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Thursday
Feb162012

Options, again

With the adoption of GoogleDocs a couple years ago we discovered that our staff was confronted with a relatively large number of options for sharing and collaborative editing (September 2009). And I wrote a short guide for helping people decide the advantages and disadvantage of each method.

With the adoption of Moodle in our district, a growing awareness of the power of GoogleSites, the increasing use the parent and student portal in our student information system Infinite Campus, a growing awareness that private social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter can be an effective means of reaching students, and the realization most parents can be contacted by e-mail or text, we need to expand this guide.

While the tools and purposes overlap, I am calling these new types of communication publishing instructional resources and direct communication. How might a teacher or administrator decide what tool to use to make classroom materials available (unit and course guides, links to readings, quizzes, and discussion forums)? And what's the best way to get timely information to students, parents and the community delivered?

Below is a rough outline and some beginning thoughts...

Options for publishing instructional resources in ISD77 and when to use them:

1. Your teacher page on the district website. This yours and the district's "public face." Contact information, broad course descriptions or grade level units, calendars and static information like supply lists and forms should be made available using the personal webpages on the district/school site.

2. GoogleSites/Blogger/Picasa. These tools that are available as a part of the GoogleApps for Education package can be used for providing instructional materials in electronic forms and for sharing student projects. Since permission to access these sites can be designated by the creator of the sites, worksheets, study guides, spelling/vocab lists, discussion forums and galleries of work are practical uses.

3. Moodle. As a management system, this tool is best used to develop entire course outlines and structures with links to units and lessons. Access to Moodle units can be given to students only. 

4. Gradebook accessible from the Infinite Campus student/parent portal. This tool is best used to inform students and parents of assignment and project deadlines and reporting what work has been done and how successfully. Since it is a part of the required use of the gradebook in the district, this should create no additional work for teacher, but perhaps more timely use of the system.

5. Non-district adopted tools. Wikis, blogs and other tools which teachers can create independently can be easy to use. However, there is a learning curve for both the creator and user of many tools and a means of locating the resources when not linked to district-adopted online resource can be problematic.

Options for direct communication in ISD77 and when to use them:

1. Telephone and direct e-mail. Best for spontaneous communication with individuals or small groups. Telephone conversations may be less subject to unintended misunderstanding and are better for in-depth conversations.

2. GoogleGroups. Smaller, relatively permanent groups of students or parents with whom one regularly communicates can be contacted conveniently using Groups. Messages are archived for later retrieval and members can be quickly added or deleted.

3. Sending e-mail via the student information system. "Groups" are already created by default using this system and require no additional set-up. (All students or parent in your 5th hour science class. All parents or students in 5th grade. All parents or students in a school building.)

4. Sending text or e-mail from the Public Relations subscriber lists. A good way to get information about events of interest to general public, not just those in the student information system. These announcements need to coordinated and approved by the Public Relations staff.

5. Publishing on a Facebook Fan Page or Twitter. While popular with many users of these social networks, staff must remember that voluntary subscription (or following) may mean not all students or parents will receive these messages. Students under 13 should be using these tools. There are still questions surrounding the appropriateness of the use of these tools with students.

From a few comments I've heard recently, so many choices can be confusing for parents, students and staff. At what point should districts require the use of certain tools (For blended course the use of Moodle is required) or meet specific communication expectations. (All staff members must post upcoming major assignments at least week prior to their due date in the gradebook.)

I will be upfront and admit that "mandating" anything for professionals in the schools is unpopular. We all have our favorite ways of doing things and our favorite tools. Some teachers may already have a large body of materials available in one program and moving them to another would be a lot of work. 

I sense though that as a kindness to parents and students, good technology leadership will require such guidelines to be created and enforced.

OK, readers, your thoughts? What does your district do in this regard? Is this truly an issue or am I being over-reactive to a few comments? 

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Reader Comments (4)

This is a tough one for me - I like to have tools that work for me, and not necessarily what the department head or principal or board likes or uses. I also believe that students can be flexible and use whatever a teacher uses. And my experience has shown me that most of the free or inexpensive tools and web sites are vastly superior to the "same old same old".

My plan is to do what my school requires, but supplement with all of the other tools I need.

February 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKenn Gorman

My district has been fairly open and proactive with seeking out and supporting a variety of tech options for teachers. Moodle and GoogleSites have been the most popular choices, while teacher pages have been largely abandoned in favor of the aforementioned options. In my experience, the "intuitiveness"/synergy of the Google suite makes for an ideal solution for sharing course information with students, submitting assignments, and other forms of communication. It certainly does not meet ALL of the needs of teachers in the classroom, but the breadth of services available is appealing (and free).

W/r/t the question of mandating the use of particular programs in schools: I think I agree with many teachers when I say that requiring the use of particular programs/websites can be counterproductive (i.e. what seems well-suited to a Biology classroom may not work in an English classroom), but I think we do need to move towards a requirement for SOME sort of online publishing/sharing of class information with students. Not only does this allow for students to access documents or assignments at will, but it promotes transparency in the classroom for parents and administrators. There may be good reasons for avoiding certain media for online communication, but there's no good reason (IMO) for avoiding every form of online communication between teachers and their students.

February 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterA. Holly GVSU

Doug-
Thanks so much for sharing your ideas-I especially like your outlines for instructional resources and direct communication. To answer your question, I work in a district in which we are growing by leaps and bounds in regards to the educational technology tools that are available to both staff and students...and I agree, it can be a bit confusing and overwhelming. How exciting it is that we have so many options, and that our teachers have choices and the ability to be self-directed. For e-mail communication in my district, teachers and students are required to communicate via district e-mail accounts. An updated social networking policy just went to our school board last week, basically saying that staff and students need to be responsible. Teachers are tweeting and we have facebook pages for each of our schools, and many teachers have course blogs and wikis. We don’t have much in place in required sites or platforms to use, but there is talk of us moving to using Google for document sharing, blogs, etc.
Do you think there is value in allowing teachers to explore, and then come back in a year to reconsider the outlines?

February 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMary Pat

Hi Kenn, Holly and Mary Pat,

I am torn about this issue since while I like teacher autonomy and creativity with tools and well as other resources, I also think we should be focused some form of standardization. I guess the bottom line is if two tools can do the same job with only differences being ones of personal preference, standardize. If there as tool that cannot do what the "official" ones can that is needed to teach effectively, use it!

Doug

February 26, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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