Sunday, November 2, 2008

May I Have A Word?

This past little while I've been exploring ways to improve communication with my students. I teach at

Photo by ohhector
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License

a distributed learning school (DL) and have limited face-to-face contact with my students. My students are in grades 8 to 11 and I am responsible for math and science. At this point, these courses are paper based. Their other core courses, English and Social Studies, are delivered in WebCT.

A challenge has been setting up an effective way to communicate directly with all of the students. Many of the 8s and 9s do not have an e-mail that they use, so e-mail communication is mainly through a family or parent account. We do have a school website where Google Calendars for each of the grades are posted. This has worked well in terms of posting time-lines and important dates, but not much else.  Add to the mix the fact that I have very few so called digital natives in the group, and perhaps you can understand my difficulties. (Teaching 21st century literacy skills to this group will be a whole other post...)


I have only dabbled in using wikis, so this past Professional Development (PD) day I set up test wikis in Wetpaint and Wikispaces. After tinkering around for a bit, I felt that I was just duplicating what I already have on the school website, so I don't think that the wiki is necessarily the way to go to improve communication with my students.


I've used Moodle a little bit; as a participant in a few KnowWeeks courses, and I was part of an Open School BC pilot project delivering Science 10 through Moodle. My district is hosting Moodle in house (as part of the one to one tablet laptop program, I believe), but to access Moodle students have to get onto the district server using Citrix and then log onto Moodle. Citrix can be a little slow and has a nasty habit of kicking you off. I looked into a Moodle hosting service and they seem to fall into two groups--the "it's too good to be true" $5 per month options and the "wow, that's a lot of clams for a small school" $5000+ per year options.

WebCT Students' Lounge

Photo by imedagoze
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License

An idea that my colleague suggested is setting up a "Students' Lounge" in WebCT, in which all students would be registered. Announcements and batch e-mails could be easily handled here. In addition, almost all students should already be signing into WebCT every day. I have to find out if there would be any costs to setting up this 'course' and enrolling all our students.

Where It's At

Right now, barring cost, the best option would appear to be setting up a Students' Lounge in WebCT. I'll also investigate to see if the district could be convinced to make Moodle available out of house (is that the opposite of in house?)

How Do You Do It?

If you don't see your students face to face on a regular basis, how do you ensure that communication is effective and efficient? Are there other tools out there that I should be investigating?  As always, thanks for taking the time to read this!


  1. Are we talking about communicating (mostly two-way) or broadcasting (mostly one-way)? Could you ask them how they want to be communicated with? They might mostly be on one of the IM networks, but I'm not sure they want to mix school and non-school stuff in those spaces. I'm surprised most of the kids wouldn't have an e-mail address -- couldn't you make that a requirement of a distance course?

    It's too bad communicating within WebCT is so difficult -- when I was taking M.Ed courses, the real communication tended to take place outside of WebCT. I'd think that a simple course blog (like on edublogs or Blogger) might be the easiest solution of all.

  2. I also use a virtual Classroom (Elluminate) so that my students the opportunity to talk to the other students, interact more and interact with me. I run the sessions fortnightly on a Monday night (as they are adults).

  3. @Jeremy, good question regarding communication. I'm really talking about one-way communication. Right now I do communicate (two-way) with students by phone, telephone, e-mail, face-to-face... whatever works for the student. The challenge is when I want to send out information to, say, all my grade 8 students. Right now, not all of them have their own e-mail, and in some cases the family does not have an e-mail account that they regularly access.

    @Sue, I use Elluminate once a week with my students and I record the sessions and post them for students to review. However, attendance for Elluminate sessions is spotty and right now I have no way of knowing who is accessing the recordings. Elluminate definitely help me to stay connected with my students.

  4. How about ? Social Netorking would appeal to the students I'm sure and in it you could communicate with each other in a way they are used to.
    We are using one at Uni to create CIGs (Common Interest Groups)

  5. Elaine, thanks for the suggestion! I'd never thought of Ning. We'd been pursuing the Student Lounge idea in Web CT, but found out today we are low on 'seats' so it may not fly. Ning's got definite possibilities--thanks again!

  6. [...] communication with students:  I’ve written about the communication aspect before in this post.  This year many of the courses I was responsible for were paper based which meant that my [...]


Thanks for leaving a comment on my blog! Any spam comments will be deleted.