Be a Hero with These 4 Interactive LMS Features

November 2, 2017 Jim Cianca

K-12 student using LMS features on his iPad.

“We’ll never survive,” Buttercup says in the classic movie The Princess Bride, afraid to enter the notoriously dangerous Fire Swamp. “Nonsense,” replies the heroic Man in Black. “You're only saying that because no one ever has.”

Has your school taken Buttercup’s apprehensive approach to the interactive tools within Blackbaud’s onCampus learning management system (LMS)? If so, let me be the one to say, “Nonsense!” Embracing these features will strengthen the connections between teachers, students, parents, advisors, and other members of the school’s community.

Graded Discussions

If your teachers haven’t started an online discussion in their classes yet, definitely put it on the “to-do” list. It’s a great way to extend learning beyond the classroom and involve all of the students. Teachers can start by posing a question and then throw the door open—they’ll be amazed at how easily students (including the quieter ones) take to this forum.

Blackbaud's Graded Discussion LMS FeatureWhy it works: Today’s students are digital natives, already accustomed to interacting online, so, in essence, this approach speaks their language.  

The graded discussion LMS feature allows each student to see everyone else’s comments—including across sections—enabling them to respond to the original question and all responses. Teachers can further ignite conversation by embedding video, photos, and links, and students can also respond with multimedia. Best of all, teachers can enter grades directly into the discussion (each student only sees his or her grade), which then imports into the gradebook. Students love this tool, and once teachers have tried it, they will, too.

Community Page Forums

The Community Pages feature in onCampus for student clubs, faculty professional development, or parent groups, are an effective way to engage constituents in two-way conversations. I speak from experience, having participated in a school reading club that operated almost entirely online through this feature.  

Blackbaud's Community Page LMS FeatureHow it worked: The moderator posted a question or prompt, and whenever the rest of us were able, we replied. The conversations were rich and varied, and we could all participate, regardless of our schedules. Some people posted images and links, and others simply observed.

This LMS feature helps with everything from philosophical discussions to practical considerations and planning sessions. The key to success is having a person or two responsible for delivering the prompts. Ultimately, the tool is flexible, and how you use it is limited only by your creativity.

Activity Stream Comments

Did you know that your activity stream, as well as the closely-connected “Featured Content” section, allows for public comments? There was a time when schools avoided comments, but when community members can easily share their thoughts publicly on our Facebook pages or Twitter feeds, what’s there to fear?

Blackbaud's Activity Stream LMS FeatureStill apprehensive? Don’t worry, there is a setting to require approval before posting, but I have never seen anything but positive, community-building comments appear on school posts.

The benefit of allowing comments? By embracing discussion, you’ll be creating a better overall user experience, which can lead to the type of word-of-mouth referrals from parents that’s better than any slick marketing piece.

Annotation Feature

Your school should be taking advantage of the online submissions feature in Blackbaud's learning management system to properly prepare students for college courses, where these interactions are the norm. Students can submit anything from impromptu journals to multimedia projects directly into the onCampus web app.

Blackbaud's Annotation LMS FeatureOnce students submit an assignment online, teachers can respond in multiple ways, my favorite being Annotations.

Annotations enable teachers to highlight sections of the student’s work, add notes, and display grades. It becomes a two-way conversation that is indefinitely retrievable—students can revisit the teacher’s comments while studying for exams, and parents can see the feedback. Everything is time stamped and easily accessible.

Be the Hero

It’s time to be adventurous like our heroic Man in Black and save the day with these exciting interactive tools. In the end, everyone will benefit from a better educational experience.

About the Author

Jim Cianca

Dr. Jim Cianca has been involved in high-quality private education in many roles, including as a head of school, an academic administrator, director of marketing & communications, an academic department chair, faculty member, and parent. He is currently the executive director of Alliance Academy International in Quito, Ecuador. He has been involved in educational leadership and marketing and communications efforts, both as a business leader and as an educator since 1998. To learn more visit:

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