Online Professional Learning Communities and Blended Learning
Our work with schools begins with the setup, user training, facilitation and management of two customized intranet sites. Taken together, these tools form the key pieces of a "collaborative online laboratory" to create professional learning communities and host learning 2.0 projects.
- Planning Site: Open Atrium (see Planning Site, below), a customizable project management and online community platform made with Drupal. If familiar with project management software, Open Atrium lies somewhere between BaseCamp and GoogleDocs. This is hosted by Game Face Web Design at first for reliability, but may be transferred to a server in the school once it is a trusted tool.
- Sandbox Site: Custom Drupal site (See Sandbox, below), configured for teachers to develop web pages and Learning 2.0 projects. All components are built to specifications based on "support tickets" placed in the Project Management system. This is best hosted by Game Face Web Design, so that technical problems beyond school personnel expertise do not interfere with teaching and learning.
- Moodle: Schools that wish to offer online courses (targeting individuals rather than groups, and geared towards delivering fixed content or skills goals rather than a cumulative curriculum) can add Moodle (the open source version of Blackboard / WebCT) to the collaboratory to support online learning. Used together, Drupal and Moodle can meet institutional control and tracking requirements while offering a deeper, more engaging and open learning environment.
The Empowered Teacher is a partner company to Game Face Web Design, a Drupal development company that also hosts and supports Moodle. As Drupal experts, our added value is highest in that platform. If your school has already selected a different tool for some of these functions (like Mahara or GoogleDocs), we will adapt. In addition to the two Drupal intranets, we rely on other tools to supplement text-based collaboration:
- Point-to-Point VideoConferencing: Skype, which allows both parties to swap between screen-sharing and video sharing.
- Group Conferencing: GoToMeeting, which allows multiple attendees to view a shared screen and share audio by phone or VoIP. This allows teachers who cannot get to computers to converse with those who have computers in their classroom but no accessible phone.
As your district gains familiarity with Drupal, you may opt to develop in-house ability to build sites. We can then add the following to sites to the package:
- Development Site: A New Drupal installation administrated by local personnel. Our goal is to transfer our Drupal knowledge to school personnel, at whatever speed makes sense. The Development Site is a place to experiment with Drupal sitebuilding and configuration. This can be hosted by Game Face Web Design until a local server is available, then transferred.
- Public Showcase Site (Optional): None of the previous three "intranet" sites is designed for public access - logins protect student identity and obviate the need for district-level editorial control. If your public-facing website is built with Drupal, it is easy to import projects from the Sandbox, cleaned of student data and inappropriate material.
But the key to all of this work is the planning site (based on Drupal's Open Atrium distribution) and the Sandbox Site (which is utterly pliable, depending on the scope and depth of blended learning at your school).
The Planning Site: Open Atrium for Team Project Development
|Tool||Our Version||Use Case|
|Wiki||Atrium Notebook||Online documents easily printed to paper or PDF, used to outline project plans, list curricular standards, and develop common assessments.|
|Discuss plans, coordinate implementation, reflect on results. Communication begins with a post, continues in threaded comments.|
|To Do||Atrium Casetracker||Create projects and cases. Each case is assigned to a person, given a category and a priority, and associated with comment threads for clarification and updates.|
|MicroBlog||Atrium Shoutbox||A quick note to the members of project or the entire community; can also be sent to Twitter or Email.|
The Sandbox Site: Blended Learning Projects
The Sandbox Site is a structured Drupal site, customized for your school. It is connected to the Planning site by shared Teacher accounts. When teachers implement projects developed through the Planning Site, they determine which students, outside experts, and others will be participants.
Without logging in, it is impossible to see any student work, in accordance with COPA regulations. Once logged in, users can see whichever projects they have been given access to, and participate at whatever level they are invited. The school has complete control over the environment.
We may also employ other Drupal distributions, such as ProsePoint (for online newpapers), or develop custom subdomains (for curriculum mapping), as required by client needs.
At the end of a project, teacher and student work may be edited and prepared for sharing on the schools Public Site. If that site is also a Drupal site, content can be exported and imported easily.