The Centricity platform lets teachers become more engaged with students.

The Centricity platform lets teachers become more engaged with students.

As the technology requirements of teachers, staff, and students at Glassboro Public Schools evolve, we often find the answers to our needs in our existing Schoolwires Centricity web site and community management platform. Almost any application you can think of–from easy web site creation to podcasting and calendars–is built into the platform. And if an application is not yet available, it is likely that Schoolwires has it scheduled for a future release. Schoolwires solutions are always evolving with us as our district’s needs change; helping us to tackle our next challenge.

Our district implemented Centricity in 2005 in support of a larger initiative to integrate technology into teaching and learning. At the same time, we issued laptops to all our teachers and installed two computers in every classroom.

Right away, the Schoolwires platform provided our teachers with the tools they needed to start engaging our students more. Because of the efforts of our IT department and the fact that Schoolwires is so easy to use, we’ve seen a huge acceptance of technology in the past two years. Our teachers have gone from asking, “Why did you give me this laptop?” to saying, “Don’t take it away from me,” when we need to perform maintenance on the laptops. Today, our teachers and administrators are looking at technology as a way of reaching out to kids and getting them involved in learning in a different way.  It’s been really neat to watch the growing adoption of the technology.

The two main reasons for Centricity tools’ widespread implementation and success are its ease of use and its grassroots adoption, which often go hand in hand. For example, our high school history teacher turned in her laptop halfway through the first year that she received it. She said she didn’t see how it could be useful to her and she didn’t want responsibility for it. Then the district implemented Centricity and offered classes to teachers in the summer to train them on how to build teacher web sites and incorporate interactive functions like podcasting and blogging.

After the history teacher heard the excitement of other teachers and saw how they were using the applications to engage their students more, she asked for her laptop back. Now she is integrating visuals and sounds into her web site and is experimenting with blogging and podcasting. At first, she absolutely did not want to have anything to do with technology, but now she is a teacher who has really gotten into it and keeps the content on her web site fresh. So the ease of use, along with the excitement of students and teachers who are using the tools, continues to pull everyone along.

Within the Centricity platform, teachers can easily build their own web sites using tools that look and feel like Microsoft Word and eMail. Once they have established their web sites, they can easily integrate other tools like podcasts, blogs, photos galleries, and more. Students visit the teacher web sites over and over to view their homework assignments, find learning resources, and engage with their teachers and other students. More technologically-sophisticated teachers can make use of powerful capabilities like HTML source editing, JavaScript and Flash support, and even custom .asp programming integration.

Today, most of our teachers are using the Centricity platform to engage their students more during the school day and to extend learning after school hours. For example, many teachers are using blogs for writing assignments. This is occurring not only in English classes, but also in math, science, and other courses. Teachers find that students put more effort into their writing when they know the material will be viewed by others on a blog. Some teachers are podcasting. One English teacher creates a podcast of the chapter books the class is studying.

By providing these Web 2.0 applications in a secure environment, Glassboro School District is engaging its students with the online tools that are already integral to their social lives, but is doing so in a safe environment. We don’t allow our students access to wikis, web sites, or other social networks outside of our district platform.  But by incorporating these Web 2.0 tools into teacher web pages, we are infusing technology into the classroom in a secure environment and we are engaging with the students more.

With most other systems, you have to buy separate applications like blogging and podcasting a la carte. Although many Web 2.0 tools are available as freeware, they each require individual maintenance and their lack of integration into the Schoolwires platform would make it difficult for our IT department to pull together this type of system into an integrated framework. In addition, Schoolwires continues to add functionality, such as a calendar function that can be exported into other calendars. So our users can import the district calendar into their personal calendar on their computer or cell phone. This and other functions really add to the value of the product.

Synergy and Assist

To broaden the value of our platform even more, Glassboro implemented Synergy and Assist in 2007. The integration of these two solutions into the district’s familiar Centricity platform furthers ease of use and adoption. The Synergy file sharing solution gives staff, teachers, and students the power to securely store, organize, and access digital files online at any time. Previously, we used thumb drives for our file sharing needs. Synergy is available right within the teacher web pages so it is easily accessible to users. From within their teacher’s web site, students can view homework assignments and then deliver their finished work into the secure drop box upon completion. The integration of Synergy to the Centricity platform makes it even more powerful, and the solution is very secure. We considered using an FTP site, but that would have opened a whole new set of security problems.