Dangerous Liaisons - UW Libraries

March 17, 2016

Learning Management Systems Snafus: Get Involved to Solve Problems

Neal Parker

Learning Management Software (LMS) serves an integral role as a teaching, learning, and assessment tool. Despite the importance of LMS software, their reputation seems to be defined as products that routinely disappoint users. Michael Feldstein sheds some light on the problems surrounding LMS systems in his article “What’s Really to Blame for the Failures of Our Learning-Management Systems

Feldstein illustrates how procurement issues result in poor production decisions within LMS companies. The sales teams at LMS companies closely follow a university’s procurement process in order to figure out the features that will help them sell their products. At the beginning of the procurement process, universities collect feedback from different departments with markedly different needs in terms of LMS software. From here, these needs are translated into a checklist. This “check the box” approach causes companies to adopt the wrong priorities. Feldstein offers the follow hypothetical:

Sales Manager: Second Life integration has come up in five of the last eight RFPs (checklists). It’s a growing need. And we don’t have a good solution for it.

Product Manager: None of our existing customers have complained about poor Second Life integration. Ever. I mean, seriously? What they’re complaining about now is managing large classes in the gradebook. That’s the highest priority for the next release.

Sales Manager: That has never come up in an RFP or sales process. They don’t care about gradebook features. They care about Second Life.

Product Manager: They don’t care until they actually try to use the gradebook.

Executive: Can we do both of these things?

Product Manager: Not without increasing the risk of introducing bugs into the grading engine.

Sales Manager: I can’t promise that I’ll make my numbers without better Second Life integration. It’s killing us.

Executive: OK, let’s do the least costly Second Life integration we can manage and try to get that gradebook fix in as well.

Second Life is a minute part of an LMS, whereas a grading engine fulfills a vital need. By presenting these needs as a checklist, it establishes a false equivalency. Obviously it is not the university’s responsibility to fix internal policies at LMS companies. But by actively speaking out, academic units within a university have a better chance to obtain necessary new features for their specific needs

The specific LMS company used by the University of Washington, Canvas, allows users to provide direct feedback on new features. On the canvas community page, users are able to vote fore new features by logging in through their UW netID. When these features gain a hundred votes, they become eligible for implementation in new patches. As librarians become more involved in Canvas, we ought to take initiative in terms of the new features that we’d like to see.  UW staff are currently involved in promoting one new initiative, a proposal to allow students to attach multiple files to a discussion reply. This new feature will improve the quality of current canvas discussions. If you have a minute, please vote in support of this feature.