Website review by Marianne Rogowski, Common Sense Education | Updated February 2018


Free LMS feels rich in offering data-driven differentiated instruction

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Pros: Extensive features and options for classroom management rival those of many paid systems.

Cons: Laborious data entry and high learning curve may intimidate some teachers.

Bottom Line: This teacher-created site solves more problems than it causes, but it will take some up-front professional development to take full advantage.

It's not often that teachers come across a technology tool that delivers as much as Otus, much less a free one. With many opportunities to manage grades, class content, and student data, the site can feel overwhelming at first; however, with some up-front investment, teachers will find it a valuable resource for managing instruction and pulling in valuable data points from third-party resources such as Khan Academy, PARCC, NWEA, and more. Use Otus to create and grade standards-based assessments, to get feedback from and about students, including video responses, document uploads, and quick polls, and to access detailed reports to disaggregate data and create more individualized assessments and targeted skill practice. Host topic discussions and cultivate writing skills via a class blog. Draw from the item bank to address specific skills, and then automatically assign an assessment to a group of students you've identified.

Teachers can support a variety of learning modalities by letting students choose formats for submitting assignments, and they can encourage student ownership by collaborating with them to curate digital portfolios. While student-to-student collaboration capabilities are limited, communication options abound for classes, students, and parents.

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Otus is an online learning management system (LMS) that focuses heavily on using student data to inform instruction. Signup options via email or platforms like Microsoft, Google, and Clever make getting started a snap. Students can access their classes via a class code, but they'll need to use an email address to sign up. Teachers can create lessons or assessments (simple, advanced, or rubric-based) to assign by class, individual, or group using one or more data points. They can flag students to create behavioral and academic data points to help provide a clearer picture of student progress. Support is available via videos, screenshots, and an extensive blog, but sifting through all that's available to find what you need can take some effort.

Luckily, Otus offers tons of content to lessen the burden. Teachers can upload content, add from Google Drive, or search via the OpenEd resource feature. Teachers can save desired content on the Bookshelf to be easily located and used as needed, and the ability to draw student data from third-party sites can be a valuable time-saver in terms of figuring out students' strengths and struggles. The filters for finding items are very useful, but it will take effort to build assessments that fit students' needs. Although the design is a bit bland, and teachers should be ready to spend some time using trial and error as they learn, the wealth of free resources available makes for time well spent.

Finding effective ways to assign relevant content, collect responses, keep notes, and communicate with students and parents is essential in the 21st-century environment. The current drive toward differentiated, data-driven instruction can feel like an impossible expectation, but tools like Otus enhance teachers' ability to use student data to inform their teaching. The platform encourages a balance between skill practice and creativity, and the ability to access so many resources in one place can serve to eventually reduce teacher workload -- encouraging teachers to plan deliberately by giving students access to challenging, differentiated content that promotes higher-order thinking skills.

The ability to identify students' behavioral and learning needs can help teachers meet students where they are and help them achieve success and develop confidence. Of course, no tool can replace good teaching, and teachers will want to avoid overreliance on data that can at times be subjective or incomplete. Teachers should be sure to develop a variety of assignments and assessments to gather a clear picture of student learning, but Otus can make the overwhelming task feel achievable.

Overall Rating

Engagement Would it motivate students and hold their interest? Is it visually appealing? Would it inspire teachers to try something new or change their instruction?

Teachers will appreciate the many different lesson-building and analytic options available, and students will like some of the interactive features, such as polls and portfolios.

Pedagogy Does the tool help teachers promote a more student-centered experience? Will students gain conceptual understanding or think critically? Does it deepen teachers’ pedagogical thinking?

Increased efficiency, varied lesson creation, valuable data reporting options, and communication features will help teachers manage their classroom, help students stay on track, and keep parents in the loop.

Support Can students and teachers get assistance when they need it? Is it created with people of different abilities and backgrounds in mind? Is learning reinforced and extended beyond the digital experience?

The quantity, quality, and variety of support materials make learning the functionalities less overwhelming, but with so many available features, users should be prepared to spend ample time learning the ropes.

Common Sense reviewer
Marianne Rogowski Media specialist/librarian

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Featured review by
Henry.V.Doran 2. , Student
This website is good, but inconsistent. I wanted more out of this book.
CONSISTENCY! I am upset and agitated . What am I talking about? I was taking a test for 7th grade, and the first question was worth three points, for three answers. But the next question I found(14) with this format was worth 1 point! I am upset at this inconsistency, and believe these questions should be worth equal amounts of points. That is all. i actually don't care about consistency, I did this as a joke. I recommend this site.
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