50% More O’s Than Moodle

I first rolled out Moodle to a school in 2005. Since then, Moodle has admirably served the schools at which I have worked, providing a powerful, (cash) free, low-maintenance course web site system to teachers. Unlike many open-source systems, Moodle provided everything teachers required and just plain worked out of the box. Moodle became popular just as Web 2.0 began to go mainstream among teachers.

In the last few years, new learning management systems suitable for secondary schools have appeared, some substantially re-imagining what a 21st century LMS should do. During this time, Moodle has made only minor end-user improvements, failing to keep up with innovations in web site usability and organization. Over the same period of time, LMS use in secondary schools has become standard practice, so that schools are increasingly willing to pay for an LMS, eliminating Moodle’s chief advantage over other systems.

Next year, University Prep will replace Moodle with Schoology. Our evaluation also included Haiku, Canvas, Edmodo, and eBackpack. Our primary criteria were: 1) ease of use; 2) quality of Moodle import; 3) strength of iPad app. Schoology performed best in all three categories.

Schoology Haiku Canvas Edmodo eBackpack
 Ease of use  excellent  excellent  good  excellent  good
 Moodle import  excellent  good  fair  none  none
 iPad app  excellent  none  fair  excellent  excellent

Why were these three criteria most important to our school? We require all faculty to post syllabus and assignment information to our LMS, so it has to be straightforward for the less technically-inclined to use. This was unfortunately not the case with Moodle, leading to many complaints and limited use.

The new LMS needed to import Moodle successfully, because many teachers had put a lot of work into their existing courses, and it would not be acceptable to start from an empty course website.

The iPad app had to be very strong, because we are launching a 1:1 iPad program in the Middle School next fall. Our new LMS had to have both a great website presentation for the Upper School and a great iPad app, ideally including all of the features available on the web site.

The other LMS’s we evaluated were all excellent, and many schools might find them to be a better match, depending on their evaluation criteria. Haiku offered the best teacher control over the web page layout. Its block system allows one to place any kind of content in any location on the page. Canvas looked very solid in a web browser, but it imported Moodle content into the Modules category (instead of Pages), and the iPad app doesn’t yet support Modules. Edmodo offered a similar presentation to Schoology, but it simply did not import Moodle in any manner. eBackpack offered terrific document workflow for our Middle School, but its web-based presentation seemed inadequate for our Upper School.

Schoology both offers improved usability for core features as well as several very exciting enhancements that may allow our teachers to substantially advance their LMS use. Many of these address a central problem with Moodle: students don’t check it.

In Schoology, announcements and events have higher billing than course content. This is such a better match to how students think about their coursework. Who needs to see the entire syllabus every time you want to access tonight’s assignment? Course announcements can include text, polls, audio and video, making it possible to set up an engaging prompt to start homework or precede a class meeting.

Audio and video recording work reliably both in-browser and on the iPad, making a decade-long ambition a reality (who remembers NanoGong?). Language teachers in particular are very excited about video-based announcements and class discussions.

Students can control when and how they receive course notifications, for example through the web site, email, mobile app alerts, or text message. This should make it so much easier for students to stay abreast of the latest activity in their courses.

Schoology offers just one kind of assignment (Moodle had four). Electronic submission is easy to set up and use. The in-browser file viewer provides many tools for teachers to comment on student work: text, highlighter, strikethrough tool, sticky note, and pen. Our Upper School teachers will be able to write on student work with a tablet and a stylus! Very exciting. iPad users can open files in Notability, write on it, and then send it back to Schoology.

Schoology runs on iPad, iPhone, and Android, making it possible for students to submit work and teachers to manage courses from their tablets or phones. We know that many users work more actively online when they can access content using their phones.

Course migration takes place in July. I’ll let you know how it goes come September.