Sunday, May 10, 2009

Intranet

I am starting to see a few schools buying scanning kits for the photocopiers. These allow you to digitise all those old useful worksheets you have been dragging out of the filing cabinet every year for centuries and turn them into editable files stored, displayed and distributed to students without the need to photocopy them. Punch in your Inbox number. Load the tray with 100 double-sided worksheets. Press Scan and walk away. No more dragging around filing cabinets when you move schools. No more hoarding mountains of paper in the spare room or garage at home and no more wasting paper. I am sure you can think of many more advantages. Why haven’t you heard about this technology before? Because photocopy suppliers make money from every page you print, not from you turning your photocopier into a scanner. So ask your principal about it now.
So once you have scanned all the worksheets and handouts, you are going to need a convenient, safe and accessible place to store them. We have all been guilty of losing valuable files on old thumb drives that die on us just before the beginning of a lesson. One answer to this problem is a school Intranet, which is best described as an internal and secure Internet for your school. Intranets are great tools for collaboration and a place for students to save and display their work. They also support efforts to individualise learning and use constructivist pedagogy. Students can collaborate on projects, have more control over their learning and participate in learning that interests them. This is all great in theory but it won't work unless the teachers and students find the Intranet useful, usable and convenient. If teachers have to learn html to be able to display their next lesson on their IWB, the Intranet will die. This is where Content Management Systems (CMS) are essential. A CMS allows you to enter content much the same way as you would with a word processing program and without the need for learning html coding.
There are many free CMS software downloads and the one you choose will depend very much on what your school wants to achieve with the Intranet. Your goals are the most important place to start, so I suggest that if you are serious about creating a school Intranet or improving your existing one, read carefully the excellent free resources provided by James Robertson, a Sydney based expert in the field of Intranets. That way at least, you will build the Intranet that achieves your goals and hopefully it won’t be a case of the “tail wagging the dog”. My advice is to consult widely with other staff from the start and find out what things they find really annoying about your present Intranet or tasks that can be made easier, such as programming (always a winner) and deliver some small improvements that will win you support and build momentum for change in your school. This is much better than asking people what the want. Most people don't really know because it is all new to them. Solve a problem for them and you are a winner. Find out what the problems are now and work on solving those first. Once you decide on some goals and some timeframes, it is probably also worth thinking carefully about the best CMS for your needs have a look at my links and visit sites like Dave's Educational Blog . Ease of use, for example, is not always the best reason for choosing a CMS. You have to think carefully about governance and a policy for content creation as well as making sure someone is responsible for maintaining every page of the site so that content is always up-to-date. Happy scanning.