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Light bulb goes on at Millis

Tech-savvy US school district reaping benefits of itslearning learning platform

Grace Magley says she loves telling this story.

It was the fall semester of 2011 and itslearning was being implemented at Millis Public Schools, a school district in Massachusetts, USA that was using an open-source platform.

A true work space for students

Soon after semester start, a math teacher approached Grace, Millis’ Educational Technology Director and a leader in the field of blended learning, and told her something one of his Grade 9 students told him.

“The student said, ‘Last year with Moodle was like working in a dark cave. Now, with itslearning, it’s like a light bulb came on,’” Grace says. “itslearning is a much better environment for the students to be working in. It really is a true work space for them.”

When Grace talks about itslearning, she uses phrases like ‘fluid environment’ and ‘seamless combination.’ She is referring to the platform itself but also to its ability to effortlessly combine the virtual and physical classroom.

The district, which comprises 1,500 students housed in two buildings, has always understood the value of technology in the classroom. Grace does not recall a time when district teachers did not have their own laptops, and she says 90 per cent of district teachers are proficient with technology.

Final piece of the puzzle

The district has promoted concepts like personalized learning, the 1:1 initiative and blended learning for years. What these initiatives have in common is that in order for them to succeed, they need a capable learning platform. So when the district implemented the itslearning platform last fall, it was as if the final piece of the puzzle fell into place.

“itslearning has definitely allowed us to go further, faster,” Grace says. “We’re able to get our teachers at pretty high levels with itslearning, and I think the platform will continue to get better.”

Districts around the US contact Grace for advice on using technology in the classroom. She tells them a learning platform alone will not propel schools into 21st century education landscape.

Willingness to embrace technology needed

What is needed, and what many schools are lacking, is a pre-established strategy for incorporating technology in the classroom. Millis had this before they chose itslearning, and this is partly why the platform has been so well received by teachers and staff, Grace says.

“We’ve always used technology in this district. We’ve always tried to use it wisely. Six years ago we started with blended learning, and now our focus is on personalized learning,” she says. “The teachers like working with itslearning, and they like building in it. It’s very easy to get the teachers to want to use it.”

When the blended learning initiative was launched at Millis, the district was using Moodle. Grace soon realized the open-sourced platform was not allowing them to fully capitalize on the benefits of blended learning, which she describes as “the optimal way of learning.”

“The teachers were hitting a wall with Moodle. It was difficult to train them,” Grace recalls. “The focus was on training the teachers in Moodle, not on what they could build with it. With itslearning, the teachers can focus on what they are building for their environment, not how to build.”

All course materials in one place

With Moodle, simply uploading files was a complicated process, as students had to upload into a special folder. With itslearning students appreciate having all course materials in one place. By logging into itslearning students can also access curriculum programs such as Brain pop and even access Google Mail and Google Docs.

“The platform has so many features and advantages to it,” Grace says. “itslearning is a very fluid environment that offers seamless combinations, and it’s easy to use. It’s not complicated like it was before.”

Facilitates personalized learning

Seamlessness in the platform is especially important to Millis with its big focus on blended learning. Online work must flow seamlessly with in-class work. The blended learning approach is also crucial to the school’s recent focus on personalized learning. Based on polls and surveys students complete on itslearning, Millis teachers can give one-on-one help to struggling students.

“It’s just much more fluid for the students,” Grace says. “The students don’t have to waste time logging in and out of places. They are seamlessly able to log in and do what they need to do. No other learning management system does that as well as itslearning.”

itslearning is used by thousands of students throughout Europe, and the Norway-based platform has subsidiary offices spread across the continent. Though itslearning has its roots in Europe, Grace says the platform and its staff are well adapted to the US market.

Meeting the needs of US education sector

“I love that itslearning recognizes the differences between Europe and the US in terms of education,” she said, adding that education in the US is more data-driven than in Europe.

Data-driven assessment puts information about individual students in the hands of teachers more quickly than with traditional assessment, which is characterized by, for example, grading papers by hand. Being able to assess student data quicker, by, for example, asking students to complete a poll in itslearning, means teachers can alter their instruction to suit the needs of their students.

“itslearning staff are really working with us to identify these differences,” Grace continues. “They are listening to us and willing to provide us with those things we need in the future. I am very happy with itslearning and what we will be able to do with it moving forward.”

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