Monday, October 22, 2007

What kind of website do I need?

There are so many types of websites that we can use as educators, it's hard to decided what we really need. I'll try and outline a few of the options and how you might use them.
  • Personal, Classroom or District Website
  • Student Information Systems
  • Course Management Software
  • Intranet
  • Third Party Services
Personal, Classroom or District Websites
These sites are what I would call the typical web site. It is geared toward putting information up about your particular class, event, or organization. Most of the pages are considered static, that is, they don't require much updating once they are up on the site. However, these sites usually contain new, calendars, lesson plans or a host of other pages that could change on a regular basis. When people think of generating these types of pages, they generally think of using Adobe Dreamweaver, Microsoft Frontpage, Apple iWeb, or some other similar GUI software to build this type of site. At ESU 10, we also provide a content management system called Manila for teachers to build their sites. There are also commercial sites such as SchoolCenter that provide an end to end solution for this type of communication.

Student Information Systems
SISs are usually installed by the district to track student enrollment information, academic progress, attendance, and allow parents to log in remotely to see how their students are doing in real time. (Or as real time as the teacher updates the information.) Reports are done at the district level usually for board and/or state reporting. Much data can be gleaned from a well run SIS but for the most part, reports are written by someone other than the classroom teacher. Teachers are usually required to enter grade and attendance information and a few enter homework or lesson plan information in this type of system. Examples of commonly used SISs are Powerschool, SASI, eSchool, and Chancery.

Course Management Software
This is a relatively new concept for the general k-12 classroom teacher. It's a way to host classroom material virtually. Teachers can put material online, provide online discussions, have quizzes and tests, and many other options depending on the software chosen. In the past, this has been the domain of distance education classrooms but more and more teachers are using it as the benefits are exceeding just the distance classes. It's a way to organize the class online so that when student are sick or in activities, they can still participate virtually. Homework can be submitted online in this format and, as long as the students have access to a computer with an Internet connection, they are able to participate in the class in the comfort of their home or at the library. Examples of CMSs are Angel, Blackboard and Moodle.

Intranet Websites
Intranets are built around the idea that there are services the school needs to run that can be done online. For example, email might be an Intranet application that the district provides for communication. There are a million applications so I'll just toss out a few that I can think of. Some schools use online substitute finders, mass calling systems, and climate control systems all available at the touch of a mouse. District calendars are popular intranet applications as well as library automation systems. Even professional development opportunities are options teachers have in an intranet environment. And finally, almost all of your HR or Human Resources materials can or are provided in a district intranet. The main difference is that most "intranets" are only for the staff and are for the management and workflow of the district. As far as examples, it really depends on what the districts wants to provide as a service to the schools and/or teachers. Some are home grown and others are commercial packages.

Third Party Services
With the advent of Web 2.0 (Wikipedia Reference), there are so many new applications available to teachers in the form of web based services. From photo galleries, to calendaring services, to social networking sites. Some of the services we have focused on here with our teachers in the ESU 10 area are blogging, online documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. We have also worked with online photo galleries and scrapbooking. Maps and many others can also be used. Google has some great tools for educators that would be a good starting point. Here is another site that collects different web 2.0 applications.

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