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
Tip: You can do a lot more with Google search than just typing in search terms. Go to Google to Advanced Search to bring up results for: ALL the search terms you type in the exact phrase you type in at least one of the words you type in or none of the words you type in sites written in a certain
AVerPen combines the features of interactive-whiteboard technologies in a mobile collaborative-learning solution-all usable with virtually any surface in the room. Teacher pens are able to control all features as well as activate, limit, and expand student-pen functions. PROS: The product is lightweight and easy to use. It lets teachers use any hard surface as a wireless slate, and with the class pack, several students can interact at the same time (as many as 60 student pens can be registered). The screen can be split so that each user can work in his or her own section. Using the built-in keypad on the pen, teachers can ask any yes-no, true-false, or multiple-choice question and display results on the screen. In the transparent mode, you can annotate on existing documents. CONS: The pen is more expensive than a student-response system, but because it adds key elements of an IWB in a mobile, collaborative solution that includes assessment, it is a cost-effective alternative to a full IWB, SRS, and slate solution. OVERALL EVALUATION: The AVerPen is a good value in that it combines several 21st-century classroom products in one. If your school has AVer document cameras (the pen is compatible only with AVer), this product is an excellent addition to the classroom. [ED note: Aver does not market the pen as an SRS.]www.avermedia-usa.com/presentationRetail price: Starter pack, $799.99—Joe Huber
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
Tip: Google Docs is an easy-to-use online word processor that enables you to create, store, share, and collaborate on documents. You can even import any existing document from Word and Simple Text. You don't need to have the same program on your computer. You can work from anywhere to access your documents. As
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.
Toshiba’s Digital Products Division (www.laptops.toshiba.com) has announced the availability of the new Portégé M780 (right) Tablet PC and Satellite Pro U500 (left) laptop with multi-touch display. The new laptops feature Windows 7 Professional and take advantage of the built-in touch capabilities of the operating system. Instead of pointing and clicking, users can quickly tap to launch programs and open files. The laptops also include Toshiba’s touch-enabled ReelTime and Bulletin Board applications, which help users more easily find and organize information.
ThinkHelpDesk.com is an online ASP help desk that can be used to track service requests. The service sends an email to the appropriate tech when the client files the request and sends the client emails whenever the tech updates or closes the service ticket. PROS: The solution is simple to use; it requires little if any training. Messages can be posted to the staff. A mass-email wizard allows users to send out mass emails about problems or outages. Many useful hard-wire reports are included, such as the ability to print open and closed service tickets. The program also tracks assets if they are entered into the program. Because this is an ASP-type program, it requires no local server space, and backup and program maintenance are performed by ThinkHelpDesk.com. All the data from the help desk can be exported to Excel.CONS: If the district Internet connection is down, users do not have access to the program. However, because it is an ASP solution, the school can still access the help desk from any functioning alternate Internet connection.OVERALL EVALUATION: The program’s price structure makes it fair to both large and small districts: You are charged by the number of buildings you use it in. Most districts use a help-desk program of some type; some are more expensive than ThinkHelpDesk.com, and not many are less. This simple-to-use help desk flows the way educators think, reducing the need for training and maximizing the effect this program will have on a school’s efficiency.www.thinkhelpdesk.comRetail price: $59 a month for the first location (school in a district) and $7.99 for each additional location (school in a district)—Joe Huber