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Hands-On Favorites

Communication Management Software

By Ken Royal | February 2009

Six tech leaders share and compare the best solutions for spreading the word between school and home.

Finalsite

Reviewer
: Ted Lindquist
Coordinator of Technology, Farmington (CT) Public Schools
Challenge: The ownership of the website was mine, so I needed control over what went on the website, and I needed it to remain current.
Response: Finalsite stood out for a couple of reasons: The developers wanted to improve the product through the eyes of the customer, as well as offer regular product updates. They assisted me in rolling out to various department heads, principals, secretaries, and students, who are building some Web pages now.
Lesson Learned: It is a solution to Friday folders; we're saving paper and time, and parents are informed.
Ease of Use: It is the daily tool for every student and staff member.
Appeal to Students/Teachers: Kids don't have to be in the classroom to take advantage of the resources posted by the teacher. We also now have a common look to our library Web pages throughout the district.
Final Word: We're interested in Web 2.0 tools. Right now, teachers use the forum for discussions, but more uses are around the corner.

SchoolCMS by PowerIT

Reviewer
: James Cummins
MS Director of Technology, The School District of Jenkintown (PA)
Challenge: I had to maintain the entire site myself. We needed a solution that would let more people update the district website.
Response: SchoolCMS fit because we wanted more than a website. While we needed teacher pages that were easy to use, navigate, and post homework assignments and activities, we also wanted a content management system.
Lesson Learned: Everyone can edit from home. It's like editing a Word document, which streamlines teacher page usage. SchoolCMS stores all the data.
Ease of Use: It's very easy. No Web design training is necessary. It's WYSIWYG: What you see is what you get. 
Appeal to Students/Teachers: One popular feature teachers are using is the new sign-up tool for easy parent-teacher conference scheduling.
Final Word: Parents really like the idea that we do e-mail blasts through the website—we  have school newsletters, too.

TeacherWeb

Reviewer: Ed Zaiontz
Director of Information Services, Round Rock (TX) Independent School District
Challenge: We were trying to decide how to make it easier for teachers to create websites.
Response: What helped us make that decision was that we already had 800 teachers who were using TeacherWeb—all on their own.
Lesson Learned: What's great about TeacherWeb is that the primary page look is appropriate for that age group—wonderful images, colorful icons, and even sounds, but it can be customized to look appropriate for students and teachers at the higher levels.
Ease of Use: It says something when a third of your teachers choose a Web solution—we listened.
Appeal to Students/Teachers: It offers WebQuests for developing and creating Web 2.0 activities.
Final Word: TeacherWeb input allows us to plan things for the future. We've had an evolution—the district website, the campus websites, and now the teacher websites. We are open to ideas for bringing those solutions together. 

School Loop

Reviewer: Laura Boss
Director of District Communications, Newport-Mesa (CA) Unified School District
Challenge: Our problem was communication in general. For 22,000 students, we had one Webmaster.
Response: It created website templates and an entire communication system for all of our schools.
Lesson Learned: Parents love it. Every day at 5 pm they get an e-mail with all of their child's information: what's happening at the school the next day, and news and events from throughout the district, etc.
Appeal to Students/Teachers: Teachers say that they now have to spend less time on the phone, because the communication is on a daily basis. Teachers are also able to post PowerPoints and assignments—everything that's due for the week. Students who are out can get their assignments easily through School Loop. And starting next year, everything will be archived, so that will make it a little easier.
Final Word: We are looking forward to upgrades to the content management and grading systems in the near future.

Schoolwires

Reviewer: Terry Holliday
Superintendent, Iredell-Statesville Schools (NC)
Challenge: We were looking to update our website in order to take advantage of Web 2.0 tools such as blogs, surveys, and podcasts, as well as alerts and e-mailing services.
Response: Even the most resistant technophobes bought into it quickly. We now have blogs, an RSS feed, podcasts, and webpages at the teacher level. We also needed the ability to post a lot of photos and videos.
Lesson Learned: We're getting an unbelievable number of hits to the website: 150,000 in one week!
Ease of Use: We can quickly take a pulse on the community. Emergency alerts post in seconds.
Appeal to Students/Teachers: Teachers are excited about posting assignments to blogs. They're developing their space similar to that of a wiki. Kids are accessing assignments, surveys, and feedback forms.
Final Word: We'd like to host virtual meetings to eliminate some in-district travel. We'd love to do our cabinet meetings virtually—and not just PowerPoints. 

SchoolFusion

Reviewer: Joe huber
Director of Information Systems, Greenwood Community School Corporation (IN)
Challenge: We had two problems: poor communication and our webpage was pathetic! It was a real challenge to keep it current.
Response: The first year we did have some who decided they didn't want to have a webpage, but the input from the community was so positive that they had to join in. They could just cut and paste. So it turned out not to be extra work.
Lesson Learned: At first, we had some moaning and groaning about having to learn something new, but after staff found how easy it was to use, all the complaining went away. We took every staff member—not just teachers, everyone—and did a two-hour workshop.
Ease of Use: Staff can update their pages in less than five minutes a day.
Appeal to Students/Teachers: If they want to know something, we can now refer them to our webpage, instead of answering a lot of phone calls like we used to.
Final Word: We're looking forward to using SchoolFusion's After Class to make our classes more interactive. Plus, discussions can extend beyond class time. 

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