Saturday, January 26, 2008

Class Websites

One of the most valuable tools for traveling teachers is an on-line content management system that helps you build a class website. I have all of my course materials stored on Teacher Web, and I can activate or deactivate documents according to the unit I am teaching. This is my virtual file cabinet where I can store documents, worksheets, and presentations until I am ready to use them. It’s a great way to communicate with parents, students, and other teachers. Students (and their parents) can download handouts, take on-line quizzes, ask questions about assignments, check their schedules, and look at their grades. When they are traveling or sick, they can check in to find out what the class is doing, and they can submit assignments by email.

Last fall, another Teacher Web user, a social studies teacher in Florida, was preparing a unit on the Middle East for his 7th graders. He browsed the directory, found my class, and sent a query: Would I be interested in setting up a pen pal exchange? It was a great opportunity for my kids to be good-will ambassadors for Egypt, and a great opportunity for his kids to do the same for the U.S. They all discovered that 7th graders, no matter where they are, like about the same things -- food, friends, and fun. In the second semester, we plan to set the kids to a more focused set of discussions and tasks.

A good CMS uses templates and menus that allow teachers to post materials without much knowledge of HTML and includes more than just assignment postings. Some basic features to look for include:

Distribution lists
Document uploading and linking
Discussion forums
Document sharing and web page collaboration
Individualization of forms and content
Secure grade reporting
File storage
Interactive survey/quiz pages
Worksheet generators

For a huge list of different types of systems, check out Least Tern Resources for Teachers and Schools. Their report provides useful analysis of content management systems, course delivery systems, grade reporting systems, and web filtering systems.

Finally, I’m getting ready to step into the world of educational wikis. I know nothing about how to use or build them, but I’ve got some vague ideas for the spring term. I don’t even know how feasible it is at a school that uses WebSense. If you have any advice, experience, or tips, could you send them my way?

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