Jun 22

I’ve been taking a look at web application based eLearning services. Nuvvo andSo many Web 2.0 choices! Chalksite certainly forge new ground with educators in mind. For educators wanting to run courses online for students to access at home and at school, these simple to use web apps may be an incredibly handy tool to have in the toolkit. While they certainly don’t have the scope of Moodle, Blackboard or WebCT, in time they promise to offer similar functionality. As these web 2.0 apps mature, the simplicity of their implementation is surely going to prove popular with educators. I run an Instiki wiki to host my student’s collaborative writing from my NB4Ts laptop. The ability to view, mark and add notes to the student’s good work from this portable base is a very convenient tool. On the flipside, the set-up of this was laborious and distracted from my planning and DOTT time. This is the exact kind of situation where these new online eLearning services such as Nuvvo and Chalksite start to come into play……


Nuvvo claims to be the first free on-demand eLearning service. Nuvvo uses Web 2.0 innovations to facilitate easy course creation, search, and syndication. Individualvice), Skypewhich allows a person to display teachers to sign up and begin offering courses in minutes. Courses can be private or public, free or pay. Nuvvo has integrated with Skype (peer to peer voice ser his/her Skype status on the site. This means that university students using Nuvvo for example will have access to talk live with their teacher if he/she is a Skype user. Nuvvo says:

Nuvvo is your way to teach on the web. Everyone knows a little bit about something, and this free, AJAX-enhanced eLearning web service is designed to bring out the teacher in all of us. Sign up and build a course in minutes; advertise your course on our eLearning Market to get the word out. Get teaching with Nuvvo, Web 2.0’s answer to eLearning.

Also, there are capabilities in Nuvvo to enable rich media, such as audio and video. It is free to create a course and Nuvvo makes money from ads and by taking 8% of any course fees set by the educator. it looks like they have lots of activity there with courses both free and for a fee, from programming language tutorials to customer service training to foreign language to self-development.

Chalksite offers simple design built on the Ruby on Rails framework and allows educatorsChalksite to post messages, assignments and manage grading. Chalksite allows teachers to create their own weblog and about me pages to help communicate and display biography information which is a great implementation of a blog. The open and intuitive design sets Chalksite apart from Blackboard, Moodle and Elgg. Chalksite says:

It’s the quickest, simplest route to expanding your classroom onto the internet. Teachers, students and parents have a central point to access grading, assignments and messaging. Chalksite is a total web package designed just for teachers, giving you a personal website and tools you actually need without requiring an IT degree to use them.

Chalksite was designed for teachers and tested by teachers at every stage of its development. It’s specifically created to be the easiest path to online learning for real teachers and students — people who don’t have the time to decode complicated software packages or hard-to-follow instruction manuals.

While looking at the Chalksite website I noted it is similar to 37 Signal’s (designers of Basecamp) website and design sensitivities. While I couldn’t find any direct reference to the fabulous web 2.0 company 37 Signals it appears Chalksite have been directly inspired by their CSS and layout.

Chalksite GUI

The thing I like most about web 2.0 apps is their gentle learning curve. Chalksite seems to be a great “stand alone” classroom enhancing product that takes less than 4 minutes to learn. The current free pricing is restricted to 5 students. With the paid pricing starting from US$4.95/month for 50 students. Chalksite does allow unlimited assignments to students/classes with image/file uploading/sharing, a complete web-based gradebook that allows students to view grades, messaging to individual students or entire classes, and a personal website.

I get the feeling that for online courses to succeed, students must be able to become engaged interactively in the learning process through discussion board comments, and plentiful guided course document and assignment postings. The more interactive the site, the more the student will return to the site. For eLearning services such as these to succeed, interactivity and collaborative features will be the most requested features together with an intuitive interface (GUI).


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Jun 17

BasecampTaking up on Kim Flintoff’s lead with his previous post on Wikibooks this post details another Web 2.0 collaborative writing ICT called Basecamp that has a range of possible uses in schools. Basecamp is a web based collaboration and project management tool. Last year at Paraburdoo Primary School we used this password protected online space during our action research into the Boys in Education Lighthouse Project . It proved to be a simple and effective way to document milestones, plan, and for collaborative text development via the built-in Writeboard. It fitted well with the Action Research goals. eg. “Action research establishes self-critical communities of people participating and collaborating in all phases of the research process.” Also “allows us to build records of our improvements”.

The path the research eventually took meant that teachers ending up developing individual research projects on diverse topics. However, in the initial planning phase Basecamp was valuable in developing our clear shared vision to “develop, monitor and reflect upon effective strategies for the improvement of boys writing”. There is no reason why this web app couldn’t be used in a collaborative writing learning environment also.

I have since used Basecamp in two other ongoing projects and it has help bind these projects especially across huge geographical distances. While trying not to make thisBackpack sound like a sales pitch for 37 Signals products I admit I’m quite fond of their simplicity and gentle learning curve. I also use their Backpack product for all of my to-do lists, and load them as my browser homepage for access at home and at school. Backpack makes it easy to flesh out your ideas and helps in getting things done.

Are there any other schools using similar collaborative project management tools?


Disclosure: the links to BasecampHQ in this post take you to an affiliate page with Basecamp. If you happen to sign-up to a paid account via this link, the voluntary Green Map Perth project I work on will receive a discount on an upgrade to our very own Basecamp account.


Jun 12

Many of you may know this website already, but in case not I wanted to share the Australian Rainforest Maths website by Jenny Eather. It has some of the best online interactive activities I have seen for kindy through to upper primary. Each year level includes the seven mathematics outcomes. One of the strategies promoted in the First Steps Mathematics course is giving students a variety of different learning opportunities to match each aspect. In particular using online activities to provide instantaneous feedback to the child as to whether they have the key understanding or not - if not the child can quickly try another strategy. This is one of the most under-rated bonuses of using interactive activities. It frees up the teacher to provide more guided feedback to students in need of specific assistance. The activities are easily aligned with the key understandings and could also be used as supplemental diagnostic tasks.

The website states that it contains:

“Over 800 interactive mathematics activities for Kindergarten to Year 6 covering the math strands of Number, Number Systems, Operations & Calculations, Strategies & Processes, Patterns & Algebra, Measurement, Space & Geometry, Chance & Probability, Data Analysis and Money.”


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Jun 08

I was quite surprised when one of my students recommended me the DigiKid blog. This DigiKid ‘Brad’ (quite possibily with the help of his DigiDad), may very well be an archetype of one of Mark Prensky’s so called “digital natives“. One day we watched one of the Brad the Digikids vodcasts at the end of a Year 5 class. In this video DigiKid demonstrates the ability of his PSP (Portable PlayStation) to detect free and open wireless networks (these are common in the USA especially around public libraries) in his neighbourhood. While I made it clear that I didn’t condone this behaviour, some students gave up 5 minutes of their lunchtime engaged while I explained a little about how wireless networks work. On the flipside when I tried to explain the significance of this new technology in the staffroom afterwards, I lost most of my fellow “digital immigrants” within about 30 seconds - admittedly it is quite boring to the uninvolved! Check out the DigiKID PSP wardriving episode here.

Marc Prensky’s idea about “Digital Natives and Immigrants” help me clarify my suspicions about the differences between the generations:

Today’s students are Digital Natives. They are “native speakers” of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet.

So what does that make the rest of us? Those of us who were not born into the digital world but have come to it later in our lives are, compared to them, Digital Immigrants. And as we Digital Immigrants learn – like all immigrants, some better than others – to adapt to their environment, we always retain, to some degree, an “accent,” that is, our foot in the past. The “Digital Immigrant accent” can be seen in such things as turning to the Internet for information second rather than first; in reading the manual for a program rather than assuming that the program itself will teach us to use it; in printing out our emails (or having our secretary print them out for us – an even “thicker” accent); or in never changing the original ring of our cell phone. Those of us who are Digital Immigrants can, and should, laugh at ourselves and our “accent.”

But this is not just a joke. It’s very serious, because the single biggest problem facing education today is that our Digital Immigrant instructors, who speak an outdated language (that of the pre-digital age), are struggling to teach a population that speaks an entirely new language.
Source: http://www.hotlib.com/articles/show.php?t=Digital_Natives_and_Immigrants

More of Marc’s writings on the positive effects of video games can be found at www.marcprensky.com/writing/default.asp.

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