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 Edmodo.com 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. http://www.twiducate.com/

kyteacher @lthumann Then I would recommend Edmodo.

keisawilliams @lthumann Take a look at Kidblog too http://www.ncs-tech.org/?p=4726

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 nicenet.org? A bit rudimentary, but very easy to set up and monitor.

keisawilliams @lthumann Using the SMC technically and pedagogically http://socialmediaclassroom.com/index.php/using-the-smc 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 http://twitter.com/lthumann, 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.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blog)
  • 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. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wiki)
  • Google Group – Groups provides a method for true communication and collaboration with group members
  • Nicenet.org – 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 – Kidblog.org 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.

The One-Computer Classroom

My copy of the 1998 version of Tom Snyder's One-Computer Classroom
My copy of the 1998 version of Tom Snyder's Great Teaching in the One-Computer Classroom

I was so surprised to see this book for sale on Amazon.com this week. I thought for sure there was a new version out.  I must have bought it back in 1999. It was exciting that it included the Internet as the picture below will show you. It was one of the few resources back then that was going to help me help educators use the one or two or even three computers they had in their classrooms with their students. I was even lucky to be in a school with a T1 line back then.

"Includes the INTERNET!"
"Includes the INTERNET!"

Well, in many districts, things haven’t changed that much. Though there are laptop carts, not every teacher has access to them all the time and they don’t always have a bank of computers in their rooms.

I spent the last few days putting together an agenda for a group of grade 3-5 teachers who after many years, are getting some new MacBook Pros. This new laptop will still be the only computer in their classrooms. They will have access to LCD projectors, but they will be sharing them, so they are not ceiling mounted.

My charge? Excite. Enthuse. Express. Et cetera.

Here’s my plan. I’m not going until September 8, so please let me know if you have anything to add.

The One-Computer Classroom

Let’s categorize the computer for three purposes:

  1. A presentation tool
  2. A personal productivity tool
  3. A learning center for small group activities

The Computer as a Presentation Tool

Use your computer to engage your students:

  1. Evaluate and discuss the role of the computer in the classroom.
  2. Locate and identify classroom presentation materials.
  3. Reflect upon the usefulness and effectiveness of presentation tools.

Possible Resources:

The Computer for Personal Productivity

Use your computer to be more productive:

  1. Locate and identify classroom materials using productivity resources.
  2. Examine, explore, and discuss Internet and software personal productivity resources.
  3. Reflect upon the usefulness and effectiveness of personal productivity resources.

Possible Resources:

The Computer as a Learning Center for Small Group Activities

Use your computer to bring students together in small groups:

  1. Locate and identify online resources appropriate for small group activities.
  2. Explore activities across several subject areas.
  3. Evaluate and discuss the use of the computer for interactive group activities.

Possible Resources:


I plan to demonstrate how to create a Google Form towards the conclusion of our 2 1/2 hours together. I’d like to generate a needs assessment as a group as to what types of activities they are looking for to use with their students and where they would like to house these resources. I know where I would keep everything (Delicious and Diigo and I might suggest they form a Ning,) but this is the first time I am meeting these teachers and this is an opportunity to show them what is available to them. I certainly don’t want to overwhelm them, certianly not in 180 minutes.