The OpenClassroom Server (OCS) places the teacher in control of an easily managed local Web 2.0 environment. The OCS lets the teacher and students carry out research, communication, collaboration, publication, and other network-based functions through an intuitive interface and provides classroom-level management and control. The OCS can be connected to a network that is also connected to the Internet, which allows students to search the OCS and the Internet simultaneously. PROS: Retrieving the cached data is very fast. Three models offer a price range for every use. The teacher can select what information can be stored on the OCS. Extra security is provided for wikis, blogs, and forums on the Class OCS-School and OCS-Class models since both provide local storage. Audio/video content that has been downloaded to the server can be more quickly accessed from the OCS server. This not only saves time but also external bandwidth.CONS: The cloud model does not have the same speed and security.OVERALL EVALUATION: Overall evaluation: The OCS-Class and OCS-School provide a speedy, safe, and secure learning environment, while the OCS-Cloud offers the benefits of being managed and hosted by the company.www.aspenlearning.comRetail price: OCS-Class, $1,200; OCS-School, $3,500; OCS-Cloud, $2/student/year
Learning.com’s Digital Learning Environment is an online curriculum management tool that coordinates lesson plans to national and some state curriculum guides. Teachers have the ability to share their best lesson plans with other educators, and can interact with students via online journal lessons (interactive web pages). Users can import media for outside resources such as teacher tube, and the program encourages teachers to relate lesson plans to curriculum guidelines as they are being written. Lessons are stored on companies’ servers, eliminating the need for local installations.PROS: The software is an excellent value, since anyone who currently uses a Learning.com product can access it free of charge. This is one of the easiest to use curriculum management tools available. It includes a comprehensive feature set that is robust enough to get the job done, especially for elementary schools. With a crisp and clean user interface, anyone who can use a word processing program can use the Digital Learning Environment. Sharing lesson plans among teachers makes it easy to collaborate with co-workers. CONS: To reach a larger audience, the product needs to be coordinated to more state curriculum guidelines.OVERALL EVALUATION: Schools will benefit from a software tool like Digital Learning Environment, a product that boosts collaboration between teachers and allows for easy student-teacher interaction via interactive web pages.www.learning.comRetail price: Free to current Learning.com customers.—Joe Huber
Novlet.com is a Web application that supports what the site describes as collaborative nonlinear story writing. Using Novlet.com, reader-writers add passages to the narrative anywhere they want. If the user doesn’t like any of the continuations that have already been written, he or she can start a new story line. The stories can be written in a variety of languages, including some obscure ones, such as Bislama.PROS: Novlet.com gives students a chance to practice writing skills on a Web site and to feel that they’re “publishing” something online. Students can write alternative endings to classics or create their own stories.CONS: It’s tough to go back and edit your own passage; since other users have already added passages and hidden drafts, you wind up altering the plot of the story. Talented student writers may feel that this limits their creativity. Also, writers are discouraged from editing one another’s passages. If a writer thinks another’s passages are poorly written, she is encouraged to post a comment or send a message.OVERALL EVALUATION: The application is designed for collaboration, which means that writers of all abilities are invited to participate. That can be positive or negative, depending on your point of view. If you have an active inner journalist or inner English teacher, resisting the temptation to edit may be difficult.www.novlet.comRetail price: free
TestWiz.Net is a Web-based test-processing and -analysis tool that supports a variety of assessments. Test data are stored in a SQL server database, so results can be tracked over several years and across many assessments. The reports are numerous and can be customized.PROS: Data are easily imported from various sources to update student records and teacher assignments. Educators can easily and quickly create custom reports from more than 40 templates. Data can be disaggregated by subtest, strands, cut scores, demographics, and more. TestWiz.Net accommodates state, local, and norm-referenced assessments. Because it includes numerous student-toteacher associations, report results can be viewed by various subject-level teachers, past years’ teachers, and current teachers. The program’s consistent look and feel across various assessments make it easy to learn and use.CONS: Creating a hand-scanned form for a local assessment can be tedious. Like all data analytics tools, TestWiz.Net takes considerable training; and as with others, entering all the data is time-consuming. This program is more intuitive than most, however, so the learning curve is not as steep.OVERALL EVALUATION: The customizable templates make this a very good value. This is by far one of the easiest data analytics tools I have used.www.testwiz.comPrice: Pricing starts at $3 per student per year with a minimum district purchase of $1,500. Tiered pricing based on the number of students in the district is also available.
The Online Applied SMART Board Course is the first in a series of online applied training courses being developed by a group of former teachers and AV presentation professionals. The course, hosted by avatar “Mrs. Blossom,” comes with built-in LMS administrative facilities that allow school districts to facilitate purchases, allocate courses to teachers, and track individual teacher progress toward completion. The course is priced low enough to allow individual teachers to purchase it on their own as well as administrators to purchase it for their entire school district. Price: $69.95 Category: professional development
Fluency Tutor is an online software solution for students developing, and teachers assessing, oral reading fluency. The product incorporates passages that align to MetaMetrics Lexile Framework for Reading and includes tools for practicing, assessing, and measuring fluency. Students listen to passages being read aloud with textto- speech voices and practice their own reading. When ready, they record assessments for teachers to listen to and mark. Several graphical reports are available to show students’ progress. PROS: The software allows teachers to select exercises of the right difficulty for each pupil and to record his or her progress. Teachers can evaluate the fluency errors made, words correct per minute, and level of prosody (expression of reading) for every student. The system is also available to teachers and students at home. CONS: To be truly effective, the product requires complete buy-in from all reading teachers. A school must also have enough computers available for students to practice and take assessments. OVERALL EVALUATION: Every school should have a program like this Fluency Tutor to help students learn to read. This one is as good as, or better than, most I have seen.www.texthelp.comRetail price: Starting at $2,245 per school, first year; $745, each year after. Discounts available for multi-year purchase.—Joe Huber
The Epson PowerLite Presenter portable projector and DVD player combo includes two 10-watt speakers with virtual surround sound, microphone support, and built-in closed-captioning capabilities. WXGA resolution displays content from wide-screen notebooks, and the unit supports a host of input devices, such as a camcorder, a digital camera, and an iPod.PROS: The USB plug-and-play connectivity makes for easy setup and eliminates toggling between projector and display. The controls are easy to use and well defined. The PowerLite Presenter projects in native 16:10 (WXGA) aspect ratio as well as 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios and offers USB connectivity for viewing JPG images without a computer. The built-in microphone is a nice feature.CONS: Cannot be mounted on a stationary mount. The 10-watt speakers may not be powerful enough for all locations.OVERALL EVALUATION: The variety of inputs and the clarity of the controls make this projector an excellent choice for anyone looking for a mobile projector in the mid-price range. The HD projection at an aspect ratio of 16:10 makes wide-screen viewing a real pleasure. Every school needs a couple of mobile projectors, and this one is designed for mobility.www.epsonbrighterfutures.comPrice: $808 through the Brighter Futures program
Study Island is a Web-based system for assessing students’ progress according to state standards. The service automatically addresses students’ deficiencies, provides a variety of reports, and works with several student-response systems without requiring that additional software be installed. Students are given electronic assignments to complete to state standards; if they are proficient enough, they can move on to another standard. Students who do not show proficiency receive a remediation assignment; if they do not pass it, they are given a second, easier assignment. Along the way, the system generates reports on students’ progress that can be emailed to teachers and parents.PROS: Study Island is a very good product and easy to use and has excellent reporting capabilities. The fact that there is no additional software to install is a bonus.CONS: Since the system can be accessed outside of school, a student could get help from a parent or a peer and an incorrect report on the student’s proficiency could be generated. To use the system effectively in the classroom, schools must ensure that there are enough computers for all students and that students who need remediation are given enough time to receive it within the normal school day.OVERALL EVALUATION: Study Island is an excellent way to ensure that students work to state-standard proficiency.www.studyisland.comRetail price: Varies according to product selected and school size; see Web site for further details.