Tuesday, July 16, 2013

My Big Campus: An Online Learning Management System [Review]

What's the best way to choose an online learning management system?

Last fall the two tech mentors in my district flipped a coin to decide whether or not to use MOODLE or My Big Campus as our district's official online learning management system. 

The coin toss resulted in a lose-lose scenario with My Big Campus winning. Thus began my frustrations, frustrations that have continued to this moment. 

If I were to rate MBC using a 5★ rating system, I'd give MBC ★★★★★. Simply, using MBC was a year-long exercise in frustration. Among the many problems my teaching partner and I experienced, here are the top ones:

Shared Ownership of Groups: MBC management claims the site allows for teacher collaboration. From what I see, this is primarily defined as the ability to view Facebook-like threads and the ability to access resources others dump into MBC's "bundles." The site DOES NOT allow teachers to share ownership of a group (read: class) so that both teachers can create and grade assignments. Those using MBC need to know that shared administration DOES NOT solve this problem. 

I contacted MBC frequently about this issue and only moments ago tried to create an assignment in a group my colleague created just to see if the newly-formatted MBC would allow me to do so. It didn't. Consequently, the first trimester I lived in a state of frustration because only my colleague, the one who created our group, was given professional status. That is, only she could create and grade assignments. The second trimester I created the group for our class, and Debbie lived with the anguish of MBC's marginalizing her. 

Eventually, we figured out how to share the grading but not how to solve the problem with creating assignments.

File and Resource Management: MBC uses "Bundles," which essentially are groups of resources collated by unit, depending on how a teacher chooses to use them. Additionally, MBC assigns each teacher's uploaded and "borrowed" documents, videos, etc. to "Your Stuff." Teachers wishing to take the long road won't mind MBC's resource management system. However, those who value the less is more approach will find uploading and sharing materials with students frustrating. Here's how it works:

--Say you want to upload a YouTube video tutorial on litotes from the Close Reading Cooperative, or a webpage showing an example of various LMS platforms. 

--First you'll need to add the video or webpage to "Library." This is a change from last year; at that time, teachers added to "Your Stuff." 

--Then you'll need to navigate back to "Groups" and choose the group in which you want to add the item. 

--Next choose the location in the group in which you want to add the item. For me this is usually "Resources." From there, you'll need to choose the file.

--At this juncture, you'll need to choose the type of item you are adding. It's straightforward if you're uploading a file, but it you're adding a YouTube video or website, you'll need to go to "Library." 

--Now search the library for the item and select.

--*But what if someone has already added the wonderful litotes tutorial? You'll get a message indicating that it has been added when you attempt to upload it to the "Library." However, the person who uploaded the video may have chosen to rename it rather than use the name assigned by the creator. Now you're stuck w/ this bad decision made by some random teacher you don't know! And there's no way to restore the original name. 

--Once you discover the video is on someone else's "Library" shelf, you'll get a message saying it has been added to "Your Stuff" (last year), which will probably be "Library" henceforth. You'll be asked it you want to view it in "Your Stuff/Library," and you'll need to say "yes" just so you can see the title. Now you can add it to your resources.        

Student Navigation and Membership: For safety's sake, students cannot join MBC at will. Unlike Edmodo which gives teachers codes to share with students so they can join a group, MBC functions more like MOODLE in that a site/building/district administrator must add the student before the teacher can add the student to a group. Although this is a local problem, it may be enough for teachers with poor or questionable tech support to stay with Edmodo, despite the lost and forgotten codes and passwords students experience. I had many issues, through the third trimester, getting students added into the system. 

In fairness to MBC, I must add that MOODLE users have the same potential pitfalls. Unlike MOODLE, however, MBC has neither a linear nor a horizontal layout. This means that navigation and locating information can be cumbersome. 

For example, if a teacher gives an assignment on MBC, the student will find it in "Schoolwork," which is located on the left margin, running vertically, of the page. If a student is looking for a resource, the student will find the tab for this running horizontally within a group. The student need not be in a group to find "Schoolwork," but the student needs to be in the group to find "Resources."

The first screenshot shows all the groups (a partial view) with the vertical list that includes "Schoolwork" on the left.

The second screenshot shows the first page within a group with the same vertical list as well as the tabs students view. This is the most recent incarnation of MBC, and it's a page that's much more crowded than the view from last year. 

Know Your Audience: Is it possible for an online LMS to have an identity crisis? If so, MBC has one. It's a platform with the lofty goal of being all things to all students and to all teachers K-12. In contrast, MOODLE strives to be the best system it can be for colleges and universities. I've been using the most recent version of MOODLE this summer and find it increasingly easy to learn and use, and the students have taken to it quite handily, including the discussion threads I've assigned. 

My Big Campus, however, conflates elementary and secondary into one platform. Were it to split into two separate entities, it would, perhaps, more easily and effectively meet its audience's needs. For instance, the visual appearance with the tabloid interface concerns me far less than functionality. So the changes MBC is unrolling this fall won't change my mind but will probably result in my return to MOODLE for my HHS classes when optional. This can be a problem for students because it means they will have to navigate between MOODLE and MBC, depending on the platform chosen by their respective teachers. 

I also have found trying to communicate and acquire assistance from MBC mind-numbing. Rather than actually addressing my concern, I often received messages telling me I was wrong, telling me what MBC can do (only to find the claim unfounded), referring me to the Bob Big Campus blog and tutorials, etc. 

What am I Missing?: Perhaps my troubles with MBC have more to do with my deficiencies than with the platform. However, I know I'm not alone in my angst because I received a message from an anonymous MBC user telling me so, and my teaching colleague and I had many discussions about our shared frustrations. 

However, others have nothing but praise for MBC. I suspect that some of the praise comes from ed tech specialists rather than teachers like me who don't have as specialized knowledge as they do and who, by and large, learn to use technology by experimenting with it. 

For those wanting a more thorough analysis and comparison of MBC to other LMSs, I found the article "Edmodo, Schoology, My Big Campus--OH MY" informative.

Unless My Big Campus unveils radical changes and reorganization rather than the smoke and mirrors I saw this morning, I'll continue to refer to it as "MY BIG PAIN IN THE BUTT CAMPUS." And I won't say it endearingly. 




12 comments:

  1. We use Mastery Manager. Annual cost: about $65,000. Last year I didn't even touch it until May, and then it provided no information that was useful to me or my students. It just sucked up some data and sent it somewhere.

    Gary

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    1. Gary,
      Thanks for the chuckle. I should have noted in the review that MBC is a product of Light Speed, which is our server filter and comes as a "free" add-on w/ the LS subscription. I don't know how much we're paying for LS, but I'm sure it's a hefty sum.
      One of the cool things about MOODLE is that the gradebook is integrated, and the ISU tech department set up everything for me. It's really simple and cool.

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  2. Strange, but I have absolutely NO IDEA which platform my school board uses. Perhaps they've created their own.
    I do wish that feedback from the users - teachers, students - had a little sway in the decision making process for these types of purchases. I've had many frustrations with our new report card site, which we HAVE to use 3 times per year and which, sadly, cannot even be accessed by Apple products. What's a mac-lovin' girl like me to do?

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    1. I'm always suspicious about the decision-making process that determines the platform. MOODLE is free, and it's what our local university uses. I've heard that Blackboard is better than MOODLE but have never used it; however it costs. My district spent lots of money training support personnel and teachers on MOODLE only to back away and switch to MBC. Makes little sense to me.

      Delete
  3. Hi Glenda –

    Thank you for your post. We always appreciate feedback from our users and are constantly taking their thoughts into consideration as we work to improve features and functionality.
    I am sorry you have had trouble getting assistance. We strive to answer all inquiries and provide our users with helpful, easy resources. We will continue to work on this effort.

    At My Big Campus, we are focused on changing the LMS conversation. We are not interested in having the same features as other LMS providers, but instead, are focused on providing features and tools schools need to transform learning. It is not about simply digitizing content and assessment tools. We understand different schools and different grade levels have different needs. However, we think My Big Campus can be customized and used to fit any grade, any student. We hope this will be the case in your classroom as well.

    Again, thank you for your comments. I have passed this on to the My Big Campus team and we are listening.

    Toni Frantz
    Lightspeed Systems

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    1. Toni,

      What does this mean?

      "we are focused on changing the LMS conversation. We are not interested in having the same features as other LMS providers, but instead, are focused on providing features and tools schools need to transform learning."

      I see no mention of any specific features unique to MBC. What is it about learning you want to transform? I'm not a fan of change for change's sake. My colleague and I aren't simply interested in "digitizing content and assessment." We had hoped for a platform that would allow collaboration that respected us both instead of labeling one "owner," a word that by its very definition marginalizes and excludes.

      I stand by my comments in the post above, a commentary I could have written at any point during the school year but didn't. Instead I gave MBC half the summer to remediate itself in ways that address my repetitive complaints.

      I can offer you some specific guidelines about how to listen better. My professional opinion is that MBC isn't listening, a claim for which I have ample evidence.

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  4. We take feature requests and user comments seriously. All of your points have been passed on the MBC team and are being reviewed.

    Please feel free to email me should you want to continue this conversation. Again, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Toni
    Toni@lightspeedsystems.com

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    1. I'm actually happier reviewing MBC in this forum than trying to get MBC to address my concerns in a way that solves the issue.

      I should have mentioned in my review that my colleague and I were never able to figure out how to use "quick links" or even what they are, and she has a MA in ed tech.

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  5. We appreciate your review! Definitely understand your feedback about having multiple teachers/owners within a course. It is something our developers
    are working on.

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  6. As the Technology Integration Coordinator for my district, I feel compelled to ask what if any professional development support you received from your IT department? I would like to try and address certain issues you bring up and how we deal with them.

    "The site DOES NOT allow teachers to share ownership of a group (read: class) so that both teachers can create and grade assignments." While this it is true that teachers can not be co-owners of a group teachers can be made admins of the group. In this capacity any administrator can assign Schoolwork/assignments to the group/class. Now there is an issue with grades only be visible to only the teacher/administrator that assigned the Schoolwork/assignment. This issue was pointed out to the developers at this years MBC User Conference.

    Student Membership: This should be clarified a little bit in that as part of making My Big Campus a safe environment for you district all users do need to be added by your IT staff. We're in the process of automating this process through the use of a third party software called Clever, which is free for schools. Once Clever is synced our our district active directory and student information system, Skyward, it will automatically populate classes and students for teachers. Additionally, any changes in class roster happens automatically every 24 hours. Teachers need not do a thing!

    Quick Links are an internal bookmarking system allowing access to many of your favorite MBC groups or pages. Find a group/page/resource in MBC and just click the pin and the " Add this page to Quick Links" and now you have a bookmark for that page. Being and administrator I have over 50 groups I'm a part of and I use the Quicklinks feature to get to groups or pages that are important to me rather than scrolling through the long list of groups!

    We just recently use My Big Campus to launch our online learning environment and while it was bumpy, My Big Campus came through for us!

    I have to say I've been able to get support and response in a reasonable amount of time. I would highly recommend that you and other teachers in your district attend one of the MBC User Conferences in order to meet the MBC folks.

    Overall, many of the issues you bring up we've dealt with and shown teachers ways of making things work using My Big Campus. I am just left with wondering if you were unfortunately left to fend for yourselves and didn't receive proper professional development. If so your IT department needs to be fired!!

    If you ever need help please feel free to contact me through My Big Camus, Mr. Case.

    Take care and good luck!

    Jerry Case
    Technology Integration Coordinator
    MSD of Lawrence Township
    Indianapolis, IN

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  7. Great information. Great site. Really enjoyed reading the learning management systems (LMS) information. Keep up the good work.

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