Web-based environments - Creative clicking

Miles Berry suggests fun and useful things to install on a webserver
3rd October 2008, 1:00am


Web-based environments - Creative clicking


Interested in letting your pupils reap the benefits of Web 2.0, collaborative content and social networks for learning? Worried about their web safety, exposure to commercialism or keeping track of what they do? Why not run your own versions of these web-based applications in- house, inside your school’s network where they are that bit safer and you can keep an eye on it all?

The power of second-generation web applications lies in the opportunities they offer for collaboration, the sharing of ideas and the (sometimes critical) audience it offers for creative work. The educational benefits here are tremendous, but aren’t really about teachers delivering packaged content or “learning objects” to their pupils, they’re about pupils learning from one another, helping each other to learn and reviewing, critiquing and building on one another’s work. This is exciting.

Assuming you’ve got control of your school’s internet connection, you can make the most of many applications anytime, anywhere, with no software needed other than a web browser. Here are some web-based environments that you can offer your pupils.

- MediaWiki - mediawiki.org

The software behind Wikipedia. This is brilliant for a long-term project creating a school’s or department’s online reference tailored to its curriculum. It can keep growing, year on year, as each cohort edits and improves the work of the last.

Internet research suddenly becomes a more active process. Mediawiki’s version control shows the contribution made by each, and the content comes to embody the shared knowledge of the learning community. Mediawiki also works well for school policies, collaborative planning or, with proper security, even notes about pupils.

- Gallery2 - gallery.menalto.com

A great way of sharing a school’s collection of digital photographs, videos or sound clips with pupils and parents, and you can control access.

As well as publishing images to the web, you can allow comments and ratings for photos. More interesting is to allow colleagues, pupils and parents to upload pictures, probably with some moderation first, making the school’s digital photo album a collaborative effort in which everyone’s perspectives are shared.

- Elgg - elgg.org

Elgg started life as an e-portfolio tool for higher education, a way for pupils to store their work online, sharing the bits they wanted to with their peers or the public. It has gone on to become a powerful and flexible social networking platform, without the dangers associated with MySpace or Facebook.

Users have their own blog - great for learning journals and creative writing - and suddenly your pupils have a readership, a configurable home page, RSS feed aggregation to link to other resources, and tools to link with friends and those with shared interests.

Elgg provides a way to learn through and about social networks safely and with a curriculum focus.

- Scuttle - sourceforge.netprojectsscuttle

Scuttle is a way of sharing webpage bookmarks or favourites online - easy enough in a virtual learning environment for teachers, but Scuttle allows your pupils to add their own list of relevant web pages into its tagged and searchable database, as well as giving users easy access to their own bookmarked pages from school, home or wherever.

The advantage of Scuttle is that it uses the same system as another bookmarking tool, del.icio.us, and can be integrated with Firefox and lots of other del.icio.us related tools, such as DeliciousMind (www.blainekendall.comdeliciousmind), a mindmapping tool for bookmarks.

Miles Berry is headteacher of Alton Convent Prep School in Hampshire.

Getting a webserver

Setting up a webserver can be fiddly, but if you’ve got the popular open source virtual learning environment Moodle up and running in school, then you’ve already got everything you need. In particular you’ll need the Apache web-server, MySQL databases and the PHP programming language to run these and other web-based applications for your pupils.

If these aren’t available, then there are packages for Windows, such as Xampp (www.apachefriends.orgenxampp.html), OS X (www.mamp.info) and Linux (www.linux.org). As all of these components are open source, there’s no charge for any of them, and all of the web-based applications listed here are free too.

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