Social Workers

Social Workers

By Ellen Ullman

When we started looking for districts to talk to about social networking, we realized that plenty of schools are not there yet. In fact, only a small percentage are using online collaboration tools. And while Twitter and Facebook dominate press coverage, these products are not designed for K–12 collaboration and may not be the best fit for school projects. Instead, why not choose one of the four products covered here, all of which are meant to be used in the classroom?

Red Mountain Middle School
Deming, New Mexico

What do you use?

edmodo
www.edmodo.com

A little background

“We’ve been using Edmodo for two years,” says Laura E. Oldham, eighth-grade languagearts teacher and department chair. In her classroom, Oldham says, there are always laptops with Edmodo open.

What is the district’s policy on socialnetworking and collaboration sites?

There’s no specific policy on these sites, but each student has a district email address, and there are rules about what students can do with those addresses. Social-networking sites like Facebook are still blocked.

How are you using it?

“Almost all our assignments are posted on Edmodo,” Oldham says. “It’s a fantastic resource, especially when kids are absent. I’ve also used it as a back channel.”

Where would you like to see this in one year? In five years?

“I’d like for the more tech-inclined teachers to get access and encourage their students to use it. If it expanded into other departments, it would be fun to do cross-curricular projects.”

Any limitations?

The biggest one is that most of her students don’t have Internet access outside class.

What are its best features?

“I love that when a student is absent, I can tell him or her to go look at the calendar. I teach three subsets within each class, and they all do different things. Edmodo is fantastic for keeping up with all of that.”

Wish list

“I wish we could reply to a post and it would look like a discussion board rather than replying to the main post.”

Any security problems?

Oldham hasn’t had any. “I make sure the kids always log out when they walk away. The ability to change passwords really helps too. If we have problems, I change their password and there aren’t any problems anymore.”

Memphis (TN) City Schools

What do you use?

Gaggle
www.gaggle.net

A little background

Memphis City Schools selected Gaggle for its third- through 12th-grade students and started using it for the 2009–2010 school year. The superintendent wanted to introduce social networking in the middle schools.

What is the district’s policy on socialnetworking and collaboration sites?

“Our existing acceptable use policy addresses email and other forms of communications, which include Gaggle,” says Jason Parrish, professional development coordinator.

How are you using it?

Students use it to collaborate on projects, communicate with teachers, and get information on e-school, or online courses.

Where would you like to see this in one year? In five years?

In five years he’d like it to be a part of everything they do, not an add-on. “Some of our fifth-grade computer classes work on projects and use the chat features.”

Any limitations?

“It could be faster. That’s partially because we’re asking it to do a lot, and our network may be a factor.”

What are its best features?

The site’s digital lockers, which provide online file storage, are extremely popular and are replacing flash drives. Teachers really like GaggleTube (filtered YouTube).

Wish list

“I would love to see additional productivity tools, such as video editing and podcasting.”

Any security problems?

“No. Part of the reason is that we subscribe to Gaggle’s HMS [human monitoring service]. On top of filtering, if a Gaggle employee sees cyberbullying, potential drug use, fighting, or abuse, he or she lets us know about it.”

When we started looking for districts to talk to about social networking, we realized that plenty of schools are not there yet. In fact, only a small percentage are using online collaboration tools. And while Twitter and Facebook dominate press coverage, these products are not designed for K–12 collaboration and may not be the best fit for school projects. Instead, why not choose one of the four products covered here, all of which are meant to be used in the classroom?

Maine Township High School District 207
Park Ridge, IL

What do you use?

Google Docs
docs.google.com

Why do you use this product?

Maine Township started piloting Google Docs in 2007. In the middle of the 2009–2010 school year, the district migrated to Gmail, says Hank Thiele, chief technology officer.

What is the district’s policy on socialnetworking and collaboration sites?

“Almost everything is open,” Thiele says, “unless it’s porn, hate, gambling, or Facebook. If a teacher thinks something is inappropriate, I’ll make a judgment call.”

How are you using it?

Google Docs has opened the door for collaborative projects and made everyone, even administrators, be more open in how they handle material and projects, Thiele says.

Where would you like to see this in one year? In five years?

“In five years I’d like to see us reach a point where all students have access to an Internetconnected device.”

Any limitations?

Yes, Thiele says. “If you’re expecting a full desktop suite of tools, you may be disappointed. As a set of free collaboration tools, nothing else matches it.”

What are its best features?

“It’s free! That makes a huge difference. Google’s been fast at developing, and what it does is amazing. I don’t maintain any servers for email.”

Wish list

On the subject of administration, Thiele would like an easier control panel on the back end. “It’s functional and does what we want, but it’s somewhat complex.”

Any security problems?

None, says Thiele. “The agreement with Google is that our data is our data. Google can’t see the problem unless we give them a test account. It’s 100 percent private and secure.”

Hauppauge (NY) Public Schools

What do you use?

ePals
www.epals.com

Why do you use this product?

“We wanted to build an environment in which students could produce video and Web content and be active users of technology,” says Ken Graham, assistant superintendent and technology director.

What is the district’s policy on socialnetworking and collaboration sites?

Graham created a permission form and information about how ePals fits into Hauppauge’s acceptable use policy. Parents and students have to sign the form.

How are you using it?

The 24 teachers who piloted it use it for assignments that kids collaborate on after school and on weekends. “One elementary teacher says the kids are doing 10 times more writing, because they love an audience.”

Where would you like to see this in one year? In five years?

“We want to use ePals as a full curriculum platform and are moving in that direction. We’re creating an environment and refreshing our technology so students can continue working at home.”

Any limitations?

“There were a couple, but they have been addressed with the new release. Whenever we pose a challenge, they come up with a solution. We’re looking forward to using more apps and having it continue to evolve.”

What are its best features?

“It’s very intuitive, flexible, and easy to use. The kids get their own page and digital locker to store their stuff. Teachers can make groups and subgroups; they can control the level of communication.”

Wish list

“We want to break the barriers of time and classroom. Teachers talk about authentic collaboration with students; they say their best days of teaching came after we started using LearningSpace.”

Any security problems?

“ePals did a very nice job setting up the security. You can make the controls as tight as you want. It is moderated by ePals, who have rules in place and filtering.”

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