Our readers’ top ed-tech picks for 2012

My Big Campus (Lightspeed Systems)

My Big Campus offers a safe, monitored environment for students to blog, hold discussions, and collaborate on group projects online. A standalone version is available for individual teachers or professional networks, while a district-wide version integrates with Lightspeed’s Web Filter to offer cross-district sharing of resources and additional management and reporting features.

“My Big Campus condenses the digital world into a one-stop shop for the teacher,” said Page Kessler, instructional technology teacher for Indian Trail High School in Wisconsin. “The teacher can maintain blogs, wikis, assignments, correspondence, and instructional tools—all from one [secure] space they have developed in My Big Campus. We cannot say enough good things about this product.”

NetSupport School (NetSupport Inc.)

NetSupport School is a classroom-management solution for Windows machines that gives teachers the ability to instruct, monitor, and interact with their students either individually, as a pre-defined group, or as an entire class. It includes PC monitoring, real-time presentation and annotation tools, a customized testing suite, internet and application control, real-time audio monitoring, desktop security, and print management capabilities. (A corresponding program, NetSupport Assist, can do the same for Mac and Linux-based devices.)

“I’ve been using this product for five years, and I still think it is the best tool in a computer lab situation that money can buy,” said Tim Craig, computer applications teacher for the School District of Manatee County in Florida. “It allows the teacher full control of the student computers in the lab, as if the teacher were sitting at the computer. The capabilities are almost endless as to what can be done.”

Pixton Comics

Pixton gives users the ability to create professional-looking comics, regardless of their artistic ability. From fully posable characters to dynamic panels, props, and speech bubbles, every aspect of a comic can be controlled in an intuitive, click-and-drag motion—and teachers are using this resource to engage their students in several ways.

“I use this product with my middle school students to aid in literacy and subject comprehension,” said Jennifer Fenner, a history and geography teacher at Harbor Day School in California. “I reinforce the concepts with projects like comic books and posters we produce on Pixton.com. The work looks professional, and all children can produce a top-quality product they are proud of. When students use this product, they are engaged—they will actually work on [a project] at home when not required. The technology does not require special training, students pick it up quickly, and if they have a question the tutorial videos are accessible and easy to view. As a teacher, I can easily grade the projects online, and we can share and view them with the class.” She concluded: “Students are learning and are excited to learn. … Great product!”

PTC Wizard (Computer Creation Systems)

PTC Wizard aims to simplify the scheduling of parent-teacher conferences with an easy-to-use online interface. Teachers or administrators can set conference dates and times, specify schedules and locations, and block out specified time slots. From there, they no longer need to be directly involved in scheduling meetings, as parents can choose the times that are most convenient for them.

“Before using this product, we scheduled parents for conferences by manual labor, and by the time the schedule got to the parent, often [the parent’s availability had] changed,” said Lana Geselbracht, engaged learning coordinator for Illinois’ Oak Park and River Forest High School. “Now, parents can choose times that are convenient for them with this intuitive, online program. The teachers can see who is signing up … and can contact parents they really wish to see who haven’t signed up yet. Those who administer the program can set up break times for teachers [and] help those who don’t have internet access. The statistics report is also helpful in informing administrators of signup progress or final tallies of those signed up. We have been using this product for our 3,000 students’ parents at our high school since 2007, and it gets better every year.”

Raptivity (Harbinger Knowledge Products)

Raptivity, an online “interactivity builder,” enables users to easily create activities such as learning games, branching simulations, brainteasers, interactive diagrams, and virtual worlds. Users can embed these interactions in their online courses to improve student engagement and retention.

“Raptivity Packs have been a tremendous help in the development of an eLearning resource to supplement math instruction for fourth graders in our district,” said Doug Bennett, director of instruction for Whitley County Schools in Kentucky. “The Raptivity Packs are by far the most user-friendly and engaging interactive eLearning programs on the market. Moreover, the Raptivity Packs have helped ensure I will meet my ‘go live’ date for the program.” He added that the company’s tech support team “has proven to be very responsive, timely, and effective in answering questions and providing great support. The technicians seem to thoroughly understand their product.”

eSchool News Staff

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