Learning Management Systems for the BVI in the Age of Pandemic
With the new forced paradigm in this world of distance learning, our school, like almost every other school in the world, has been forced to abruptly redesign its instructional strategies for exclusively online and distance learning. In keeping with this, I was asked to research online platforms for content delivery. Since I had previously been a backup administrator for a Blackboard learning management system (LMS) at an urban community college with a student population of 15,000 and had participated in a search for a new one, I was quite familiar with several LMS’s. I had already done much research for viable options for my classes and our school. Time was of the essence.
Therefore, I focused on three major platforms given the special requirements of accessibility and ease of use for teachers, some of whom had never used an online platform or class. I asked Terrill Thompson, AT IT Director at the University of Washington and an expert in accessible technology for his recommendations as well. He recommended Blackboard and Canvas.
Blackboard, although being a very comprehensive LMS with attention by developers to accessibility, was too complicated and had many unnecessary features for our state K-12 BVI school, given the short time we had to implement and our rather basic needs.
The Canvas LMS was more attractive, and after having several teachers test design their own courses, was more applicable to our purposes, the interface was easy to navigate and the developers had designed minimal, uniform shortcuts for navigation. However, the key shortcuts did not conform to standard web navigation shortcuts (Tab, Arrows, etc.), they are custom designed but easy to learn. It is notable that teachers can set up free accounts in Canvas but this did not solve the administrative oversight capabilities that we were looking for.
Upon presenting these findings to our hastily formed ED Tech/AT team, a discussion ensued and although Canvas was an attractive possibility, the time to enact and implement it was still not expedient given that we were under a mandate to implement some sort of LMS immediately.
Therefore, the committee decided to avail ourselves of our school Google accounts, all faculty, staff and students already had accounts since we used an organizational Google account for our email and could immediately implement Google Classrooms. In addition, several teachers, including myself, had set up Google classrooms so Google classrooms became the LMS of choice for our immediate needs. Google classrooms does have some accessibility issues and recommendations for best possible accessibility outcomes will be addressed in a subsequent post. I hope this post does help those in a similar situation and dilemma. It is worth noting, as many readers here will likely know, that Google offers a wide range of applications, many of which contribute to an online learning envrionment and enhance the basic Google classrooms LMS.
Hope everyone is safe, God bless you all.