Our readers’ top ed-tech picks for 2012

Higher-education winners

2tor Inc.

2tor supplies universities with the tools, expertise, and capital needed to operate successful online-learning programs. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School is one of many institutions that have partnered with 2tor to create an online MBA program.

“2tor developed a virtual campus using a state-of-the-art learning management platform that allows students around the country to learn from UNC Kenan-Flagler faculty in synchronous and asynchronous modules. Social features are built into the platform to encourage interaction and virtual networking,” said Allison Adams, media relations director for the program.

“Through our partnership with 2tor, we’ve extended the reach of our residential MBA program beyond Chapel Hill around the U.S., and we plan to extend it around the world.  We are beginning to see great progress … and are gratified by the overwhelmingly positive responses from our students in the program. 2tor has been critical in our success.”

Avaya web.alive (Avaya Inc.)

This feature-rich web conferencing software is delivered as an online service, so there is no need to worry about software patching. Schools can sign up in minutes and be meeting online the same day. And web.alive’s 3D graphics provide a real sense of presence that engages participants.

“Web.alive is a virtual space that we are in the early stages of adopting as a collaborative learning opportunity on our campus,” said Terri Johnson, director of Carroll University’s for Educational Technology & Innovation. “Virtual environments seem to come and go, but there are three things that really make web.alive stand out: (1) the easy use for both students and faculty; (2) rich and robust analytics; and (3) excellent support staff at Avaya. They have been willing to take our suggestions, and their speedy and attentive response is just outstanding.”

Johnson added: “Web.alive can allow instructors and students to do just about everything they can do in a typical face-to-face classroom. … I cannot recommend this product enough.”

Canvas (Instructure Inc.)

Canvas is a simple but powerful learning management system that is offered as either an open-source version that schools manage themselves or a cloud-based model hosted by the company. Instructure plans to release a version in early 2012 that includes predictive analytics as well: On their course roster, instructors will see green, yellow, or red dots next to students’ names, indicating how at risk they are of failing or dropping the course. Clicking on a student’s name will take instructors to a page where they can see more detailed reports based on that student’s grades, class participation, assignment completion, and outcomes (whether he or she has mastered the content).

Canvas is “enterprise quality, yet the company has released the source code to the public,” said Greg Combs, an adjunct professor at the University of Texas at Dallas. “I’m using Instructure’s free hosted service to handle my classes (one class has 300 students).  We use the discussion boards, the online quizzes, the grade book, the messaging system, assignment submissions, blogs, and various other features. I can’t get over how easy it is to use.”

Inspired Signage Xpress Player (AMX)

Inspired XPress is a digital signage solution for organizations that want to manage all aspects of their digital signage, including content creation. It features a simple, intuitive software interface that allows users to create templates and content, then publish this content to players that are small enough to mount behind any display.

“The Inspired Signage XPress Player has allowed us to send digital content to display monitors around the campus,” said Casey Foulds, instructional operations system administrator for Texas Woman’s University. “For example, during summer orientation, we contour the messages for the incoming students, but during the fall semester, we update the information to keep our current students aware of missions, deadlines, hours of operations, and campus news.”

The video tutorials that AMX provides on its website “made the management of this player efficient and easy,” Foulds added. “Whether they are waiting for an elevator or collaborating with classmates, the Inspired Signage XPress Player allows us to communicate with our students minute by minute.”

isaac (Enterasys Networks)

Enterasys describes isaac, short for Intelligent Socially Aware Automated Communications, as “the industry’s first social media interface that connects your IT network with your social network.” It’s perhaps best explained by one of its users, who calls it the “best use of innovative technology in higher ed that I have seen in years.”

“It’s noon and our technician is enjoying lunch with a vendor,” writes Phil Komarny, vice president of information technology and CIO at Seton Hill University. “An alarm sounds on the network management console; a wireless access point is dropping connections. The ringing phones match the alarm on the management console, as end users start reporting connectivity issues. One user is a vice president preparing for a meeting.

“In a traditional model, our Solutions Center staffer would text one of our network admins … and generally lunch is forgotten, as our technician will spend the rest of his time trying to create a VPN connection back to the office or head back to troubleshoot this issue from his desk.

“With Isaac, we have a new workflow. It is still noon, and the technician is enjoying lunch with a vendor. His iPhone beeps, and he sees a post to the Network Ops Twitter Account from isaac; a wireless access point has failed. The next tweet is from a Solutions Center technician—a vice president is having issues connecting and needs network access ASAP. He sends a Tweet to isaac “#find Johnson,” the name of the vice president. A moment [later] and isaac has located the vice president—and he happens to be in the same area as the failed access point. Another tweet, “#rebootAP,” to isaac and the wireless access point is rebooted. The Solutions Center posts that the vice president now is on the network—confirmed by a follow-up message on Twitter. Lunch is saved in a matter of moments.”

eSchool News Staff

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