Much of my existence at work at the moment is preoccupied with the implementation of two new tools. The first is a subscription-based school website service, Schoolwires. The second is a new student email service from Microsoft, Live@Edu. Both tools hold a great deal of promise for facilitating and enhancing communication within the district and beyond. The task for my own department at the moment is to provide support and training for the implementation of each and to provide guidance for the most effective use of both tools. I’ll be sharing more about the latter topic in the weeks ahead, undoubtedly.

For those unfamiliar with these tools, a brief synopsis is in order. I’ll begin with Schoolwires, as it has been my primary focus for the past month or so. At its most basic level, Schoolwires is providing our district with an online website-construction platform. Our users can login from any Internet-connected computer and edit their designated sites. The interface is relatively simple to learn, with many of the familiar, Windows-esque icons found in typical Office applications. Teachers can easily add text, links, images, videos, etc. Feedback has been almost universally positive, particularly from a convenience standpoint. In addition to basic content, what has me most excited about the service is that teachers can easily incorporate several Web 2.0 tools in their sites. Schoolwires has a tool for creating blog pages, for instance. This tool is very simple and streamlined, and includes capabilities to moderate discussions or to allow only specific categories of users to view posts (teachers, parents, students, etc.). Additionally, teachers can very quickly and easily add podcasts to a dedicated page, complete with buttons to subscribe via RSS or iTunes. RSS icons appear on other pages, as well, such as assignments pages and class calendars. Using these types of tools has been much more labor-intensive or required using sites outside of the classroom pages previously used in the district, so the potential is there for much greater implementation and impact.

Microsoft’s Live@Edu is a relatively new, free (yes, free…from Microsoft!) service from the company. Although I referred to it as a student email service, that really sells the product short. In addition to email, Live@Edu provides students with online versions of Office applications, which can be used collaboratively, similar to Google Docs or Zoho. Also, students each have 26 gigs of online storage, eliminating the need for thumb drives or burning work to CDs. Files may be private, public, or shared. These features hold great promise for making learning collaborative and anytime, anywhere experiences. It should be mentioned that Live@Edu works with our existing Microsoft Exchange service, meaning that updating accounts will be faster and easier than with previous tools we’ve tried. We will be continuing to refine our district standards for the use of the tools, and I will share these refinements as they come about. At the moment, we will be focusing on equipping teachers and students to utilize the Live@Edu tools in the most effective ways possible. Suggestions are, as always, very welcome!