Making the Most of your LMS-Part II-Collaboration

Here is the second part to my series on Making the Most of your LMS over at Haiku Learning

In a previous blog post, I shared a little bit about the importance of Wayfinding. How will your students know what to do once they arrive at your digital classroom site?

As I noted in that post, having pages that have a structure and visuals that engage students will help send them in the right direction. Having clear instructions in content blocks can guide the student in figuring out what to do.

But just because you have these beautifully constructed pages doesn’t mean a student will actually go there and use them.

Remember, we are social beings!

Think about social media. Why do we waste endless hours scrolling through pictures and memes when we could be grading those super exciting essays? Why do people keep going back to Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram?

We want to see if anyone liked our posts. Did anyone make any comments? We go there to see what family and friends are doing. Did Shelly post any pictures of the new baby? We go there because we are looking for a cool resource we know one of our teacher friends shared. I know that Atlantic article is here somewhere.

We keep going back there because that is where we interact with our friends near and far. We go back there because we are engaged in conversation.

So how do we create that kind of engagement with our classroom site?

Try keeping two things in mind when creating your online classes.

Create opportunities for students to collaborate. Give students a place to interact. Give students a place to post their ideas. Give students a forum to make comments on each other’s work. Give students a canvas to curate resources for their classmates.

Provide a bigger audience for students. I love this quote by Rushton Hurley: “If kids are sharing work with the world, they want it to be good. If they are sharing the work with you, they want it to be good enough.” Students’ motivation to do good work changes depending on the audience of their work. No one will know if they turned in something incomplete to me. But all their classmates will know it is incomplete if they post it online.

It is also funny how kids ask, “Do these have to be in complete sentences?” when they write a response just to me about something. But if they are writing in a public forum, like a discussion board or comments in a WikiProject, they write in complete sentences without asking. They want to be heard, so they write in a way that makes them heard.

Have students share their work on discussion boards or group project sites — my LMS is Haiku Learning and they have a great tool for collaborative learning called WikiProjects. Be sure to limit student responses to specific types of feedback. This helps guide students with what to look for in each other’s work. It also helps them give more usable feedback to their peers.

Switch up projects you normally do to increase engagement

Below are a some examples of traditional projects and how you can spice them up with online engagement.

Literature circles

My student engagement with literature circles has always been hit or miss. I was frustrated with how my students didn’t take up the challenge to direct their own learning.

Last year I decided to use WikiProjects in Haiku Learning to add more accountability to the process. Here’s how it worked:

  • Setup. Each book group had their own set of wiki pages.
  • Time management. They created a calendar for reading their novel and set their own meeting times.
  • Organization. They assigned roles to individuals in the group for each week and posted it clearly on each week’s page.
  • Transparency. Instead of having a packet, they put all of their planning and written work in their WikiProjects.
  • Digital tools. During their meetings, they made screencasts of their discussions, so the scribe for the meeting could go back and review if needed.
screenshot of literature circle project in Haiku LearningHere’s a overview of what the project looks like.
You can see close up screenshots at the bottom of this post.

It blew my mind how different the unit went. All students were actively engaged, even the students who were struggling to read at grade level. All students were participating in the discussion both digitally and in the classroom. Students even went back and watched their videos. The analytics were off the charts. And if they forgot to prepare the first week, they never made that mistake again. Everyone could see that they didn’t do their work; they couldn’t hide anymore.

It was also easier for me to monitor and grade. In 10 minutes, I could check to see which students were prepared prior to meetings. After their meetings, it would take 30 minutes for me to read through their notes and reflections.


I’m a firm believer in letting my students do the teaching. I like giving them choice in their research topics. And I like giving students the opportunity to practice a real life skill like presenting information to their peers.

The drawback? Presentations can easily take a week out of your class time. By the time kids hook up, find their presentation in their files, present, then answer questions, you are lucky if you get through 4 presentations in 50 minutes.

Streamline the presenting. I now have students embed their Google Slide presentation into their group’s WikiProject. On the day of the presentations, I simply click through the projects for each student to access and present their topic. No more switching computers, using flash drives, or searching through files.

Incorporate comments & discussions – at the right time. After each group presents to the class, I allow for a few clarifying questions. The bulk of the discussion will happen later, online:

  • Students must comment on their favorite presentation and explain what techniques and topics the students used to keep them engaged.
  • They must comment on at least two other projects with a clarifying question: they either provide an additional resource on the topic or or compare the student’s topic to the topic their group presented on.

Instead of student learning ending with the presentation, the students continue to interact with the material. Students go to the WikiProjects to have thoughtful discussions. Students, when responding to questions, have time to think about their answer and don’t feel the pressure of being put on the spot. And when students are revising for the test, they just have to go back and look at the slides, presenter notes, and discussion.

screenshot of student screencast in Haiku Learning

The key element? Keep the conversation going

Give reasons for your students to go to your pages for more than accessing missed work. Create a place for kids to hang out and enjoy the conversation. Give students a virtual environment to share their creations. Your classroom pages should be about them. Create space to let them leave their mark.

How do you get your students to use your classroom sites?  Do you have strategies for creating online spaces for your students to collaborate? 


Coming next week is Part 3: Using Your LMS for Formative Assessment



Categories: Education

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