Saywire is a safe, social learning community that provides access to a single network where teachers, staff, and students can reside and work together. There is no public access. Saywire provides teachers with a platform in which they can safely communicate and collaborate in their traditional and virtual classrooms. PROS: This product is a solution to the problem many districts face regarding the safety of social networking in a school setting. Using Saywire, students and teachers are able to communicate with each other. Teachers can set up pages for classes, offer homework help, organize threaded discussions, give assignments, and check homework.CONS: Our district has had to take away the students' ability to build pages at our junior high school, because it was being abused. [Editor's note: Saywire does include tools that allow administrators to set a plethora of permissionbased controls, based on how that school or district wishes to operate.]OVERALL EVALUATION: I like this product, but I especially like the idea of the product. It was tough to get people on board at our district, but with correct implementation, it can be a powerful tool.https://saywire.com/contact company for pricing
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
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
RAPS is a 100 percent computerized diagnostic readingassessment program that automatically tests basic reading skills and diagnoses weaknesses in a single student, a classroom, or an entire school population.PROS: The product does an excellent job of testing all components of a student’s reading phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, comprehension, and grasp of vocabulary-word meaning. It automatically develops an individual learning plan for each student, measures progress to determine if remediation has been successful, determines if appropriate resources are available to assist students who need accelerated progress, sets data-driven goals, and matches timelines to high-stakes testing. It monitors students’ progress continuously throughout the year and allows importing of demographic data.CONS: As with most assessment programs, the staff must be willing to dedicate sufficient professional-development time to fully benefit from this program’s many features.OVERALL EVALUATION: Most schools are looking for a program that will improve students’ reading; RAPS360 not only does this but does it using a data-driven decision-making process.www.mindplay.comRetail price: Varies by type of installation.
Co:Writer 6 enables students who struggle with writing and spelling to work at their own pace. The latest version teams with a companion application, like a word processor or Web browser, to help users build and write correct sentences.PROS: Flexibility and support for guided independent work are key features of this latest version. The word window is always active and displays on top of the companion program’s window, so it’s easy to see recommended words as you compose an email or blog or write a document in your word processor. Students having difficulty with written words can receive audio feedback, because the program optionally reads word choices and completed sentences. Co:Writer will also read aloud menus and dialogbox contents. In addition to three main dictionary options, there are dozens of topic dictionaries from which to choose. Several video tutorials introduce new users to the product.CONS: Unfortunately, most districts will find the application too expensive to install on every school computer. Instead, they will reserve access to students with special needs or IEP/504 plans, thus reinforcing the divide between students receiving mainstream education and children who have trouble accessing the general curriculum. This outcome, it should be noted, is not a fault of the program per se.OVERALL EVALUATION: Co:Writer 6’s strength lies in its ability to create a writing environment tailored to individual users’ needs. Struggling readers and writers both young and old and individuals with poor or illegible handwriting, developmental delays, physical disabilities, and learning challenges can use its word-prediction power to become better writers. While it falls into the category of assistive technology, it’s flexible enough to meet the needs of all students.www.donjohnston.comRetail price: Single licenses start at $325; network unlimited site licenses, $1900/volume discounts.—Carol Holzberg
The new eBeam Edge is the next-generation hardware version of Luidia’s eBeam interactive whiteboard system. Like previous eBeam systems, it works with standard computers, projectors, and a variety of input devices to transform existing whiteboards and writing surfaces into interactive whiteboards. Users can present, annotate, and interact with projected content while capturing the results, which can be shared over local networks and the Internet. This means that teachers can use the device as they would any other interactive whiteboard, but since it will work on any surface, they can also project onto, for example, a map or another image and “write” on it, something they cannot do on a traditional interactive whiteboard.PROS: The Luidia eBeam is lightweight (less than four ounces) and easily fits in a laptop case. The receiver device covers an area of up to five feet by nine feet, requires only one pen, and is extremely easy to set up and calibrate. The software has an easy-to-use, unique navigation interface. It uses the same software as the Luidia document camera and the Luidia Interactive tablet and interfaces with these devices.CONS: None.OVERALL EVALUATION: All the Luidia products use the same software and interface, so they’re beneficial and economical when it comes to professional development. Also, the eBeam Edge uses a single pen and “electronic color,” a more sensible approach than that of other whiteboard systems.www.luidia.com4Retail price: $899.95
Geofencing is a feature available now with Computrace Complete by Absolute Software. Geofencing allows users to create predefined boundaries to contain the physical location of the devices in a school’s deployment. Once these boundaries are defined, the school can create