Let's Meet Online: Collaboration Tools; Share Lesson Plans, Enroll in an Online Course, or Even Conduct Parent-Teacher Conferences from the Comfort and Convenience of Your Computer. (Picks of the Month)

Article excerpt

Anytime, anywhere collaboration is the order of the day, and schools are increasingly called upon to create online learning communities where teachers and parents can meet to discuss student grades, where educators can join in professional development discussions, and where remote learners can enroll in online courses. Given the wide range of functions they serve, it's no surprise that collaborative offerings vary widely, ranging from basic bulletin boards to full course platforms with chat, file sharing, and content delivery. The tools reviewed here capture this variety--from full-featured packages for large group interaction to project-based exercises designed for one-on-one collaboration.

The growing number of collaboration tools currently on the market indicates a new trend in Web-enabled communication technologies, as both schools and businesses are prompting providers to supply affordable ways to conduct meetings, deliver services, and collaborate efficiently. What we offer here, then, is a sampling of the range of tools available. All are Web-based, some exclusively, with differences appearing in localized uses of included software components. Some rely on client software on the desktop, while others run as Application Service Providers. Each mode of delivery offers its own advantages. For instance, client/server models like FirstClass run on your own server and require your own in-house tech support. ASP providers, such as LiveText, guarantee you full-time availability while managing hardware, administering the server, and providing firewall protection.

Regardless of delivery model, all of the tools here offer full security features, including passwords and permission settings. Additional considerations in selecting the best package for your school or district include available bandwidth, as variable connection speeds can impact ease of use; required plug-ins; and computer processing speeds, which may affect performance. We've organized these according to their complexity and cost, beginning with LiveText's entry-level teamwork tool and concluding with Polycom's WebOffice, the most powerful--and expensive--tool for facilitating online meetings.

LiveText Edu Solutions, Winter 2002 Edition

(LiveText)

Simple and easy to use, LiveText is a Web-delivered subscription service for teachers featuring collaborative lesson-building activities. Educational organizations, such as school districts, universities, or organizations like the National Science Foundation, contract with the LiveText service. Teachers working for or affiliated with a participating school or organization then have access to all of LiveText's features, as well as teaching templates provided by those schools and organizations.

Unlike online course-delivery tools from WebCT and Blackboard, LiveText uses lesson planning as a focus for engaging the educational community. LiveText's service incorporates a variety of step-by-step templates for developing lesson plans based on a variety of teaching and learning models, from project-based learning to holistic portfolios. Many lessons and projects stored in LiveText's library correlate to state and national standards, and teachers can use Quick Aligner to build lesson plans around national standards, as well as standards from states contracting with the company. LiveText also automatically personalizes members' templates and log-in pages based on their educational affiliations and memberships.

LiveText's greatest strength lies in users' ability to control access to their documents. Once teachers create a lesson plan, project, course, or portfolio, they can select the "sharing" option, which lets colleagues review or adapt these materials using a real-time sticky note feature that saves to the original document. Teachers can also embed automatically scored quizzes, bulletin boards, and multi-media into their lessons.

Blackboard 5.5

(Blackboard)

Blackboard delivers course content and online instruction in a virtual school environment. …