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.