Yesterday I spent the day at a Microsoft “briefing” about what they are calling their “Learning Gateway Framework.” (You’d think their marketers could come up with a better name than that…) It’s a suite of tools built around their Class Server and SharePoint products that are pretty amazing. It’s SIF compliant which means it could plug right into our Student Information System and deliver some pretty interesting tools to teachers and students.
A couple things particularly struck me. The presenters used the “C” word a lot, as in collaboration, which didn’t surprise me since SharePoint is based on the idea of pulling people together to collaborate on projects. But the other “C” word that I heard a few times was content, specifically as in recognizing teachers as becoming content creators. I don’t think they even realized it, but at some points it was if they were describing a content wikiland only not quite as open. Teachers creating learning objects, publishing them to shared spaces, pushing them to individual students, allowing them to be amended by other collaborators with changes getting tracked…and much more. It got kinda scary at points.
The most interesting to me was what they call SharePoint Portal which could take all of the people (teachers and students) in my SIS, created web spaces for them, connect them to each other based on the classes they’re teaching/taking, allow for the creation of “Web Parts” which are basically XML-fed modules you can easily import to your space…it was pretty amazing stuff. No blogging piece, and nothing that I would call a portfolio piece, but from a teacher/info management/classroom communication standpoint, it was pretty impressive.
Ah, yes, but it’s Microsoft…
Robert Stevenson says
I knew it was coming from one of the big boys, but I didn’t know how soon.
I took the past year off of teaching (HS History) to build several tools for teachers. I’ve wanted to build them since teaching on the fairly isolated island of Cyprus a few years ago. They are located at http://www.schoolnation.org Everything’s heavily based on open-source software (allowing the tools to keep improving even after I head back to the classroom in the fall), but the underlying goals and functions sound similar to Microsoft’s: collaboration and teachers as content-producers except I’d like to build a system for compensating teachers for their work. My system is not as highly customizable, but the principles are the same.
Teachers log in and add content to a locked down version of mediawiki (wikipedia’s software). I’ve provided a couple of other tools to encourage collaboration, but the wiki-based one has the most potential, I think. The wiki technology allows me to keep close track of contributions from each teacher. In the short term this is not so important, but I’m trying to build a community that can fairly compensate participating teachers if non-participating school-systems or departments ever develop an interest in using one of the collaboratively produced e-texts or in Microsoft lingo “learning objects.”
Of course, it’s not SIF compliant, but the wiki export tools allow content to be relatively portable in XML and future versions of media-wiki promise more highly customizable user groups.
Too much of the focus of educational tech seems to be on the district or school level. I’ve tried to build something that could help teachers to reach across district lines, even state lines and national borders if there’s the desire. I have a few teachers in four different school districts using it so far. I have not yet approached many people with the site, thinking that slow growth is probably the best way to make sure the tools are most effective. For the time being, I’m having lots of fun working on pages in a world history e-text and sharing some of my lesson plans.
Also, I’ve included this site as an newsfeed. I’ve been reading off and on for a while and think there’s some important discussion going on here. Thanks for that. Oh, and interested teachers are welcome to contact me about getting involved (if this last sentence is considered spam, I apologize. Feel free to delete it.).