Building Next-Gen Class Website - Looking for Feedback

I'm a brand new student teacher working with my mentor teacher on a new class website for our students next year. It's more than just a regular class website though. We're trying to build a collaborative learning network for our students. I'm new to this community, but anyone who would like to be our guinea pigs is welcome to check it out and give us feedback!

A little about the actual site. It was built using Ning and we're calling it "Die Quelle" (translation: The Source) right now. This would be serving about 135 students of German at East Lansing High School, ranging from first-year to fourth-year German. Don't worry though, you shouldn't need to know any German to peruse the site! It's almost entirely in English.

I've been working on a letter to the parents to introduce the site and hopefully alleviate any concerns they may have. It might be useful for any of you with questions concerning the site's planned role in the classroom. I also made up a feedback form that you can fill out as you go through the site. Finally, here's the actual link to Die Quelle! You'll need a guest login to check it out:

Password: Guest0987

Also, if anyone has built their own collaborative learning networks for the classroom and wouldn't mind sharing, I'd love to see what you've done and learn from your experiences!

Views: 56

Tags: class-website, die-quelle, elhs, german

Comment by Nathan Ketsdever on June 30, 2009 at 11:33am
I signed up....excited about the prospects.

I don't speak German, will that be a problem?
Comment by Georgette on June 30, 2009 at 12:19pm
Hi Chris, I'm real glad I started by looking at your post and at your class-website. You already must have my feedback form by now. I don't know any German, but I've taught ESL for over 10 years and can tell you that technology really gets learners actively engaged. I'd welcome the opportunity to see what you do for Spanish, with the added advantage that I that's a language I can do!!
Comment by Chris Fritz on June 30, 2009 at 12:52pm
@Nathan: Thanks! I'm excited too. :-) But to protect the privacy of my students, I'm only approving sign-ups from them and their teachers. I made a temporary guest account though, so people can still sign in and check it out before it's ready for prime time. I sent you an email with the sign-in information.

@Georgette: Thanks a lot for your help! I read your feedback and I've added a few things to my to-do list. :-) I've been going back and forth about making the site mandatory. From what I've seen, the students at my school seem pretty well off, so if I had to, I'd bet that all of those 135 students do have a computer and Internet at home (and very likely their own computer). I just don't want to cause a public outcry and headache for my mentor teacher if some homes don't have Internet or some parents don't want their child even using the Internet. I suppose I COULD add a checkbox to the letter to parents that they could check if they strongly oppose their child using the website. Then parents can voice their opinions anonymously before I set anything in stone. If someone objects, I can call them and try to address their concerns. But then I'd know if a whole class was OK with it and would be able to use it for assignments without worrying. How does that sound to you?
Comment by Chris Fritz on June 30, 2009 at 12:53pm
@Nathan: Oh, and it definitely won't be a problem that you don't speak German! The site is almost entirely in English and certainly all the important parts are!
Comment by Georgette on June 30, 2009 at 3:59pm
Chris, I'm glad you are able to make use of my comments.
About making it mandatory,even if you can't, make it a practical solution..."You have no need to write the assignment in class if you can access it online at home" or like I suggested, give the students the opportunity to solve the problem by working in teams with a digitally enabled teammate... This also is conducive to learning since going about solving technology differences and glitches is a required 21 century competency, right? ;)
Comment by Chris Fritz on June 30, 2009 at 9:31pm
Georgette, I think you're absolutely right. Knowing how to take advantage of technology is a vital skill today. At the very least, we need to know how to use it to continue our education. I read an interesting quote by Goethe on the Langwitches blog the other day:

"Our ancestors held on to the education they received in their youth; instead we must relearn every five years, if we want to keep up with the times."

That was written in 1809. 200 years later, things are changing considerably faster! Whether it's convenient for students or not, it's my duty to help them develop these necessary skills. Thanks for reminding me of that. :-)
Comment by Chris Fritz on July 9, 2009 at 9:00am
Merle, thanks for sharing your experiences! I was thinking about the group feature for classes as well, but I was afraid of cliques forming. What have you seen your students do with the groups? Do you think it really helps or is it just a cool extra feature for them? And for the class groups, is it possible to send a message to everyone in a group? That would be mighty handy.

I'll definitely heed your words of warning about bandwidth! I can certainly see students getting out of control there. I tried to post some of my own content in various areas, so students can see some examples of appropriate communication - although I'll be taking a day in a computer lab to go over the whole site with them and get them started adding content. I definitely also appreciate the fact that I can approve videos before they show up! That could save some headaches down the line.


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