Students, Teachers Share Opinions and Tips on Schoology

Cosette Jo, Staff Writer

It’s 11:30 p.m. and sophomore, Joseph Kim, stares in dismay at the single red word that brands his Schoology submission: late.

The day had been typically hectic, but a cursory glance at his feed told him that everything was finally in on time. He had been preparing to call it a night when a series of exiting clicks lead to this contradictory sight. It could be that the feed was incomplete, it could be that Kim misinterpreted it; either way, it’s points docked from the gradebook. “It’s hard to navigate,” he explains.

A non-intuitive user interface appears to be just one of many troubles that the Woodson body is experiencing in regard to the new Integrated Learning Management System (ILMS), Schoology. In 2019, FCPS established a five-year contract with Schoology in preparation for the expiration of its ten year contract with Blackboard that would come about in 2021.

85 Woodson students choose which platform they prefer.

Rollout of the new digital tool began with multiple pilot schools in 2020, and this year marks the full transition of FCPS from Blackboard and Google Classroom (GC) to Schoology. The change has been met with some discontent. In a poll of 85 Woodson students, 83 said that they preferred GC over Schoology. “I’m used to it,” said sophomore Nellie Kent, “and it was just easier to use.”

Indeed, students and faculty seem to be more frustrated with the elimination of GC than of Blackboard. Sophomore Zara Kepler said that she prefers GC over Schoology, but Schoology over Blackboard.

“[I prefer] Google Classroom, specifically just because you can see exactly when your assignments are due…I feel like it’s just built better,” Kepler explained, as opposed to Schoology, which she feels is less organized. “You can’t see all your assignments in one area,” she said of the new ILMS. “You have your due dates but it’s not all of them. I feel like it’s really hard to see what I need to do and what I don’t need to do.”

Photo courtesy of Mr. Richardson.

Woodson technology specialist Ryan Richardson elaborated on some of the reason behind the switch. “I think the initial purpose of using Google Classroom was for blended learning or in-person instruction, and Blackboard was more of a way for parents to access resources and materials. And I think the problem was that there wasn’t one uniform method for all our stakeholders: parents, students and staff.”

Schoology is supposed to be a more centralized, organized learning platform that’s personalized to each student. According to information furnished by Donna Nelson, staff aide to school board member Megan McLaughlin, input from parents, students and staff was included in the Request for Proposal (RFP). Schoology was a top choice for students among the bidding vendors (Google was not a bidder), and it also received good reviews from other school divisions. During this process, FCPS looked for an ILMS that would be compatible with in-person and online learning, integrated Google services, and would provide a more centralized workplace. The new ILMS phased out GC and Blackboard and will end up phasing out Horizon and eCart Search, whose contracts will expire in the next few years.

It is also intended to increase parent accessibility. “Google Classroom wasn’t completely embraced because the only way parents could see it [was] if students shared their password,” chemistry teacher Maria Gowallis Johnson said in an interview. “Parents don’t like not being able to see what’s going on…Schoology came around and ‘lo and behold’, parents are actually in my Schoology class,” she added. “So parents can see it, they get notifications, they can communicate through it, so my understanding is Schoology is more parent-friendly.”

English teacher Michael Kuykendall has both parent and faculty perspective on the matter. “I prefer Google Classroom as a teacher because it’s easy to figure out how to post things. It’s also more intuitive for students. As a parent, I like the fact that I can log into Schoology to see my children’s work.”

As for whether or not Schoology is truly fulfilling the goal of centralization, teachers seem to have doubts.

“I don’t think it is as centralized as people feel it is because the file structure is so changeable…different departments are organizing their files different ways…We’re also shifting as teachers to putting a lot of our information in Schoology and I think a lot of us are still used to going to other websites that we’ve been using for a few years now,” Kuykendall said.

Take an application like Naviance, which is an example of tech integration with Schoology. “If I wanted to get the Naviance link, I still have the bookmark for Naviance, and then I have the Naviance link in our virtual in-house which is our local area network, and now I have Naviance in Schoology,” Johnson said. She argued that the additional location seems to be just one more place of many to sift through, instead of the intended consolidation of resources.

There are some bright sides, however. “I do like how it’s all connected…like you just go in Schoology for each class and you can find all your stuff inside files…it’s kind of easy to click around it,” Kepler said.

Photo courtesy of Kara Lynch.

Johnson also appreciated the information available to her. “I like that…I can see how busy my students are in other classes. So I can see not just what I’m assigning you, but how many assignments you have in other Schoology classes…that’ll let me know kind of your workload. That’s good.”

There’s some optimism for the future, too. “Originally, I was confused with how to turn in assignments or how to locate my classes, but as the days continue…it’s gotten easier to use,” Kent said.

Richardson says that the biggest difficulties that students and faculty come to him with are trouble with the Google-Schoology integration. “Because there’s multiple programs talking to each other, there’s going to be quirks you have to work out.” But the second biggest issue is just user navigation. To aid users in both of these domains, there are several resources that are available to students seeking guidance on Schoology, one of which is the Cav Kiosk tech tips slide show.

Another place to look is the Woodson All Students course and the materials posted there. There are video tutorials and presentations available that will inform students on a variety of Schoology topics, such as utilizing the Schoology mobile app, setting up their own calendar, navigating discussion boards and more.

In the Schoology page itself is the circular blue Schoology icon, located in the bottom right-hand corner which presents in step-by-step as well as article format information that is also accompanied by helpful GIFS and animations providing visual instruction.

Students, staff and parents can improve their own experience by offering feedback to Schoology. Richardson encourages users to do this. “The nice thing about Schoology [is that] it is a company that does take feedback really well, and with that feedback they are able to make upgrades from time to time throughout the school year…That allows that partnership to thrive and to be able to make these upgrades to make things easier.”

Richardson says that the best way to do that is through advisory lessons that will be provided in the next couple months during Learning Seminar, where students will be able to give feedback to cater lessons to questions on Schoology.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

“There are some advantages to Schoology that separates itself from Google Classroom or Blackboard,” Richardson promises. “It’s going to take a little bit of time to get used to everything in terms of how Schoology works…and that’s kind of like a long-term process that we kind of have to play around with and get used to it.”

Kuykendall agrees. “I think in the end it’s just getting used to it and using it over time. Everything improves with time.”