Well, the first few weeks of the school year are in the books, and if you’re anything like me, you’re a little overwhelmed by all the ‘stuff’ you need to know to survive modern schooling. I’m not talking about content knowledge. I mean the ‘how to’ of navigating the virtual side of 21st-century education.
At my school we have 5 different official platforms where students and parents get the resources they need for classes:
- Email: The official means of communication between school and home. It seems simple enough, but I’m finding that many students just haven’t developed the habit of checking their email daily. That means a lot of messages go unread until it’s too late – the deadline has been missed.
- Moodle: A well-established online course management tool, IST has been using Moodle for several years now, and it has quite a bit of versatility once you dig into it. This is where everyone is supposed to go to find homework, class notes, and other resources for every unit, but teachers don’t use it in a consistent manner across the school. Unfortunately, it’s also beginning to look a little dated, and its interface is less intuitive than other options out there.
- ManageBac: You’d think that a purpose-designed digital platform aligned with the International Baccalaureate’s Diploma Program and Middle Years Program would be a no-brainer for an IB World School, but it’s generating more questions than answers at my school. All the components are there – complete curriculum documentation and unit planning, assessment tasks, dropboxes linked to Turnitin.com, CAS and after-school activities, a gradebook function, and personalized calendars. However, teachers, students, and parents all see different sides of the platform, and no one is entirely clear about which parts we’re required to use and which are optional. There needs to be some serious professional development around this platform before we can fully take advantage of it, because right now it’s like a semi-operational Death Star: lots of potential power, but riddled with holes.
- Google Classroom: My personal favorite of the platforms we use, Classroom integrates seamlessly with Gmail and Google Drive to make it easy to share announcements and assignments with students. It can automatically generate individualized copies of assignments (including those elusive student names in the file name!!) and it organizes student work into Google Drive folders accessible to both teachers and students. It incorporates the shared collaborative capability beautifully and makes documented feedback on rough drafts a breeze. Offline editing is also available for unreliable networks like Tanzania’s. Google Classroom also makes a paperless class an achievable goal – if there’s a 1-to-1 program at the school. Which we don’t have yet.
- Ed-Admin: The clunky 1990’s AOL version of school management software, developed (I think) by a company out of South Africa. Our business office loves it, and the rest of the school seems to despise it. While it may be tweaked to meet the demands of individual schools, that requires phone calls and emails to HQ, who will then make the changes for the school. I suspect this platform is on its way out in the next couple of years.
Each one of these platforms brings strengths to the educational possibilities for our students; however, their interoperability is limited, and the resulting jumble of passwords and access points creates chaos for our students, families, and staff alike. In an ideal world, I’d like to see us rely on the Google platforms, since they’re relatively cheap, accessible from everywhere on the planet with an internet connection, and integrate with one another in a way that the other platforms don’t. Perhaps some ManageBac training and a commitment to the Google universe will simplify everything for our families and faculty.