Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

FirstClass Adds Student and Community Benefits to Wash. School District

Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

FirstClass Adds Student and Community Benefits to Wash. School District

Article excerpt

The Lake Washington School District includes 24,000 students in 41 schools, making it one of the largest in Washington State. The area, known for its technology leadership, is home to Microsoft and other high-tech corporations. In order to tie together students, teachers and the community with e-mail and conferencing capabilities, the school district decided to use SoftArc's FirstClass software.

The district also wanted to simplify and minimize server administration and hardware maintenance so students could be involved. Today, the FirstClass server system is not only a model of technology leadership among Washington State schools, it ranks as the largest completely student-run server system in the United States.

Kyle Sheppard, now a college student, has been an Administrator for the Lake Washington system for the past three years. With Lake Washington located in Microsoft's backyard, Sheppard has used Microsoft Exchange, but says its conferencing "isn't as advanced as FirstClass, it doesn't have as easy a thread group to follow, and you lose track of what you're talking about." FirstClass also requires far fewer system resources than Microsoft Exchange, he adds.

Overall, the Lake Washington system encompasses more than 600 conferences, both local and from the Internet. OneNet, SchoolNet, LearnLink and smaller gated networks provide a wealth of learning tools and communication links.

"If a student can use a keyboard, they can easily be taught to use the Lake Washington system," Sheppard says. "There's never been a problem teaching or learning FirstClass. We have several groups of third graders online. The students who run the system are a very diverse group, not just the stereotypical computer geeks. Some have interned with local software companies, others are drama students and athletes -- it's a dynamic group with a lot of different interest, just like the users." Those users range from 8 to 75 years old.

Sheppard also likes the ability to have a group chat for a specific project. "It's always useful, and is great for our Widget Project -- where students design a Tinkertoy item in one class, then describe it and send the description to another group, who try to build it based on the directions and description of the first group. It's a great way to build communications skills by using FirstClass."

Discussion conferences range from computer topics to discussions of culture, performing arts, music, television, movies and religion. …

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