Online Communities for Students

I’ve been working with a group of high school teachers that have very little technology available to them. They each have a tablet computer and a projector and that’s pretty much it. There are no other computers in the room and there are no wireless laptops or laptop carts available to bring in for the students to use. We’ve built our time together on making the most of the one computer classroom. So, as I blogged about in the beginning of the year we focus on using the tablet PC as a presentation tool, a productivity tool, and a tool for the students to use during small group activities and even during whole group instruction.

The more time we spend together, the more this small group of teachers sees how their students would benefit from using technology on a regular basis. They have begun using web 2.0 applications that the students can access from home so that they are incorporating technology into their curriculum – more – just not really in their physical classroom. So the questions of building virtual learning communities for students has come up. I even Tweeted about the other day. Here are the responses I received:

kyteacher @lthumann Either Ning or Edmodo. We use both, depending on the assignment.

Taml17 @lthumann Depending on what types of comm and how much, I might look at a wiki first.

khokanson @lthumann we are having GREAT success with ning at my school as digital portfolios HOWEVER monitoring is KEY!!!!

MagistraM @lthumann most of my colleagues in FL dept have gone with Ning for flexibility and broad potential.

keisawilliams @lthumann Is it around a project? Or do you want something more Twitter-like?

courosa @lthumann that’s what I’m using.

jepcke @lthumann What age students? What type of communication? Ongoing? Community building? For a project/unit?

kristenswanson @lthumann Depends on the purpose and the size of the group…. ;0 Maybe NING, maybe Edmodo, maybe a plain ‘old wiki… ;0

Dsalvucci @lthumann does not require email addresses to join, easy to use and very secure.

keisawilliams @lthumann Have you seen Twiducate? I haven’t tried it yet.

kyteacher @lthumann Then I would recommend Edmodo.

keisawilliams @lthumann Take a look at Kidblog too

sharnon007 @lthumann u can petition ning to remove ads if used for ed w/kids

amandacdykes @lthumann what about edumodo (sp?) I just know ning is blocked at my school.

beacantor @lthumann have you looked at A bit rudimentary, but very easy to set up and monitor.

keisawilliams @lthumann Using the SMC technically and pedagogically Have the tchr watch this vid.

kmulford @lthumann: Edmodo, hands down.

lesreilly @lthumann Curious as to what you went w/ as far as student comm. Nigh or basic blog or wiki or maybe google group? What feedback did U get?

nsharoff @lthumann – I would suggest Moodle (FREE) for MS teacher & students

digitalmaverick @lthumann Moodle has an incredibly supportive community – try @iusher for brilliant examples of its use in many schools

kmulford @lthumann: Edmodo is like Facebook for the classroom. The interface is appealing to kids, yet it is “protected” and much safer.

kmulford @lthumann We have “reluctant learners” who don’t do any homework, but WILL spend time on Edmodo talking to classmates and teachers.

urselle @lthumann How about Edmodo, Google Docs, Hotchalk for students to communicate. Ning is very easy, though.

Bear in mind that many of these Tweets are in response to my responses to their questions. You can certainly go back and view my responses at, but the crux of what I was Tweeting was that the teacher wanted the ability to moderate, has no e-mail addresses for his students and I originally was researching for a middle school teacher who I will be seeing next week, but I remembered that I would be seeing a high school teacher who also wanted to pursue building an online community with his students.

Here’s the list of possible community building tools that I was able to put together thanks to my Twitter network:

  • Moodle – “Moodle is a Course Management System (CMS), also known as a Learning Management System (LMS) or a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). It is a Free web application that educators can use to create effective online learning sites.”
  • Ning – Ning is an online platform for people to create their own social networks
  • Edmodo – “A private social platform for teachers and students to share ideas, files, events and assignments.”
  • Twiducate – A free resource for educators for teachers and students to continue their learning outside the classroom.
  • Hotchalk – HotChalk provides a free online learning management system, a library of free and premium digital content, and a portal into today’s educational landscape with innovative articles and the latest news
  • Google Docs – Safely store, organize, share and collaborate on documents, spreadsheets and presentations online
  • Blog – “is a type of website, usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video.” (
  • Wiki – is a website that allows the the editing of any number of web pages via a web browser There are typically multiple editors on a wiki site. (
  • Google Group – Groups provides a method for true communication and collaboration with group members
  • – Nicenet is a volunteer, non-profit organization dedicated to providing free services to the Internet community. Nicenet’s primary offering, the Internet Classroom Assistant is designed to address the pedagogical needs and limited resources of teachers and their students.
  • Kidblog – is designed for elementary and middle school teachers who want to provide each student with their own, unique blog.

When I met with the High School (science) teacher on Tuesday I told him that I had a plethora of ideas for him but that he needed to be clear as to what the objectives of an online community for his students were. This is what he laid out:

  1. A place for the teacher to house resources and documents from class
  2. An alternative way for students to submit assignments. (Currently many of them e-mail them to him.)
  3. A place for students to communicate with each other in a supportive manner with regards to course content.

Well, this was a start. I was happy to demonstrate some tools that would fit these three objectives knowing the teacher was clear as to what he was trying to accomplish. But our last hurdle was going to be the district filter. So immediately we were able to eliminate several of the online applications listed in the Tweets above.

Our ultimate decision was to sign up one of his classes on Edmodo. Edmodo appealed to this teacher and met his objectives. Fortunately, Edmodo was not blocked by the district’s filter (yet…) and the bonus was that it came highly recommended from my PLN.  Edmodo seemed to be our best choice.

It will be interesting to see the objectives from the middle school teacher next week to see if we select the same tool.

Have you looked at Google Docs lately?

Every time I turn around they’ve added a new feature to Google Docs. It’s tough to keep up, I know. I subscribe to the Google Docs Blog, which is quite helpful.

Allow me to bring you up to speed on some of the latest additions/improvements:

Friday, October 9, 2009

Have you seen what they’ve added to the Drawing features in Google since it first came out? You need to take a look! There is so much more flexibility and so many more shapes to pick from. You can also now create your own custom filled shapes.

Picture 4
Image Source:

Thursday, October 12, 2009

You can now share an entire folder. Apparently this was the most requested new feature. Just put all the documents you want to share into the folder and then share it with your Collaborators.

Image Source:

Also on this same day, Google announced that you could upload more than one document at a time. I thought this was great. Especially when bringing new teachers into Google Docs. So you want to convert all your science PowerPoints to Google Presentations?? You can now do it all in one batch. Simply click on Upload –> Select files to upload –> Select destination folder –> Start Upload. It’s that simple.

Monday, October 26, 2009

I guess after making it so simple to upload all your documents, Google decided it was time to make it simple to download your documents as well. I was excited when I read about this as I needed to remove some of my older Google Docs, yet wasn’t quite ready to part with them. This option really works for me.

You can now download your Google Docs in MS Office or Open Office Formats or as PDFs (up to 500mb at a time) in a zipped file. Follow these steps:

  1. Select the files you want to download by checking them
  2. Click on More Actions (on the right of the Google Docs screen)
  3. Click on Export
  4. If you are exporting a lot, you can select the option to have Google e-mail you when the export is done. Otherwise, you can just wait and then either Save or Open the Zipped file.

Some other features you may consider checking out:

  • The Equation Editor –> Click on Insert – Equation
  • Language Tools –> Tools – Translate document
  • Formatting –> Insert – Page break

Revisiting Your Blogroll

I actually blogged about this last summer after Building Learning Communities 2008 (BLC08). But it’s something that has resurfaced with me. I find myself reading a lot of new blogs (or at least new to me) lately and checking out many blogrolls. So the questions that come to mind are:

  1. Does the blogger really read all of these blogs?
  2. When is the last time they updated their blogroll?
  3. Why has this blogger included these particular blogs in his/her list?

Let me explain.

Does the blogger really read all of these blogs?
Some blogrolls are pretty extensive. I wonder if bloggers don’t want to hurt anyone’s feeling by not including them. Possibly they are trying to fill up real estate on their page. Perhaps even they really subscribe to all those blogs in their reader. There are several bloggers out there that have different blogrolls. Scott McLeod has a list just for “Blogs That Deserve A Bigger Audience”. Liz Davis has a list just for “Technology Blogroll”. Some even have lists for their student blogs like Wesley Fryer.

When is the last time they updated their blogroll?blogroll
I am very curious when I look at someone’s blogroll who links to a particular blogger frequently and yet doesn’t list them. It makes me wonder if their “roll” is neglected. It is a separate section of a blog, so I understand that when one goes to post, you wouldn’t exactly think to update it. It’s time consuming to make sure that the title of the blog and the URL are entered correctly and that you have in the list those blogs you want. But your subscribers and visitors are counting on you.

Why has this blogger included these particular blogs in his/her list?
This takes me back to Educon 2.1 this past January. Liz Davis and I ran a session on Equity Issues in the Blogosphere. Some mistook our equity to mean gender equity, but if you look at the session recording, it was far from it. Bud Hunt made a great suggestion the evening before the session to change the title to “Equity in Your Blogosphere” – which made all the difference. Who do you read? Are you reading from all different points of view? Classroom teachers, administrators, people of color and different nationalities, both genders, math teachers, language teachers, high school teachers? I could go on with the list. Do you have a diverse blogroll? Are you getting more than just one point of view?

So, I have revisited my blogroll. I prefer to keep mine kind of on the short side. But these are blogs that I subscribe to. There are others that I read through Tweets and other recommendations. I’m sure I’ll revisit it again soon. Hopefully it won’t take me another year.

An Update to the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA)

OnePlusYou Quizzes and Widgets

“Education, not mandatory blocking and filtering, is the best way to protect and prepare America’s students.”

Joint Statement of ISTE and CoSN Hailing Passage of Internet Safety Education Legislation

Recently, there have been some changes to the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). In talking about CIPA with some local educators, I was surprised to find that many were not familiar with what CIPA calls for. So I thought I would take a couple of minutes to revisit how it might be affecting you and your district.

CIPA imposes a few requirements on any school or library that receives funding for Internet access or internal connections from the E-rate program. The purpose of the E-rate program is to make communications technology more affordable for eligible schools and libraries. Through E-rate, these schools get discounts on telecommunication services, Internet access, and internal connections.

Schools and libraries subject to CIPA:

  • Must certify that they have an Internet safety policy including protection (to block or filter) pictures that are obscene, pornographic or harmful to minors.
  • Are required to educate minors about appropriate online safety including cyberbullying and interacting with others on social networking sites and in chat rooms
  • Are required to adopt and enforce a policy to monitor online activities of minors
  • Are required to adopt and address a policy implementing
    • access by minors to inappropriate content on the Internet
    • the safety and security of minors while using e-mail, chat rooms or any form of electronic communication
    • unlawful activities (hacking)
    • use of personal information regarding minors
    • restricting access of materials deemed harmful to minors

Recently, the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) urged Congress to update CIPA to include requirements regarding appropriate behavior on social networking and chat room sites.

In a joint statement from ISTE’s and CoSN, they said “the Internet contains valuable content, collaboration and communication opportunities that can and do materially contribute to a student’s academic growth and preparation for the workforce”.

Are you educating your students on how to keep themselves safe while online? Are you taking advantage of the valuable content the Internet has to offer? Are you using the collaboration and communication opportunities to aide in your student’s academic growth and prepare them for the workforce?

Or are you (or possibly your technology department) just filtering out what has the wrong label, tag, keyword, or look to it.