1/19/2013

Digital content distribution and collection




One of the basic decisions any educator has to make is how get materials (notes, handouts, lectures) to students and how to get assessments (tests, homework, projects) from them. Here, I’m going to write about two general technology options and then talk about two specific products.

Two general options


Website-
One of easiest and most simple ways to work with digital material is a website. The most basic sites simply consist of lesson plans and contact information. Just a little more work will produce a site with a class calendar and homework downloads.  
Make a site for free:
General site builders

K-12 specific


LMS-
This acronym stands for “learning management system”. This is a place to store all of your course content, online assessments and interactive tools like blogs and instant messaging. It works well to track student progress and guide participants through a course. Be warned-  there’s a bit of a learning curve for instructors who have never worked with an LMS. However, once a teacher or trainer understands how to use these online tools, their students benefit tremendously.
Create an LMS for free:
Blackboard coursites- https://www.coursesites.com


Two specific products:

Gaggle-
You won’t get anything free here. It’s popular enough and powerful enough to include it in a post that’s primarily about free resources for content distribution and collection, though.
With Gaggle, you’re going to get safe student emails, online file storage and great teaching tools. For a school district, this is going to be one of the safest ways to provide your students with email access. Emails and any attachments are filtered for inappropriate words and images. If something is caught (like “breast”), it gets sent off to a human who reads the word in context and decides to let it go through or flag it and assign consequences to the student.
One great thing about this company is that they will go into action if there is a threat to the student (think suicide, abuse or violence). They will contact authorities and get help for potential issues.
In terms of digital distribution, Gaggle is a powerhouse. They provide space to store documents of all kinds and have partnered with Zoho to allow students to work on documents together, just like Google Drive. They also provide a class calendar, assignment creation and social tools like blogs. The most interesting thing tool they have is for grading. After a student submits a document, his teacher can digitally write on it, highlight words, comment and grade that document. No need to hunt for a pen. No more worrying about papers getting lost. Its all online and works beautifully.

iTunesU-
You need Safari to create and manage courses through iTunesU and students will only be able to access courses on iOS devices (iPads, iPods, iPhone). If you use iPads for your students, you should sign up for an account. If not, this really isn’t for you.
That being said, this is a great way to distribute your digital material. Please note that it isn’t meant to assess your students’ learning. It is only a means of providing them with fantastic learning opportunities. Some of the great features include task checklists, interactive iBooks and the ability to take notes on specific sections of videos.
Aside from being able to create beautiful, interactive and effective content, this is probably the best way to conduct lessons involving an iPad. Your students will need instructions, explanations and tasks to complete for any lesson you do. They’ll also have to be able to find the app you’ll be using. With iTunesU, you can quickly and easily create a lesson which includes all of these elements. Teachers will find it easy to use and students will have clear instructions and an engaging lesson.