Lougheed, Director of Learning Services.
“Really for us this has leveled the playing field for all of our schools,” he reports.The flexibility of Hāpara Workspace has allowed teachers to seamlessly interact with and add content. Plus, they can collaborate on the same Workspace together. Small rural schools can also offer comparable course selection, level and variety to what’s found in larger cities.
Based on the exceptional level of educational partnership they’ve experienced with Hāpara, Lougheed says, “We haven’t been tempted to move to another platform because of how robust this tool is and how it’s continuing to grow.”
Key learning management system migration tips from K-12 technology leaders
- Look for a well designed digital learning space that’s adaptive and flexible for different student needs. Students are not widgets; they all come to us with special needs, advises Recco.
- Uptake is much quicker when you have a clear purpose of what outcome you want, says Lougheed.
- Keep your old and new systems running side-to-side for a full year. This gives teachers and staff time to migrate data and get used to the new system, Long explains.
- Along with your biggest champions and those with the most influence, include the person who’s going to be your biggest obstacle on your core implementation team, shares Penner.
- Trust the power of critical mass verses mandating that teachers use the new system. Give them a choice while providing plenty of professional development opportunities, recommends Lougheed.
- Key educational partners should include your LMS provider and also your students. They will give you critical feedback on what’s effective and what’s not, says Lougheed.
- Encourage teachers to examine the pedagogy behind a good lesson and decide what digital tools are appropriate. Sometimes digital tools are not the right tool, says Recco.