This post was co-authored by Carolyn Samuel, Barbara Stechysin and Jasmine Parent.
A learning management system (LMS) is a software application used for the administration and delivery of courses. Examples of LMSs commonly used in higher education are Brightspace (D2L), Moodle, and Canvas. At McGill University, where we work, we have branded our LMS “myCourses.” In this post, we describe two aspects of pedagogy—spaced practice and rapport building—that can be supported with tools typically available in LMSs.
We tell students not to cram for tests and exams because cramming doesn’t lead to long-term retention of content. Ideally, our students will engage with our course content at intervals throughout the semester—revisiting readings, lecture notes, and videos every few days or weeks. Engaging with content multiple times at intervals is known as spaced practice. Ebbinghaus’ (1885) Curve of Forgetting, illustrated on the University of Waterloo’s website, describes the theory behind spaced practice: “When you are exposed to the same information repeatedly, it takes less and less time to ‘activate’ the information in your long term memory and it becomes easier for you to retrieve the information when you need it.”
LMS features that get students to space practice
1 – Content
The Content tool allows instructors to set release conditions so that students access course material in a defined sequence or incrementally rather than all at once:
- Start dates: Students will see that Content exists, but they will only be able to access it on the date that you have set.
- Due dates: These dates appear in the course Calendar and let students know by when they should view the materials. Students can see and submit materials even after the date has passed.
To help maintain students’ interest in revisiting course content, consider providing them with different types of materials, such as videos, links to websites, slides, lecture recordings, and articles, on the same topic.
2 – Quizzes (graded or ungraded)
The Quiz tool allows instructors to:
- Manage student access times
- Manage quiz duration times
- Give students one or multiple attempts
- Randomize question options and question order
- Implement exam authentication options
As an example, you can set up weekly quizzes—even just 1 or 2 questions!—to get students to revisit course readings each week.
3 – Discussions
The Discussion tool provides a space outside of the classroom where students can ask questions, reflect on ideas, debate issues, and share diverse perspectives. As examples, at the end of each week or theme, ask students to respond to questions in the Discussion forum, such as:
- “What was your most important take away and why?”
- “What question would you like to ask the author?”
- “What thought-provoking question would you like to put to the rest of the class?”
- “Building on what we discussed in class and read last week, what … how … why …?”
Release conditions can also be set for the Discussion tool.
Here’s an example of a three-week schedule where content, quizzes and discussion can be set to be released at intervals so that students have spaced practice:
Students can sometimes perceive themselves to be just a “number” in their university classes. This perception can make students feel demotivated and potentially result in a negative impact on their learning experience. Building rapport has been shown to support students with having positive learning experiences. (See Frisby  for a concise overview.) Examples of rapport building behaviours in the classroom include learning students’ names so that you can address them as individuals and moving away from the podium at the front of the class so that you can circulate among students. The behaviours have online equivalents.
LMS features that support instructors with building rapport with their students in the online environment
1 – Create Your Profile
Create your profile by adding a short bio or an image to personalize your course and give you a social presence in the online portion of your course. Your bio should illustrate for your students your interest in the course topics and your expertise in the field. Include information that you think will stimulate students’ interest in you and the course. Here’s what it looks like:
The instructor profile card, a widget that can be added to your course homepage, is another space where you can introduce yourself to your students, share your photo, a short bio and social media details:
2 – Use Replace Strings
Replace Strings allow you to customize course content (e.g., quizzes) and communications (e.g., announcements) by incorporating students’ names. As an example, you can add Replace Strings to a welcome message so that when students log in to the course website, they see a message like this:
3 – Provide audio recorded feedback
In the Assignments tool, you can use Record Audio to provide students with feedback on their assignments.
Comments can be brief, such as “Hi Robin. Your argument is solid. When you revise your work, see if you can bolster it a bit with more recent sources.” When students hear your voice, especially when you begin the recording by using their names, the feedback can be perceived as being more personal than handwritten comments. (Read more about audio recorded feedback here.)
If you’re an instructor at McGill University and would like to use myCourses to promote spaced practice, do some rapport building, or learn other ways myCourses can support your students’ learning, register for myCourses Essentials (a self-paced resource) or request a consultation with Teaching and Learning Services.
Frisby, B. (2018). On rapport: Connecting with students. Greater Faculties: A Review of Teaching and Learning, 2, article 3. Retrieved from https://uknowledge.uky.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1010&context=greaterfaculties
University of Waterloo. (n. d.). Curve of Forgetting. Retrieved from https://uwaterloo.ca/campus-wellness/curve-forgetting
Associate Director, Faculty and Teaching Development, and Senior Academic Associate, at McGill's Teaching and Learning Services; former Senior Faculty Lecturer at the McGill Writing Centre; area of specialization: Second Language Education; loves teaching and learning!
(Photo credit: Owen Egan)