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
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
Epson’s BrightLink 450Wi is an intelligent projector that allows educators to turn any standard whiteboard or smooth wall into an interactive-learning area. This enables educators to easily integrate interactive capabilities and eliminates the need to purchase and install dedicated interactive whiteboards. The ultra-short-throw Epson BrightLink 450Wi interactive projector comes with two digital infrared pens and wall-mount hardware for easy installation.PROS: The BrightLink 450Wi has all the functionality of an interactive whiteboard without the cost or trouble of mounting an IWB. The projector can be permanently mounted as close as 2.8 inches to the wall. It is easy to set up, and the controls are well defined. Because of the USB plug-and-play, there is no need to use a VGA cable to project when using a Windows PC or Mac. The BrightLink 450Wi projects in native wide-screen aspect ratio as well as 4:3 aspect ratio. The built-in microphone input for voice amplification is good for narrating presentations.CONS: It would be nice if this projector included auto keystone adjustment, as found in other Epson projectors (users can adjust keystone manually). The built-in speakers may not amplify enough for all locations. Users must use the pen to manipulate objects, versus the finger-touch technology found in some IWBs.OVERALL EVALUATION: In addition to providing the functionality of an IWB, the BrightLink 450Wi projects an image larger than that of most IWBs. The variety of inputs and the clarity of the controls make the product an excellent choice for any school looking for an ultra-short-throw projector with interactive functionality.www.epson.com/brightlinkRetail price: less than $2,000—Joe Huber
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.
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
Dell introduces the Latitude Z, a 16-inch laptop with the security, wireless, service, and support options of the Dell Latitude family. The tapered design starts at slightly more than half an inch thick (14.5 mm) and 4.4 lb (2.0kg). Backlit wide-screen, high-definition 16-inch LCD with integrated 2 MP autofocus Webcam provides a larger visual workspace for viewing several files at once and for easy collaboration both in and out of the office.PROS: “Easy Scan and Copy” allows users to use the built-in Webcam as a scanner to capture documents to PDFs. There is also a cordless inductive docking station available. The overall design is very professional. It also has a feature that allows users to assign several applications to a “quick launch” bar on the right side of the screen.CONS: To reduce weight and thickness, there are no built-in speakers or optical drivers. This is not necessarily a negative, but it should be noted that these devices are add-ons.OVERALL EVALUATION: This is an excellent choice for anyone looking for a sleek, lightweight box that can do the work alongside the big boys. Even though the box is only half an inch thick, this 32-bit powerhouse packs enough computing power to handle those large spreadsheets and databases. Unlike those on some laptops, the touch of the keyboard is smooth and effortless, and the backlit keys are a nice feature. Everything about this computer says three things: power, speed, and elegance.www.dell.comRetail price: Starts at $1,799—Joe Huber
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
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