Publication Date

January 2018


This article is a teaching note on the experiences of students and professors as they adapted to the use of a new learning management system (LMS). Using pedagogical theories of student engagement and the online learning process, we explore how the design of an LMS affects student satisfaction and interaction with peers and the instructor. This descriptive, qualitative study reports student and instructor experiences in four hybrid sociology courses that used Google Classroom as an experimental LMS. These same students also used Blackboard, a more traditional LMS, in their other sociology classes, establishing a quasi within-subject point of comparison for these two systems. A survey (n=72) and four focus groups (n=54) were conducted among students to determine how student engagement is experienced differently on Classroom and Blackboard. Eighty-three percent of students reported feeling satisfied with Classroom over Blackboard. Focus groups revealed themes relating to usability and learnability; interaction and individuality; and facilitation of learning. Students and instructors responded more positively, with some exceptions, to Classroom’s reliability and interface, but claims about the transformative power of online tools are not wholly supported by student or instructor experiences. The study advances our understanding of how the LMS interface, design, and functionality play a role in student engagement online. Further research is needed to understand the full extent of Classroom’s impact on learning in the higher education landscape.