SchoologySchoology is a Course Management System (or Learning Management System), that incorporates a ton of features letting you do everything from securely message students to collecting and revising assignments to administering tests and quizzes online. It is a powerful tool, once you’ve learned how to use it and once your students have become used to it.

Let me start by saying that I initially resisted using Schoology. I was prefectly happy using Engrade (which I’ll write about in the next few weeks). I had total control over Engrade as a teacher, while Schoology is run by an administrator within the school. I need her to adjust certain settings and get things done. Since I started using it, though, I’ve grown to love Schoology. Let’s look at what it can do for you.

A Basic Overview

As a course management system, Schoology helps you organize your course. Some of the things you can do are:

  • Put Your Gradebook Online. You can enter your assignments, grading categories, and grades into the Schoology gradebook. This will not only calculate the grade (in case you still use a paper gradebook), but it will make these grades and calculations available to the students when they log in. In my experience, seeing a list of their work (and missing work) really motivates students to get things done.
  • Share Resources. You can organize links to online resources or upload documents that you need to share with your class. You can also do a great deal of organizing with folders to make sure that students can easily find what they need. For example, I create a folder for each unit (2 to 4 weeks of class) and include all assignments, resources, and documents there.
  • Administer Tests and Quizzes. You can build tests and quizzes that students take directly on the website. If you use things like multiple choice or matching questions, these can be automatically graded. But you can also include free response questions. These responses are collected and available for you to grade. You can also use a mix, like I do. Half the test is multiple choice, and it’s automatically graded. The writing gets sent to me, and the student’s overall grade is calculated when I grade and comment on the writing.
  • Collect Assignments Through Dropbox. Let’s say you assign a writing assignment. Rather than collect a bunch of printed pages (and deal with broken printers, chewed up homework, etc), you can collect those assignments through the dropbox. Students hit the “Submit” button, and they have several ways to submit their work (including simply typing it into a dialog box). You can grade this work and return it with comments. If you want, you can also accept revisions. This is an awesome  feature for extended writing assignments where I may want students to revise a piece two or three times before I give them a final grade.
  • Create Online Instructional Modules. Let’s say you wanted to create an independent study unit. You can create a series of pages that students proceed through to learn the material. On these pages, you can include any kinds of resources you want – videos, podcasts, slideshow. You can then insert online tests and quizzes into the module to check their understanding. A new feature introduced this year allows you to restrict access to certain materials until students have reached certain benchmarks – i.e. read this page before you take this quiz, score 80% on the quiz before you go on to the next page. If you want to invest the time in it, you can create some pretty rigorous online learning experiences with this. The problem is that it, uhh, takes a lot of time.
  • Secure Messaging. You can send private messages to students to discuss their grades, answer questions about work, schedule after school tutoring, etc. It’s a little simpler and less intimidating than sending an e-mail, so it can help facilitate communication with your students.

Some Other Cool Features

In particular, here are some cool features that I really like about Schoology.

  • Google Docs Integration. I’m really big on having my kids create Google accounts so they can create and organize their documents there. Schoology connects directly with a student’s Google account. Then, when a student wants to submit an assignment they can import their Google document into Schoology with a few simple clicks. This combines the best of both worlds – creating stuff in Google and collecting it in Schoology. I’ve tried collecting documents through Google in the past, and it’s a nightmare in my opinion.
  • Student Completion Requirements. Like I mentioned before, you can restrict access to certain resources until students have met certain requirements. Creating guided modules like this could be good for a number of reasons. Provide a kid a way to remediate and master a unit that they failed. Create an advanced module for students that are ahead of the class. Create an independent study module for kids to complete over a long break (or over the summer before class starts). The completion requirements help guide students through and ensure, to some extent, that they don’t just skip to the end.
  • Reminders to Grade Things. When you log in, there’s a “Reminders” section in the top right. It tells you how many dropbox items or tests/quizzes you need to grade. If you collect a lot of assignments through Schoology, this is a lifesaver. You click it and it takes you directly to what you need to grade. Helps streamline the grading process.
  • They Constantly Update. They update things on a weekly basis, and sometimes you’ll just log in Monday morning and find the interface has changed (and hopefully been improved). The reminders about grades, for example, were an addition late last spring and the student completion requirements were added early this fall. The team is clearly trying to improve things constantly.

Bottom Line

After using it for the better part of a year, I can definitely say this is a powerful and useful tool. I haven’t used Engrade in a couple years, so I’ll need to poke around their later so I can write about it.

The one downside to Schoology is that you need a school administrator to set up your courses before you can get started. The administrator will also need to set up the grading periods. Once that initial legwork is done, you’re more or less free to do your own thing.

I can’t necessarily say that Schoology is better than other course management systems. But I can definitely say that a course management system is an essential tool for keeping myself and my students organized. In the coming weeks, I plan no writing up a few guides for Schoology to share how I do just that. So if you have any questions that you’d like answered, drop a line in the comment section.