Out with MyBackpack and in with Schoology

Nick Li

J. Faunce
J. Faunce

To kick off the 2015-2016 school year, Malvern Prep replaced MyBackpack with Schoology.

Schoology is a learning management system (LMS). A LMS is a website that both students and teachers can use to assist with learning/teaching and to keep track of grades and attendance.

Science Department Chair Mr. Kevin Quinn said Schoology is one of the most popular LMS’s today, used in the U.S. and internationally.

Before this year, Malvern used the MyBackpack website provided by Senior Systems. MyBackpack was the site where students could access their schedules, grades, attendance, etc.

“MyBackpack was archaic. It did nothing more than state homework and grades,” Director of Technology Mr. Terrence Norko said. “It no longer serviced our needs.”

Head of Upper School Mr. Ronald Algeo said Malvern was “looking for a platform…that had a social media feel and a more student-centered approach to things.”

“In order to [prepare students for college], Malvern’s technology must be up to the standards of colleges,” Norko said.

Schoology is not mentioned in the list of LMS platforms monitored for higher education growth monitored by edutechnica.com, however the company’s website does claim success stories at some colleges.

As a result, Malvern signed a contract agreeing to purchase the right to use Schoology in 2013, Quinn said.

Another contributing factor to the movement away from Backpack was the school’s transition from the database platform Senior Systems to Blackbaud.

Blackbaud is a student information system, according to Norko. It stores every student’s academic and contact information. As with Senior Systems, most students will not see Blackbaud in action, because it primarily works behind the scenes.

The new contract with Blackbaud meant that Malvern would have to transition to the Schoology LMS.

According to Quinn, if Malvern had wanted to continue the use of MyBackpack, software developers would have had to dedicate time and effort in order to create new code for the communication and functionality of the two separate sites.

“Think of pieces of software as really unique legos that you want to piece together,” Quinn said. “Schoology and Blackbaud are two separate entities that communicate and work together very well, and Backpack and Senior Systems are the same thing. Blackbaud would have to write software to communicate with Backpack and there was no real incentive to do so.”

Before Schoology could be used by the entire Malvern community, it had to be piloted. Some faculty including Quinn, Algeo, science teacher Dr. James Fry, and science teacher Mrs. Vernice Mulcahy used the program in their respective classes.

Mr. Quinn described Schoology as a “one stop shop for everything.”

“It’s so much easier on students to have one program with everything instead of multiple accounts,” he said.

Algeo used Schoology in a class that he taught over the summer. He taught fellow teachers from Malvern and Villa Maria using exclusively Schoology, and he felt that Schoology greatly enhanced the learning experience.

Math teacher and scheduler Mr. Michael Koenig used the new systems a little differently. As the scheduler, Koenig’s job is to create the schedules for each student for the upcoming year. Koenig said he worked “exclusively with Blackbaud.”

“Blackbaud was a better overall program for our entire network,” said Koenig. “Every aspect of the school can be tied together on one database.” He said that Blackbaud allows for cutting down on errors with scheduling courses, but there were still some minor issues with prioritizing classes.

Despite the minor issues, the pilots were deemed a huge success, and Schoology was deemed ready to be introduced to the whole school in the 2015-2016 school year.

The initial reactions of the new program have been mixed.

Some teachers and students say that the feel of Schoology is very smooth and convenient. “I love that there’s an app and that it’s very accessible,” Billy Wolfe ’17 said. “The calendar [feature] makes planning so much easier and it is so much more convenient than MyBackpack was.”

Algeo believes that students and teachers can be “more organized and environmentally friendly” with Schoology. “Teachers can make more material available online and organize it easier,” he said.

“Malvern is moving forward to being more technology based,” said Algeo. “As schoology becomes more integrated into our culture, there will be less and less paper used.”

Others are still not certain about the new LMS.

“I wished there was a day that was dedicated to teaching us the ins and outs of the program,” Will Burgess ‘17 said. “I’m still trying to figure everything out and it’s just frustrating.”

Collin Gordinier ‘16 said “[Schoology] is very confusing, and it’s not easy to actually access assignments.”

“Anytime you transition there’s going to be bumps in the road,” Assistant Director of Technology Mr. John Street said. “You have to plan for it and adjust. So far it’s a nice start but we’ll keep moving forward – moving forward is key.”

Despite some concerns with the new system, the Technology Department is dedicated to utilizing it.

“We’re going to make Schoology work,” said Norko. “If issues come up, then we will have to readjust. But Schoology, as far as we’re concerned, is here to stay.”