Google Passes the "LMS" test

Craig Weiss has a great post on what makes for a great LMS. His intention was to write about trends in the LMS market but what it really turned into a great list of recommendations. Based on what he has written, I’d like to address some of the ways in which a combination of Google Apps along with Openclass outperforms other Learning Management System (LMS) options.

Mobile Learning-

OK, so Google doesn’t do a great job with this, either. The best I can say is that you can access Openclass on smartphone browsers. You can also access Google docs on mobile devices.

Texting/ SMS-
Openclass itself doesn’t support texting. However, Gmail Chat does. You do have to go through a few steps to get this going, but once it’s in place, a teacher can easily send a text to any and all of his or her students.

File Repositories-
Google Drive (a re-branding of Google Docs) is just the kind of file storage that any learning management system needs. It allows any user to store, share and collaborate on any number of files. Even better, Google provides a large number of tools to track exactly who does what to which file.

Social Learning-
Google Plus is an option here (not a great one, though). Of course, it cannot be used for high schools since one must be 18 or older to use the service. Nor is it for companies who need to keep private information private. It helps that the Google Apps administrator has access to all Google Plus data, since users will be careful about what they post. However, if learners are willing to engage with one another on this platform, great things can happen. Since an infinite number of “circles” can be created, learners can maintain focus on specific topics they are trying to learn about. For example, if you’re learning about architecture, you certainly don’t want all those biology discussions cluttering your desktop. There is also a fantastic video chat feature to use if you need a face to face discussion.

Parent Portal-
Unfortunately, there is no obvious way for parents to access student data.

Integrate with an SIS (student information system)-
Google Apps for education has made this pretty straight forward. Granted, you’re going to need someone who’s tech savy enough to set up Google Directory Sync with your local LDAP server.

Navigation and UI-
For Google Apps, this is kind of a tricky issue to address. If there is a lot of effort put into website design or heavy customization of the Openclass LMS, then navigation can be fantastic. However, if you are a teacher who lacks the time and skills necessary to really do this kind of design, then you’re left with something that works, but isn’t particularly user friendly.  

All in all, Google apps, along with Openclass, makes for a great LMS. There are some items that require a bit of technical know how but overall, it looks like Google has put together a suite of products that address the digital needs of learners and instructors alike.


Advantages of Google for teachers

For schools, Google holds a number of advantages over other online programs. I'd like to focus on one aspect in particular. Google's products all play well together. Examples are listed below.

Docs and Blogger- Blogger is a pretty good blogging platform. I can get all of the basic functionality that I expect including the ability to change fonts, add images and link to other websites. It’s a pretty limited word processor, though. Notice that I’m able to adjust the left margin of the lower portion of this paragraph. Blogger doesn’t allow me to do that, so I go over to Google Docs to write and edit my work. Then I simply cut and paste. Since these are both Google products, the formatting is perfectly preserved.

Docs and Calendar- Google Calendar is a wonderful product which allows you to easily record and share events online. One of the great features of Calendar is that you can attach any file stored in your Docs to an event. This integration makes the entire process of lesson planning effortless. Plans are easy to produce since they are laid out visually. Students can see the events you allow them to see and be able to access attached study guides. Teachers can collaborate on planning and restrict the public from accessing any sensitive events or files. Click here to read more.

Gmail, Chat, Google plus and Docs- Google’s email platform is top of the line. Space is almost unlimited (I have over 15,000 emails and only use 29% of my allotted space) and its search ability is unmatched. It also works beautifully with Google’s other social products. For schools with Google apps, this means that you’d be able to send instant messages to colleagues and administration to ask for assistance or to verify a student’s excuse for coming in late. In addition, you have the option of storing any and all email attachments in your Docs account. You can even adjust Gmail’s search preferences so that it will look through your Docs as well as your emails.

Openclass and everything else- Openclass is a learning management system (LMS) produced by Google and Pearson. The platform is very similar to products like Blackboard and Moodle. Accounts are free and since it is all online, there are not upkeep costs. One of the big advantages here, however, is the single log-in. After logging in once, students have access to Gmail, Docs, Calendar and Youtube as well as being able to access any online course material.

I know that there are dozens of great online products for schools to choose from. Some of these products are better for certain faculty than Google. However, given all of the great ways Google’s products work together, it makes sense to look closely before going with something else.