Teachers, students, and the Internet
September 22, 2008 6:24 PM   Subscribe

Do teachers have their students use the Internet?

I have an idea for a web application where school teachers could post resources and work for their students. There's a problem, though... would teachers do this? Would they feel comfortable assigning Internet homework, or is this a pipe dream that wouldn't get used?
posted by unreason to Computers & Internet (23 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Check out Blackboard.

It is very commonly used, as are its rivals, I assume.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 6:34 PM on September 22, 2008

A lot of schools have bought into content management programs already. Researching these and seeing if there is a gap in needs might be helpful.
posted by k8t at 6:37 PM on September 22, 2008

I'm in college, and almost every professor I have uses blackboard. They have a discussion board for every class built in, and for some I've had assignments to make a post every week or two. Most of the readings I do now are PDFs they've put on blackboard.

The answer is "Yeah, teachers use the internet all the time," but what you're proposing already exists. I think there are a lot of improvements to be made, though, and if you wanted to do this there's definitely room to present something new.
posted by borkingchikapa at 6:42 PM on September 22, 2008

It's funny, I've been going to schools with some kind of educational web resources (incl. Blacboard) for, oh, seven years, and I have almost never had a teacher really use them. My law school professors will post documents online, and sometimes important class announcements (it helps that they have younger assistants), but that's as far as it goes.

This could very easily be because all web learning tools to date have been poorly designed.
posted by grobstein at 6:43 PM on September 22, 2008

My kids (middle & high school) use blackboard. Another great resource is TeacherTube. Plus individual teachers maintain pages/calendars/resources on the school website.
posted by headnsouth at 6:49 PM on September 22, 2008

Blackboard is a closed source 'Courseware' system. The open source end of the spectrum is dominated by Moodle. The college I went to used both, as they were slowly moving over to Moodle. In place of one of my finals, I had to create a presentation on Moodle. (it's a slideshow, hit your spacebar to advance)
posted by aristan at 6:55 PM on September 22, 2008

I've been going to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee entirely online for the past three semesters, and they use Desire2Learn for their courses.
posted by limeswirltart at 7:07 PM on September 22, 2008

They already do this. My school uses Sakai, and nearly all of my professors use it.
posted by lullaby at 7:08 PM on September 22, 2008

At my university internet access is absolutely essential, pretty much every class posts assignments, announcements, grades, review guides, etc onto the internet somewhere so I've been used to this for a while. Thankfully I owned a computer (like 99% of college students) and our campus has computer labs in nearly every building but if this is high school than that's a different question. It seems kinda unfair to assume that every student has internet access, even today. If some kids don't than they'd be forced to use your schools computer lab (I'm guessing you have one) or go to the library or something and those students would feel very singled out. I guess if you knew for a fact that every student had internet access than this is a great tool, if they go to university this is something they're going to have to get used to so it would be nice to prepare them for that.
posted by BrnP84 at 7:50 PM on September 22, 2008

Having used one of these systems, (FirstClass), I can say that a good web-app that is well designed and easy to use (and control) would work well and be appreciated, provided you could promote it properly.
posted by ooklala at 7:54 PM on September 22, 2008

My highschool uses Moodle in a large number of electives as well as a couple of standard classes. Both the younger teachers and the older ones tend to use it about equally. We also have grades posted online, and this year the administration made it mandatory for teachers to post homework assignments online as well. Less work for me, so I'm all for it.
posted by papayaninja at 8:01 PM on September 22, 2008

Yeah, Blackboard already does this. I would venture that most universities use Blackboard or something like it.

If you're curious, my college was using Blackboard as early as six years ago.
posted by Nattie at 8:13 PM on September 22, 2008

I started having internet homework ten years ago, when I was in high school. It was done through the local university, but was online nonetheless.

Blackboard is huge in colleges, and many grade schools already use it or have similar web-based programs.
posted by fructose at 8:23 PM on September 22, 2008

If you redesigned blackboard to make it... um... useful, it would probably catch on like wildfire. I have used blackboard for almost every college class I've had and its clunky, hard to use and just difficult to navigate.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 8:25 PM on September 22, 2008

Many teachers in the district I teach in use moodle. A small number use blogs to keep their often absentee students informed. No one, to my knowledge, uses blackboard or first class anymore around here!
posted by pantagrool at 9:36 PM on September 22, 2008

I use Moodle, Quizlet, and a Wordpress blog. It's a great, simple combination, and my students really appreciate it.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 10:06 PM on September 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Your search term is "Course Management Software." The industry is consolidating quite a bit lately (Blackboard for example became the market leader by buying out WebCT, the other at-the-time market leader, several years ago), which is to say there are now only dozens instead of hundreds of viable products to choose from.

It's been a few years since I was really focused on it, but I spent a large chunk of my career working on course management software; the first courseware product I worked on was at least a decade ago... so this type of thing has been around for quite a while.

If you're planning on starting a new product, you should know that most of the basic classroom stuff (homework, online quizzing, chat/messageboards, etc) is pretty well picked over by this point (though as several people have noted with varying levels of usability.) These days most of the new feature dev seems to be in tools for campus administrators, since generally they're the ones paying for the product, not the instructors.
posted by ook at 11:35 PM on September 22, 2008

(I should caveat my use of "these days" and "lately" as meaning "the last time I really studied the industry carefully, which was probably 2005 or so; the industry may have moved on since then but then again if Blackboard is still the leader it can't have moved too far")
posted by ook at 12:17 AM on September 23, 2008

Many NZ primary (elementary) schools use an LMS called KnowledgeNet which does exactly what you're describing, as well as staff spaces to exchange ideas and plans, post meeting minutes and so on. It also has the option of allowing parents limited access to view children's e-portfolios or work in general, and to access homework and resources from outside school. The concept is very popular, and seems to be well-used by teachers, less so by students unless there is something they specifically have to access.
posted by tracicle at 12:21 AM on September 23, 2008

Response by poster: I knew that colleges did this stuff, but I didn't know whether high school did. I didn't realize that there was so much already out there. I'll have to see if my ideas have anything that hasn't already been done. Thanks all.
posted by unreason at 3:42 AM on September 23, 2008

These products go by two acronyms: LMS (Learning Management Systems) and LCMS (Learning Content Management Systems). They are, essentially, Content Management Systems (CMS) with specific additional features necessary for running a course entirely online or as a supplement to a face-to-face class (i.e. grouping students into classes, shuttling assignments back and forth, quizzing, hosting a grade book, integrating with academic records/information systems, etc.).

My experience with them (WebCT, Blackboard) is entirely in a college context. I'm not sure if HS teachers/schools use them or not, but there's no technological reason why they couldn't. The same technology could work for any community of learners, formal or informal. But there's certainly room for improvement in this area. So maybe you can build a better mousetrap.
posted by wheat at 6:53 AM on September 23, 2008

I teach high school and we use School Center. I love using the Internet to teach but I hate School Center.
posted by nimsey lou at 8:17 AM on September 23, 2008

Moodle is being adapted to this use, more and more. however, i would say that it is still rare to see teachers using it optimally. check out owli.org to see how it's being adapted to usability for the full range of grade levels.

the chief problem i see is that though teachers use the 'net, they struggle with student access (censorship is rife and often badly done, along with unreliable hardware and failing "pipes")--and TIME. the vast majority of teachers are stuck in the ways of teaching they've always had, even at schools that are supposed to be cutting edge in technology. so tech is sort of grafted on by those who are creative, but even then it's not used very well. this doesn't even take into account that in every class, there are kids who don't have computer access for whatever reason. sometimes it's because they're poor, or because they're not permanently housed, or even because they're being punished by the school or home for computer-based misbehavior.

one of the things the OWL Institute is working on is partnering the idea of an open source LMS and open source content. there is room for growth here, IMO--the idea of taking all the free content that's available all over the web and organizing it for teachers into courses that could be adapted easily and with minimal time and technological knowledge on the part of the teachers or students.

i am constantly shocked at the lack of interest or knowledge in using the computer as a learning tool--those of us who are regular users must remind ourselves that the vast majority of the world (and that includes both teachers and students) hasn't caught up yet. the school system itself is not structured well for full adaptation--the machinery alone is a money sink that administrators balk at.

one of the biggest problems with any LMS that is "owned" or licensed by a school is that the content is then owned by the school, and if the teacher moves on, the work is lost. the teacher has no right to access what she's created, and unless she's kept every file somewhere else, it's gone. (and even then, it's a bunch of files, not the course itself--which anyone who's worked with any LMS with any sort of effort knows is a major time commitment. not that most teachers make that sort of effort.)

i know the OWL Institute is looking for volunteers to help optimize what they're doing.
posted by RedEmma at 9:28 AM on September 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

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