Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Designing a new learning environment (#DNLE) Assignment #1

The following is an assignment submitted as part of the requirements of the DESIGNING A NEW LEARNING ENVIRONMENT MOOC course from Stanford University. 

As the assignments typically include analyses of real or hypothetical educational settings, here's my disclaimer (oh yeah, I've always wanted to write this!): My views are my own and not necessarily reflect those of my employer.

Assignment #1 - Find 3 interesting learning environments or education technologies, and explain 3 positive aspects and 3 negative aspects for each (500-800 words)


The target I have in mind is teachers of English as a Foreign Language based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Although there has been an increasing interest in technology integration in education in the last years, this has been especially relevant in the private sector. Last year, as part of a government initiative, all kids and teachers from public schools were given a netbook to be used both at school and at home in the preparation of assignments and homework. Although most kids are totally familiar with technology and know how to use their computers as a tool for writing assignments, searching materials and interacting at a social level (most of them are active users of social media such as Facebook and Twitter), teachers find it relatively hard to include technology in appropriate and meaningful ways. I believe that choosing a relevant and efficient Learning Management Systems (LMS) might be a first step towards opportunities for successful implementation of blended learning programmes.


In this assignment I will evaluate three different LMS platforms potentially useful for teachers seeking to introduce technology into their classrooms. I decided that they should follow two criteria: they had to be cloud-hosted (no downloads required) and they had to offer a free plan. I finally chose Edmodo, Schoology and EDU20.


  • The first and most obvious advantage of Emodo is that its interface resembles that of Facebook, a platform with which most students (and many teachers) are familiar with, so relatively little time is invested in explaining how the platform works and what its features are.

  • You get direct access to your Google Docs through the Library and share them with your students or colleagues within the platform.

  • It is connected to other education-oriented platforms or webpages, such as Aviary and SchoolTube, so you can access these apps and use them within the platform. 


  • The fact that Edmodo is so similar to Facebook might potentially present a disadvantage, since students may behave similarly in both platforms, not understanding that Edmodo is to be used for educational purposes. The appropriate etiquette must be taught, going through the necessary adjustments in register and content.

  • You have to rely on your students to give their parents the entrance code.

  • Something I don’t feel comfortable with in Edmodo as a native speaker of Spanish is that if you sign up as an instructor you are automatically referred to as Mr. or Mrs. García. In Spanish we have two distinct ways of referring to someone -vos and usted- which assume very different levels of formality and relationships between speakers. My students and I have a pretty close relationship and we use vos (this is probably the case in most classes nowadays). Some users might consider this limitation culturally inappropriate.


  • I find Schoology’s interface very intuitive and user-friendly. The different features and sections are easily identifiable at a glance and so are the materials and assignments for each group created.

  •  The platform has an in-built Help Guide, which can be consulted any time while you’re navigating (it opens up in a new window). Additional help is found in the Resources section, where users upload video tutorials on how to go about many of the sections and features offered.

  • It works as a truly complete LMS, where you can keep record of attendance, keep your gradebooks (which can be imported form Excel and other formats) and create quizzes and tests within the platform. 


  • The interface is in English only and there’re no translations available. It is ok for teachers of English as a Foreign Language but it wouldn’t work for other subjects.

  • Teacher moderation of students’ comments is not available.

  • You can’t open more than one account in any given computer (certainly a disadvantage if you work in a lab where students share computers).


  • Edu 2.0 seems to aim at collaboration and it fosters it through online video conferencing  (via Skype) and the inclusion of forums and wikis (within the platform). Also, your personal library may be networked with other schools in communities or districts.

  • You can customize your URL.

  • There is a Certificates and Badges section, so if you are into gamification, the platform makes it easy to include it in your classes. 


  • Although the platform offers a free plan, this is only for accredited institutions. Plans for individual teachers start at $49 a month for up to 20 students.

  • Little help is offered as you navigate.

  • Limited customization of interface layout and templates.

While working for this assignment I bumped into some other Learning Management Systems worth investigating. Want to give them a try?

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