13 September 2013

More Schoology Thoughts After Actually Using it and not Just Playing Around

Since my district continues to receive solicitations from Schoology and I've spent a fair amount of time in that platform over the last month or so trying to share courses with some other districts in MN, I thought I'd write a little more about my experience and why we definitely won't be switching.

First, here are some actual comments from Schoology users at a workshop on digital curriculum.

  • How do I know if I have a course? (a teacher already logged in)
  • How do we log into Schoology? (Someone already on the homepage)
  • Do I have to click on my name to see my profile to see if I have any courses?
  • Where is my copy of the course?
So much for the much touted intuitive aspect. This is before people even start to use the tool itself. Seems to me like these things should be apparent once someone logs in. Now, to be fair, I had to set up these options for people in Moodle, but that's just it. I can do those things.

Unfortunately, I had to spend some time converting a shared course over because Schoology admins in the district I worked with found the process difficult and time-consuming. I was ultimately able to figure it out relatively quickly but I'm not sure why it was such a daunting task to others. I also created some additional support materials for teachers to find copies of the courses that I posted to the Public Resources so that they could import them to their courses (more on that in a moment).

Other things I find frustrating:
  • The lack of a label to designate different topics of content. Everything seems to be a page with has the text of the title and then repeats the text as the contents of a page.
  • No embedding of SWF? All of those items were broken which is problematic when so many videos of value continue to use this format. I had to replace embedded videos with links. Adding clicks makes things worse as far as digital curriculum is concerned.
  • Pages allow for embedding links in the WYSIWYG Editor, and as an additional resource to be attached to the page. I've found that almost no one embeds the links they way they probably should if they are a newer user. Probably more an element of training than an issue with the product itself.
  • Difficulty in sharing course assessments. Resources posted to the Public section strip them out. I'm not yet sure how to share those. Any help from you Schoology people would be appreciated by many teachers in MN. I will definitely pass along the info. What I'm not comfortable with is when someone says, "Here, let me do that for you," I want to know what's happening and I want to know how to do it myself so I can work efficiently and quickly and I want to be able to tell others how to do it as well.
  • Is there really no course backup feature? Someone tell me this is not the case! I have resources to share across organizations that I can't yet assign CC license to; not to mention all of the NROC materials we can use with our state license. I can't just publish it all to the Public folder, and I have no real way of knowing who specifically to share the items with.

I am still of a mind that a well-designed Moodle course is more visually appealing and engaging and takes fewer overall clicks to navigate and the ability to customize still makes a compelling argument to stick with that tool. I've not yet used it with any students, but I do still teach online using Moodle and I just can't imagine teaching a course with rolling enrollment on the Schoology platform. I think the initial reaction to students seeing all of the course content presented in these folders would result in a lower completion rate and higher drop rate of the online class.

I still hear people say, "It looks just like Facebook!" as if that's a selling point, but that's not Schoology's fault, it's likely a teacher who is disconnected from what kids are actually into these days.

I won't say that I'm coming around on it, but I do understand why it's comforting to districts to use a tool when they focus on face-to-face, traditional classroom delivery and are looking for a vendor supported platform to offer supplementary materials to their students who will have other means of access and not just online. I would say that for that kind of use it likely works very well and is easy enough to navigate. I just don't think that's the future of education for the same reasons I hate Interactive Whiteboards. Recreating the traditional method of instruction used for hundreds of years is not efficient considering the ability to personalize and digitize so much of the educational experience. We can leave the face-to-face time for community building and making other connections and let the digital platforms handle content.

I give Schoology credit for improving their Moodle backup importing. This ultimately means that districts that have made the decision to use them can still use all of the content being generated by the Moodle community. I would say that it's very close to working seamlessly and have noticed drastic improvements over the last year. Kudos to their programmers. I'll bet they could make some awesome Moodle plug-ins ;)