Don’t Take Your LMS to the Zoo

When you leave the school grounds with students you are out there in the wide open. Anything can happen! And when you take the class to the zoo, there are all kinds of different activities to do and strange and unplanned events can happen. There are exciting and new opportunities! They are zoo things. And some of the tools and strategies that are applicable in the classroom are not so relevant at the monkey cage or the crocodile lagoon. You probably don’t need your dry erase markers. Or your air freshener. Or your document camera. The desks don’t need to be aligned in rows.

Sometimes educators might go to the zoo because the zoo can better explain how playful monkeys are (even in those darn cages) if they are seen swinging around, naked and making monkey sounds. And between the sight, sound, and smell, it is a very different experience than a textbook or what a National Geographic video can offer us.

Yea, I know. Seems self-evident right? After all, that is why they invented “field trips.”

It is why we interview working and professional psychologists in the psychology class rather than just read the book about what psychologists do. It is why we invite guest speakers into our classrooms because they are from “the outside.” It is why we go sit by the river and paint rather than sit by the computer screen with a picture of a river on it and paint. Things like “service learning” come to mind as methods of getting the students “out there.” Apprenticeships maybe? There is “stuff” beyond our classroom walls that is valuable. We know that.

But the walls are pretty thick and they have become even thicker these days with monies for field trips reduced, a deeper institutional fear of lawsuits, more students in the classroom, overworked faculty, and the “coverage” of learning objectives and massive summative testing to gather data being all the rage in Eduland. We need to fix some things.

Nonetheless, all that stuff that happens every day outside of the classroom goes on and all the while we get snappier PowerPoint presentations from textbook publishers along with bigger and more expensive textbooks. And as an added bonus that only costs a little more, we get an additional 2,000 true/false questions to fill our question banks in Blackboard.

(Total side note: My daughter was home-schooled for sixth and seventh grade. For both of those school years she spent from 8 to 9 every weekday morning assisting a kindergarten teacher get the little kindergarten kiddies going for the day. Our daughter, at thirteen, a time when kids are pretty impressionable and amazing, was given a great responsibility. She was in charge of other kids. I could write many sentences about the confidence the experience gave her and how valuable it was to her and all the kids she worked with. She was really fortunate to have that experience and while not every kid can have such opportunities, I think we do a pretty poor job at placing students in those kinds of places. It seems like we only values the things that happen in classrooms because that is sure where we keep them most of the time.)

There is this whole world out there and we reduce it down to a textbook and some PowerPoint slides.

So what are you saying, Todd?

Well, the web is like the big world we live in and the LMS is like the classroom. I know, you are thinking there is no comparison? Well, you are wrong. Just like the big world outside the classroom walls, the web does things the LMS can’t. And depending on the LMS being used, it may be able to do some of the things the web at large does, but like a classroom, it has limitations. There are things to consider.

When student’s come into our classrooms (or LMS) how do we use the bigger world we live in to enhance their learning opportunities and make the coursework relevant to their lives? How often do we use the “outside” to help them see the work in a different light or experience the content in a way that might address a different learning style? I mean, of course, beyond telling them about the outside world in a lecture. Here are some digital options outside the LMS.

I know it sounds like I am comparing digital tools and opportunities to “the physical world” tools and opportunities, but I’m not. The bigger message is that in “online classes” the use of activities that ask students to get away from a computer screen or a textbook are just as valuable as they are in a face-to-face class. Using digital tools outside the confines of an LMS in a face to face class is just as important. The world and the web are big places. Let’s use some of the opportunities that exist out there, digital or otherwise. But whatever you do, don’t bring the limitations of your LMS to the zoo.

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