Schoology All In

Written By Mitchell Drake, For The Globe

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This fall marks the full integration of Schoology, Point Park’s new online education tool.

Schoology is a learning-management-system (LMS). The program has become increasingly prevalent in modern the age of education, and works to connect students with educators and easily manage assignments, submissions and grading.

Many students recall the school’s previous LMS, Blackboard. Blackboard (or Blackboard Learn) was utilized by Point Park University for 15 years but, was elbowed out by Schoology during the fall semester of 2017.

Both systems offered the same generalized type of services to professors and students. Todd Slater, Instructional Technologist, helped implement Schoology.

Slater said he worked on the creation of new courses, the integration of old courses, system maintenance, templating, running efficiency tests and importing Blackboard’s portfolio and student organizational tools to Schoology.

This workload contained the manning of “pilot courses,” where nine select courses were used to prototype and test the system’s malleability towards various types of classes. Slater was also part of a committee that compared different services to find the ideal choice for Point Park. The committee tested systems by organizing tech demos and sandbox courses where LMS vendors would present features and benefits.

“We were looking for a system that’s intuitive for students and all users that is also in-tuned with modern social media,” Slater said.

This becomes apparent when viewing the update feed page of Schoology, which bears a resemblance to Facebook’s feed page. Slater’s committee knew this layout would be easily recognizable to students and professors with each post featuring a profile picture and the option to directly leave comments under the post.

Slater described how the social media layout allows students to directly ask questions to professors, who can respond just as fast. Discussions can be shared between students across different courses. Students could also form their own groups, which allows for student collaboration outside of class.

To further facilitate the system, Slater now makes biweekly calls to Schoology’s Client Success Manager with feedback he receives from students and professors. In these calls to the “middle man,” Slater can submit needed feature requests and bug fixes that are later implemented into the system in a move to lead the system by student-input.

“The system will constantly be evolving, administration will change, but people will decide how they use it,” Slater said. “We are just trying to give people tools to get their work done, to do the best to make sure we are happy.”

Jessica McCort, assistant professor of Rhetoric, Composition and Social Justice has served Point Park for four years. McCort taught in one of the focus test pilot courses planned to test out Schoology’s different forums.

McCort also had what she considers extensive experience using Blackboard in the past. In that experience, she said that while it provided teachers more tools (especially for essay-laden composition courses) and easy organization of grades, Blackboard featured clunky discussion threads and was generally harder to navigate for students. Students without experience in writing blogs or forums would have to be taught how to use it, which “eats up” a teacher’s time with their students, McCort said.

McCort said she enjoys using Schoology so far and believes the ease for students to see teacher comments on work and ask questions directly will vastly improve communication, which is “positive for the university”.

“It was like going from Mac to PC,” McCort said.

Some students have differing opinions on Schoology. Wylie Stephenson, a sophomore majoring in Cultural Studies, stated that her experience with Schoology in high school was not very favorable, but manageable.

“Honestly, it wasn’t always that bad,” Stephenson said. “It could be pretty annoying when trying to find certain things.”

Siiri Nikkinen, a sophomore majoring in Psychology, is opposed to the idea of using an LMS due to the external, non-campus presence of Schoology’s administration. While skeptical, Nikkinen said she is enjoying the benefits of the Schoology app.

“It’s a business behind these systems,” Nikkinen explained. “They just want our school’s money and control it so we have no say in how it changes.”

Responding to similar criticism, Slater assures that use of the system depends on the choice of the professor and that the system will grow to become more user-friendly as it evolves. With time, Slater believes that Point Park will become comfortable with the new system.

“Change is tricky. It’s difficult,” he said. 

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