Using Technology for Collaboration: How An LMS Can Help
You may have come across the saying that "None of us is as smart as all of us" already, perhaps in a faculty meeting or seminar about the value of collaboration. There's plenty of research to support the notion that teachers benefit greatly from collaborating with each other. In addition to deeper understanding of subject matter, pedagogy, and testing data, working with colleagues helps combat professional isolation and the low morale that comes from feeling like you're on your own in the classroom.
Most educators have heard a lot about the importance of collaboration, but few school systems have built in time for such work into teachers' schedules. In fact, a study of 124 of the country's largest school districts found that only 21 districts specifically set aside time for collaboration in their contracts, while the vast majority did not have a collaboration policy at all. Without time built into the schedule, most educators simply don't have an "off-duty" hour to spare for this important work—let alone to coordinate childcare and other life activities with their colleagues to meet regularly.
Fortunately, using technology for collaboration makes sense in their busy lives. Your learning management system (LMS) is more than just a way to track attendance and grades. A robust LMS offers several ways for teachers to collaborate with each other more conveniently and reap the benefits of each other's expertise.
Synchronous Vs. Asynchronous Collaboration
The big advantage of using technology for collaboration, and specifically, using your LMS, is that it frees you from the need to schedule a face-to-face meeting with your colleagues. Asynchronous collaboration lets you share what you know with each other and access this information at any time—regardless of where you are or what time it is. For example, imagine a database of lesson plans that you could access any time to find a creative way to teach fractions. This provides incredible convenience for busy teachers, and you can get what you need at 6 a.m. while the teacher who posted it eats breakfast or walks the dog.
Of course, some collaboration is best done with real-time interaction. Your LMS can also support synchronous work while still allowing you to spend time at home with your family. A chat room or other messaging system lets you stay in touch without requiring your physical presence in any one place, so it's much easier to maintain work-life balance.
7 Ways to Use Your LMS for Real Collaboration
Collaboration always sounds wonderful in theory, but execution is key. Consider these ideas for using your LMS to foster connections within your team as they share their knowledge and expertise.
- Up-to-Date Curriculum Documents. When your curriculum guide is available via your LMS, you'll never have to worry about forgetting a big binder when you're planning lessons from home. If it works for your colleagues, you may also consider making this a "living" document that teachers can edit over the course of the year so changes are instantly available to everyone.
- Collaborative Standards Checklists. Make it easy to check in with colleagues teaching the same course by publishing a checklist of important curriculum items to cover. As you complete the items, check them off so your teammates can see at a glance if you're all on the same page or if one class is falling behind and needs to adjust.
- Shared Curriculum Resources. Why reinvent the wheel each year when it comes to practice worksheets and activities? Your LMS is the perfect place to build a library of shared resources, including assessments, projects, practice assignments, videos, audio and more. It's worth investing a bit of deciding how to organize items into subfolders, but once the architecture is in place, educators can upload and download resources at will.
- Meaningful Student Data. Your LMS likely already has standardized test scores and important documents like IEPs and 504 plans attached to student records, but you may have more specific questions or concerns about the students in your class. Whether you design your own shared information sheets or use your LMS to message colleagues quick questions, having student data all in one place will streamline your work and make it easy to get the information you need.
- Shared Lesson Plans. Many LMS programs have specific templates for lesson planning, but think how your work would be enriched by sharing these plans with your team. Whether you take turns designing lessons everyone will use or simply browse your colleague's lessons for inspiration, you have a valuable resource at your fingertips when everyone's lessons are in the system to share.
- Assessment Analysis. Have your students mastered a skill, or is there something that's not clicking? Your LMS can help you make sense of your data with charts and data analysis that will focus your thinking as a team. When everyone has the same data in front of them, you can chat either online or in person to find patterns and adjust your instruction accordingly.
- Project Planning. When you are working together to plan an open house or other long-term project with lots of moving parts, your LMS can streamline your communication with shared calendars and checklists all in one place. Delegate tasks and keep everyone up-to-date on progress easily to reduce meetings and save time.
If you're feeling overwhelmed by all the possibilities, don't worry. Your LMS is a tool, not a robot overlord. Try implementing just one of the strategies above as a pilot for a month, then troubleshoot the experiences with your team to see how you can make your experience even better. Odds are good that once you get the hang of using your LMS to collaborate on one project, you'll start to see many more possibilities for effective collaboration with your colleagues.
How do you feel about using technology for collaboration and how have you used your LMS to do so? Let us know on Twitter @Schoology