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How to Make the Most of Your Learning Management System, Part 1: Wayfinding

By: Guest Author and Teacher Kathleen Ralf | | No Comments |

How to Make the Most of Your Learning Management System, Part 1: Wayfinding

How many of you have been in this situation?

Student A comes back from being gone on a sports trip and asks, “What did I miss?” You think to yourself, why didn’t the child check the classroom site? Or Student B asks, “I’m going to be gone on Thursday for a sports trip. Will I need to do anything when I’m gone?”

Now, it is perfectly okay for my students to ask, “What did I miss?” But I spend a good deal of time creating online spaces for my students that should make questions like these a thing of the past. And if my students aren’t using my pages, I need to take a close look at what is on my pages. Do they actually communicate what I want them to?

In this post and two more to come, I will be blogging about how I transformed my classroom sites from Pinterest style blocks of resources that kids never used, to a space where kids could wayfind on their own, interact with each other, and show their understanding.

While I use PowerSchool Learning to communicate with my students, the concepts I will be discussing are universal to anyone using a learning management system.

What is Wayfinding?

Wayfinding is key when we are designing online spaces for kids. Yes, I know they are sitting in your class and you can tell them about what you are doing. But what about later? Most middle school students can barely remember last period, let alone what you said 12 hours ago.

Think about an airport. Most of us have probably flown into a destination where we have never been before. You get to the destination and somehow you manage to find your way around with little to no help. You find the ticket counter, you find baggage claim, you find the toilet, and you find your taxi. The architecture of the building, the lighting, and the signage all point you in the right direction.

How about your classroom site? Can kids figure out where to go? Do you have a structure and visuals that engage them and send them in the right direction? Do you have signs that tell them what to do next?

Here's what my classroom pages used to look like:

Kathleen's PowerSchool Learning page before she made wayfinding improvements.

Kathleen's PowerSchool Learning page before she made wayfinding improvements.

Take a closer look. Where on the page would a child go if they missed class on Monday? Can a student see what we are going to do on Thursday? Is there anywhere on the page that tells a student how to use the page? And is there anything on the page that a student might interact with and leave his/her mark?

The problem was I didn’t have a clear vision of what my students would need when trying to figure out their homework at 10 o’clock at night.

Now when kids come to my pages they see something like this

Kathleen's PowerSchool Learning page after she made wayfinding improvements.

Kathleen's PowerSchool Learning page after she made wayfinding improvements.

Calendar. They see a calendar. They get a whole picture overview of what we will be doing each day. Of course, the calendar changes. Things happen. Some lessons take longer than I think or less time than I think. Yet, the kids still know what is coming if they want to budget their time more wisely.

Objectives. Students see the objectives of the unit or lesson. The student gets to see what they should know and understand at the end of the unit. Here is where you would place the standards as well. If using AERO or Common Core, kids will want to know what you will be assessing them on.

Order of Lessons: Each day’s lessons are in order down the page. The date of the lesson is clear. There is a visual that relates to the subject or skill we are learning about. There is a description with directions for the assignment. And if it is something they turn in, the due date is highlighted. If the child needs a text or handout for the lesson, that is attached as well.

Use space strategically: Along the side of the page are the discussions, quizzes, and extra resources they can use to gain greater understanding.

Now, these pages are good, but it doesn’t mean my students will use them. I have to do things to make sure they go there, interact, and leave their mark. I'll discuss that more next week.

Other tactics I use to help my students wayfind are:

Start each lesson with your classroom site. Project your page on the whiteboard. Give students instructions for the lesson by using the instructions you have on your page. When they go home that night to finish, they will have a better idea of what to do and where to go to find the information.

Here's Kathleen projecting the lesson on the board.

Here's Kathleen projecting the lesson on the board.

Give the students an LMS Scavenger Hunt. At the beginning of the semester, give students a series of tasks for them to show you that they know how to find the information they will need. Also, include tasks that show they can participate in Polls, Discussions, and create a WikiProject.

Create a Student Help Desk. Create a discussion block where students can ask questions and seek help from each other. Students are online when we are not. Reward them as well for helping each other by responding to questions in the Help Desk.

What's next in Making the Most of Your LMS?

Coming next is Part 2: Collaboration. I'll discuss how to use your classroom site to increase student participation and collaboration.

About Kathleen: Kathleen Ralf teaches Humanities & English at Frankfurt International School in Oberursel, Germany. She also teaches Genocide & Human Rights for Global Online Academy, a consortium of independent schools. As an educator, she works to create a classroom that is active, hands on, and full of creativity. She is a leader in technology integration on her 1:1 campus as well as an advocate of the Blended Learning model. On her blog Lehrer Werkstatt, she often shares her adventures in the classroom as well as her adventures around Europe.