LMS No More

This semester I swore off all learning management systems (LMS) for my classes. The biggest reason was out of self-interest because I am teaching four classes at three colleges and mastering a different LMS for each is a huge pain. Don’t believe me. Let’s take a look:

College Learning Management System Version
CUNY Queens College Blackboard 9.1.70081.25
Fordham Blackboard 9.1.110082.0
Pratt Institute Moodle 2.5.2, I think

Each also has a very idiosyncratic way of logging in. With Fordham, I just use my single sign-on, and I’m usually in. However, with CUNY, I have to login twice using the same credentials and then select Blackboard, after I tried to login to Blackboard.

It’s also hard to brush up with each individual platform because you often don’t even know if you’re going even to teach the class as colleges cancel classes at the last minute. This is one of the cruel realities of part-time teaching: it really discourages advance preparation, and many of us don’t bother with it until just before the start of the semester.

Another reason for abandoning the learning management systems is that each one was recently updated. Let’s face it, none of these learning management systems were going to be easier to use than the previous version. In fact, you can bet that each iteration adds a number of new complex features for the IT department purchasing the upgrade, at the expense of usability for the teacher and students. No, thank you.

Can you tell me where to stick my syllabus?

Can you tell me where to stick my syllabus?

How is an overworked teacher supposed to function without an LMS? Am I helpless like those teachers at Springfield Elementary when the students stole the Teachers’ Editions? No, I just roll things back to the days of web 1.0.

Static HTML syllabus

After a year of testing, I’m bringing back the static HTML syllabus. For example, my Media Technologies class has one with a pretty easy-to-remember web address: http://juanmonroy.com/mediatechnologies. I wrote the whole thing in Markdown and then exported it to HTML using Byword or Marked, depending on my mood at the time, which I then uploaded with the help of BBEdit. On the syllabus, there’s links to resources, such as:

  • textbooks
  • reserve readings, available as PDF.[1]
  • screenings
  • lecture outlines
  • slides

If you want to print the syllabus, there’s a print.css stylesheet that will render a printer-friendly version. (I told you this was really old stuff.)

Spreadsheet Gradebook

On my own computer I keep a gradebook in Numbers. You can do the same with Excel, Google Docs, and Open Office. Blackboard never had a good way of taking attendance so I’ve had to do this anyway. Moodle offers its own attendance module, but sheesh, it’s way easier to use an old paper attendance sheet than to decipher one of ten “attendance codes.”

In any case, calculating scores by spreadsheet is not the easiest thing in the world. I know most people use spreadsheets like a database to store lists and such, or to add and subtract simple values. However, a long time ago, a former boss of mine taught me Excel functions with weird names like VLOOKUP, LEFT, LEN, MIN, and SUMIF. Things really get fun when you nest functions inside others, and with those lessons from 1996, I calculate student’s grades in 2013.

Weening yourself off an LMS might not be the easiest thing. I am really pushing the limits of what I know about HTML, CSS, and spreadsheet functions. But I know that fighting bloatware is a cause I’m prepared to support.

  1. To avoid the ire of publishers, I use HTTPD Auth with a single username and password for everyone in the course.  ↩

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