Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Online Classroom Environments

"Our houses are such unwieldy property that we are often imprisoned rather than housed in them."

Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Economy, 1854

Online places to collaborate and set up virtual learning spaces are proliferating. Here in Maine we have the Maine Virtual Learning Project (Moodle), Studywiz, and a neat kind of hybrid called Noteshare. There are also a variety of spaces on the Web that provide varying degrees of digital interaction. Add to that a number of blog and wiki sites, and it's an interesting dilemma on the best choice to fit a particular teacher's needs.

Beside ease-of-use and a respect for a teacher's limited time and varying needs, questions of accessibility and security abound. How open can we keep our spaces and still provide appropriate decorum and insure student safety?

Thoughts? Recommendations? Wisdom?


Ed Latham said...

Here is my 2cents worth on the virtual tools as I see it. If I have mistated anything please let me know and I will edit my response.

A free resource that is good for a running dialog in which teachers want visitors to be able to follow the thoughts or experiences. Blogs can be difficult to sort through for specific information when many hundred entries have been added.

A free resource that is good for collecting information in one place and allowing that information to be edited by many authors. Having a Wiki for a classroom notes page could be very useful for students not there or for students to use as a review tool. The Wiki has the downside of not supporting multiple authors at the same time. Great care needs to be taken to insure that only one person is authoring the site at a time. If person A and B are both editing and A saves his work first, then when B saves his work he will be overwriting A's work.

A comercial product that allow teachers, students, and parents access to a easy but limited Moodle-like space. Many of the functions in Studywiz are easy to learn and powerful. The tool allows for communication between parties out of the classroom and when used correctly, can greatly extend learning for those students that have web access outside of school. Because this is a comercial product, access to this tool is limited to those that purchase it.

A comercial product that allows users to drag and drop almost any resource into a virtual book including a very powerful table of contents feature. Notebooks can be opened up for others to access and edit very similar to a Wiki. The main advantage of Noteshare over a wiki is the ease of adding many types of content. Being a comercial product accessability to the tool is limited to those that purchase it.

A free tool used by many universities and distance education facilities. This tool allows for many "modules" that assist or duplicate educational functions done in the classroom. For instance the Quiz module allows students to take quizes (all custom designed by the teacher) and receive instant feedback. Teachers like Moodle as it allows for the tracking of everything the student does or does not do instantly. The Moodle community is constantly adding in new modules that increase the ability of individules to work together. Currently the state of Maine has provided a free moodle server for Maine educators that have been trained (either by in statewide 2 day trainings or the equilavant training provided by designated instructors). If a school should want to create a moodle server of their own, the cost of the software and access is FREE. There can be a learning curve for moodle teachers and students. Especially when installing your own moodle server, it will be helpful to have a digital community handy for questions that may arise.

There are free forums available on the Internet and there are forum modules inside Moodle. Forums allow for the posting and comments of works or ideas from people in an organized way. Forums are very easy to catagorize and search for content you are interested in quickly as opposed to having to read through the sequential thoughts in a Blog. Forums can take a little bit to set up and organize and like all public forums, a monitor of content should be on the clock.

For educational uses, there are free and pay tools that are out there that fit a need. One of the best places for a teacher to start their education is by posting to sites like this. Post what you want to be able to do and others that have experience can help to point to specific tools and the considerations in using the tools. I have concentrated heavily on the free, open-source, tools that are avaialable on any operating system. I have many reasons for researching and supporting those tools and would love to talk about them if you should have questions.
You can post your questions here, or email me at elatham@mainelearns.org

Jim Burke said...

Thanks, Ed, for the great review and the addition of forums to the possibilities. I remember that you showed me about that alternative at Inspiration Station, but I'm afraid I forgot the site. Do you have a list of forum sites that you could share with us?