Teachers in Indianapolis Public Schools use a motley collection of tools to track student grades, from paper notes to Excel spreadsheets. When it comes time to send home report cards, they have about a week to go through the tedious process of entering those grades into the school database.
“And of course, it’s really, really slow because everybody is trying to do it all at once,” said Laura Larimer, Chief Information Technology Officer for the district.
That’s one of the problems IPS is aiming to solve with a new learning management system for classrooms across the district. It recently approved a contract that could cost up to $136,859 for the first year with a New York-based company called Schoology and plans to roll out the system this August.
Schoology is a platform for teachers to share readings, multimedia materials and assignments with students, give feedback on work and track grades. A selection committee that included teachers chose Schoology in part because it directly links with the student information system, eliminating that step.
“We wanted teachers to be able to have technology do work for them instead of them having to do work for technology,” Larimer said. “There was a natural kind of integration that made the teacher’s job, much much easier.”
The district will rollout the software at the majority of schools this fall, although seven schools chose to use other programs. It’s part of a districtwide move to improve technology that included the purchase of more than 10,000 new computers this year and upgrades to wireless technology in schools, Larimer said.
The contract includes a $20,000 fee for initial implementation and training as well as a $116,859 annual user fee. The software will replace the ANGEL Learning Management Suite, a now-defunct application originally created in Indianapolis. The district solicited bids from five providers and received four responses, ranging in cost from $133,400 to $352,500 for districtwide use.
Schoology is similar to learning management programs such as Blackboard and Moodle, but it offers additional social and content sharing tools, said Chris Arvanitis, National Solutions Director for Schoology. Educators can use it to share assignments with colleagues, department wide or even with users in other schools and districts.
“One of the things that really separates schoology,” said Arvanitis, “is our focus on communication and collaboration.”
The district will offer training for interested teachers during the summer. Once the year starts, each building will have educators who are familiar with Schoology who can train their peers.
Using the website is similar to Facebook, so the district expects the learning curve to be relatively easy for students as well as teachers, said IPS staffer Debbie Babcock.
“A lot of teachers like the look and feel,” she said. “It has a very familiar feel.”