By Joey Gardner
About four years ago, our district realized that teachers were putting a lot of time into creating curriculum, implementing new educational technology, and trying to keep up with their own professional development commitments. With 25–30 students sitting in front of them at any given time—and with teaching over 100 students on the average school day—getting to know each pupil’s learning style, knowledge level, and capabilities was challenging at best.
We also needed to do a better job of drilling down to the individual student level to figure out what a high-school diploma really meant to him or her. While we’ve always had impressive Advanced Placement (AP) scores and good dual enrollment numbers, for example, we weren’t honing in on the rest of the student population (e.g., those pupils who are either getting ready to go to college or thinking about a trade). We weren’t really focusing on students in the latter group or offering them individual learning options.
To improve learning for all of our students and also meet ever-changing state and federal requirements, we decided to implement the itslearning LMS. Our goal was not only to help teachers become more efficient by maximizing their teaching time, but also to create a cornerstone for our schools’ ongoing commitment to using modern pedagogies such as blended learning and project-based learning (PBL). In addition, we wanted to implement a more cohesive, centralized approach to professional development for teachers and staff members.
By more efficiently spreading a teacher’s time and attention among the 100-plus students he or she teaches on a daily basis, we’re able to effectively support a broader cross-section of the student population without overtaxing the teacher’s time and attention. We wouldn’t be able to achieve that without an LMS, nor would we be able to teach using pedagogies like PBL, which relies on many different resources that need to be gathered, organized, shared, and integrated through collaboration.
Our LMS also serves as the foundation for our professional development offerings. Our District 6 University, for example, encompasses a full day of training for teachers. Teachers attend about three times a year and participate in courses (of their own choosing) that we’ve built inside itslearning. In a seminar-like format, teachers learn all of the latest tricks, tips, and information on a wide variety of topics—not just technology. Teachers can use the platform to collaborate and communicate with one another, to develop lessons that other instructors can access and use, and to create lessons based on the strategies they’ve taken away from District 6 University.
Our full-featured LMS also serves as a benchmarking tool for South Carolina’s new student learning objectives, which are tied to the teacher re-certification process. During the observation period, it’s particularly important to be able to pinpoint time on task while also maximizing the amount of time spent on each subject area. When you walk into a classroom and see that all students are logged in to itslearning on their devices and working on their reading lessons, you know that they are on task and working efficiently.
Joey Gardner is director of instructional technology at Spartanburg County School District 6 in South Carolina.