Mandatory use of learning management systems?

Ever since I wrote that article for Academe a few months ago, I’ve been arguing that mandatory use of learning management systems is the future of higher education. Our employers will tell us it’s for the students’ convenience or maybe (to cite something that I’ve seen written up elsewhere) so that they can preserve the integrity of their learning analytics, but it will really be so that they can keep an eye on what we do all day and so that they can begin to automate the teaching process whether we faculty like it or not. And ever since writing that article, I’ve heard noises that this future is actually happening now – that some schools have already begun to require faculty to use their expensive learning management systems whether their professors actually want to or not.

As a result, I’ve decided to try to document this transformation and I need your help. Yes, I want you to help me stop just mouthing off about education technology and contribute to actual edtech research! If your school requires faculty to use the learning management system there, I want to know about it. Even better, I want you to point me to the documents where your administration justifies this policy. If you’re uncomfortable using the comment section below, then please feel free to e-mail me this kind of information at the address down the page a bit on the right.

If I get even a minimal number of responses, I’ll probably write it up at the Academe blog as a follow-up to my original article. Who knows? If I get numerous responses, maybe I’ll submit the result to some strange journal that I wouldn’t ever have imagined contributing to otherwise.

Jonathan Rees

Professor of History, Colorado State University - Pueblo.

This Post Has 15 Comments

  1. David Kernohan

    My friend Viv Rolfe (@vivienrolfe) tells me that at many institutions in the UK that the VLE/LMS is the only way to contact students via email. So even if local policies do not require you to use the system to share materials (etc), it remains a massively over-engineered front end for mailing list access.

    1. Pat

      Assuming of course, like we did, that student’s never change email

  2. Jonathan Dresner

    I might have to do a little digging. I don’t *Think* it’s mandatory, but there have been discussions about that possibility for a long time, mostly around reported student frustration with lack of faculty adoption of online gradebook tools.

    We still have alternative tools for contacting students, but we also have a burgeoning online course component to our programs for which a secure closed LMS is frankly necessary.

  3. Jim Julius

    At this point, I’m guessing that “institutional” requirements for LMS use would be most likely in schools where most classes are online and taught by adjuncts, and where courses are mostly or entirely pre-developed.

    I’d guess the next-most likely case for mandated LMS use would not be institutional, but for programs or classes designated as Distance Education (DE), to try to ensure compliance with federal financial aid regulations regarding authentication of DE students.

  4. Vanessa Vaile

    @v_phd tweeted @precariousfac that LMS are mandatory where she teaches,

    I may get more from ppl reply to FB syndication autotweet instead of you and will pass them on. Does limited mandated use such as for grade books, course announcement, etc. count? UL Lafayette English Dept has that.

  5. Marjory Parsnips

    Our ed tech unit ‘mandated’ the VLE – but who was about to enforce it? Effectively, decisions about whether and how were devolved to the department level, or perhaps faculty for some disciplines. I work in a research-intensive institution where in-person education is valued and where academics resist interference in their teaching decisions by departments which call themselves central but which are actually marginal. Where policies are resented, desultory engagement ensues, which seems healthy to me.

    That said, heads of department often have more clout than the centre, so you do get local pockets of domestication. And in a more managed institution I can certainly see this kind of thing happening.

  6. April Bullock

    It is not required at my institution. However, when teaching online I don’t think there is a good choice, unless, of course, one has a website that is secure enough to feel comfortable about not being used when student grades or something go to the wrong person. We are using a version of Moodle, so at least it is not expensive. The gradebook, however, is probably the least used feature of the LMS, at least by my colleagues . It is nearly impossible to make it do what you would like it to do.

    Sorry for the rant.

    1. Jonathan Rees


      Alas, just because your campus uses Moodle doesn’t mean it’s inexpensive. Almost certainly, somebody got pai to customize Moodle’s open source platform for your campus’ needs and there’s a very good chance that they overpaid. With respect to online classes in general, I know LMSs make more sense for those than in regular courses, but they are by no means required. Just follow Laura Gibbs on Google+ and you’ll see everything she can do only using OU’s LMS’ gradebook.

      1. Pat

        Basis for “probably overpaid”?
        Seems a very broad statement?

        1. Jonathan Rees

          That was more about universities tending to overpay than some kind of Moodle slander.

  7. Natalia

    I’m an Associate Professor at a Catholic, teaching-oriented university. I just received this survey to fill out, from the Gates Foundation. Thought you may be interested in the content, the language, and what they are asking. Oh, they offer a $10 Amazon gift certificate to fill it out,

  8. Frank

    Admin plans to require use of a college-monitored LMS where I teach. Their justification, so far, is that it is a “best practice” for students to get information all in one place. When challenged to produce research, they indicated that faculty could not be trusted to report grades to students, so that this would be a measure for accountability.

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