Last evening I was the guest on the Legal Briefs call-in show about Facebook. Some of the recurrent themes that callers tended to raise included how students should be instructed about appropriate online behaviour, who should do that instruction, and how parents can become both more knowledgeable and more involved in their children's online engagement. At one point in the conversation, I called out for a teacher brave enough to create an online space of engagement that would involve the teacher, her students, and the parents, all collaborating with respect to classroom activities. The classroom would, in effect, extend into and include the home.
Coincidentally, this afternoon, I met with Nico Rowinsky (who is a middle school classroom teacher) and Tim Didn't-Catch-His-Last-Name (a very common surname, as it turns out) from Schoopy, an online environment specifically designed for the K-12 classroom, that provides the ease and flexibility of a social networking environment like Facebook, without many of the lack-of-controls that give some classroom teachers - and lots of parents - the willies.
Their approach is to create a relatively closed environment in which younger students can experience online engagement like online peer editing and review, collaboration on both homework and projects, and learn about appropriate behaviours, while parents can keep track of homework, announcements, long-term assignments and events. Teachers can be available after hours to provide the key suggestion which makes the difference between homework getting done or not (and encourage peer support), and lessons can be reviewed by parents who would be able to double-check the "no homework tonight, dad" claim. In fact, Nico told me of one grateful student who said that "Schoopy saved my butt" when he realized that he had left the weekend homework assignment in his locker late one Friday, but was able to download it from his classroom Schoopy site.
So far, this isn't particularly special, although it is tremendously worthwhile and something that I've been advocating for many years now. What's cool about Schoopy is its ability to expand the topology of what constitutes a classroom. Within a secure, easy-to-use, non-geek environment, teachers can link classrooms from diverse locations to create collaborations that augment the lessons being taught. Imagine linking up a classroom in St. John's with one in Vancouver to do joint projects on the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Or connecting urban and rural classrooms, or classrooms in the north with those in the south to study a unit on climate, or cross-cultural education.
With a new software release due out imminently that apparently opens up many so-called web 2.0 features, the team behind Schoopy are now planning to turn their attention to offering specific curriculum-augmenting applications for the various grade divisions from K to 12. To the best of my knowledge, Schoopy is free for (at least) the first school in a school board as a local pilot.
[Technorati tags: schoopy | online classroom | parent teacher involvement]