Dear Academic Librarians: Get to know your LMS!

posted in: Library Instruction | 0

Faculty on any given college or university campus are neck deep in their local learning management system (LMS). Even if they only meet with their students face-to-face, they’re likely still using the LMS to store the syllabus, course readings, or for the gradebook.

On our campus, every course has its own dedicated “course” in our LMS, no matter if it’s taught online, as a hybrid, or as a full face-to-face. Something like 80% of our faculty use the LMS on a regular basis.

As librarians, we do a ton of teaching, too! But as a group we don’t much experience with the LMS.

I think that this is a huge barrier to understanding faculty’s needs and beginning to understand how we can work with them in new ways the future.

LMS stands for “learning management system.” It’s not really managing learning, though. It’s managing a course and user-contributed content. It’s up to the instructor to manage the learning.

An LMS is indispensable because it is managing all of the moving parts of any given course. For an in-person course, students might visit to download course materials or to check their grade. For fully online courses, students and their instructors would depend completely on the LMS for all aspects of the course, including course materials, weekly assignments, discussions, quizzes, midterms, and to turn in large projects.

Here’s an interesting article from 2007 (still relevant!) on what an LMS is, and what it is not. An LMS is really complex and powerful, but generally faculty are using just the simplest elements.

I’m lucky to have in-depth experience in our LMS (Moodle) since I teach online in our graduate instructional design program. Quite frankly, I just use the simplest elements, too, because LMS are complicated!

What’s your campus’ LMS? The most common LMS in higher education are Blackboard, Canvas, and Moodle – most likely your local LMS has been branded by your school.

One of the workshops I’ve done for my colleagues is just about our campus’ learning management system.

I’m lucky to have a “sandbox” course in our LMS that I can do whatever I want with! This is great for trying out new things, or for building pieces of a course.

It’s also great for turning into a sandbox for my colleagues to get the full Moodle experience.

For the workshop, I set up a dummy course for my colleagues, complete with a discussion forum and an “assignment” featuring the TurnItIn module.

Attendees spent the first forty minutes of our time together exploring the course as students: editing their profiles, participating in the discussion forum (posting and replying!) and they had to turn in an “essay” to the TurnItIn module, which is used heavily on our campus. (TurnItIn is plagiarism detection software that’s a third party product embedded in our LMS).

Once they completed all of their tasks as students, I gave them an instructor role in the LMS so that they could see what it’s like from the faculty point of view.

Moodle is complicated, like any LMS is! Some of the attendees had experience taking online courses, but probably about half did not. (I should’ve surveyed to discover their experience! It would be interesting to know who had never even seen the inside of an LMS, with librarians, it wouldn’t surprise me if it was a high percentage!)

The workshop went over well – faculty and staff liked seeing what it’s like for students and for faculty. They struggled with updating their profiles, or figuring out how the threading worked in the discussion board (Moodle has four different discussion board formats – I hate all of them.) TurnItIn didn’t make much sense to them – where was the plagiarism report? What formats could it accept?

When they became “instructors,” they were confused on how to turn on editing, and on what each of the many items were that they could add to the course. Like, what’s a Label? What’s a Page? What’s a Book? How do you add a badge? Good question!

I told them that our campus has a lot of adjunct faculty (like most of higher ed, these days), and that adjunct faculty are expected to use the LMS on all of the campuses where they teach. I know some adjunct faculty that teach at three or four campuses!

Every campus has its own LMS – even if it’s the same product as another campus, local customizations can make it into a completely different experience!

I asked my attendees to imagine how difficult it must be to learn and use each campus’ LMS, when even learning one, like our own Moodle, is a challenge.

For my workshop, the message hit home – it can be hard to navigate and teach effectively using an LMS. Yet, I think it’s the next frontier for librarians that want to partner with faculty to help teach their students information literacy and library research skills.

Have you used your campus’ LMS? Librarians’ role in the LMS varies by campus.

At our campus, a couple of librarians have experience embedding library content into existing courses. I have a course set up in our main LMS just to house automated library tutorials.

At other campuses, librarians have more liberty in their campus LMS to create content and to embed it into other courses. Some LMS’s, like Canvas, have built-in learning repositories that make sharing and reusing content very easy.

In any case, if you’re not familiar, or even if you are, any given LMS is a complex piece of software that is often not being used to its full potential.

Even if you don’t want to get involved in being embedded into instructors’ courses (which can be very labor-intensive very quickly), it’s good to have an idea of your LMS’ features and how your faculty and students use it so that you can keep it in mind when planning changes to your instructional or reference programs.