A good learning management system (LMS) can make a teacher’s life insanely easy. Google Classroom is popular but that doesn’t mean it is the best tool for you to post assignments and collect student work. I have been searching for the best LMS for a long time and have tried dozens of different websites. NEO might be the best one currently available.
How I Found NEO in the LMS “Matrix”
As any veteran middle school teacher could tell you, we reflect, evaluate and adjust our methods of instruction every year, sometimes on the fly. I am no exception. As a matter of fact, I am probably on the extreme end of this behavior.
For the past four years I have been working on changing my eighth grade science classroom into a blended learning environment. To do this I needed certain tools – one of them a good LMS. I love features like badges, leaderboards, and flashy colors. But as any teacher knows, it is the essentials that count. And I had a few essential needs. My dream LMS had:
- A place for me to post content
- Give quick assessments
- Connected to my school’s Google account and Google Drive
Over the past three years I spent countless hours building folders of content on several sites. None of them seemed right. I used Google Classroom too but again, it just seemed incomplete. I can post assignments and collect them in Google Classroom, but I do a lot more with my students than just that. Teaching is a lot more complex than just two steps. This past year I had used Schoology and thought I had finally found the LMS that works for me and my students.
In my “End of the Year Survey”, students expressed their frustration with Schoology. Specifically, they were upset with the way assignments were organized inside folders. They found it difficult to quickly, and easily, find assignments. They felt there was “too much clicking” to get to the lessons embedded within the folders. I would normally just stick with a tool but because an LMS is so important to a blended class, I went back to the drawing board – or shall I say the internet – in search of a more student friendly LMS. I believe I have found it with NEO LMS.
Why NEO Works — Features
First of all, the appearance of the lessons as images is more inviting. Other LMS sites use folder icons which are OK but even I find the images more appealing. This may seem like a trivial thing, but for young teens it is all about how it looks.
To add content, NEO sites are simple to navigate with a great Help Section and a small learning curve. Adding images, pages, assignments and quizzes are easy especially if you have done it before..
Each lesson lists the assignments as sections under the image. My students always seem to become confused when there are too many lessons or links on the course page. That is why I liked with NEO that there was an option to only show assignments that the students are currently working on. Similarly, the calendar feature shows assignments that are due and what is coming up. This helps students with time management. When posting assignments online, it is important for me not to overwhelm students and to keep them focused on our current lessons.
Also, I can select an option to not let a student advance to the next unit until the previous one is completed. These are the completion rules, along with “gateway grading”, that I use to create a mastery learning focused blended class.
On the teacher side, I can easily monitor the progress of each student as they complete assignments. Also, teachers can grade “quick check” formative assessments and short answer questions submitted directly on the website. To make grading even faster and more consistent, teachers can add rubrics to assignments and attach them to student work. My school uses Google Apps for Education (GAFE), so my students can upload documents from their Drive to an assignment. This keeps things efficient and minimizes the number of tools I need to use.
The free plan for individual teachers has many features that most of us use. For just $.05 per student there are several options that may be useful. If you are a standards-based district you can connect standards to the lessons and display a mastery grid of students scores, for example.
It is my hope I can save some of you a little time in your search for the “perfect” LMS. I have looked at dozens of these websites. A lot of them share similar features to NEO, but NEO combines them in a way that really works well to create my awesome blended class. It certainly does more than Google Classroom and it is easier to navigate than Schoology. If you are looking for a place to post assignments, quizzes, and your lessons, I think NEO is definitely worth checking out.
Questions: What LMS/Google Classroom are you currently using and why do you like it? What important features of your LMS do you love and which do you wish it had? Let us know in the comments below.