Technology Powered Learning Environments

imagemy43 is a virtual community that transforms the learning and work in our School District to prepare students for the future.” 

In 2004 we began a journey in my School District to define, design, and develop a learning portal.  In 2007 we launched my43!  Now this isn’t really a technology initiative, rather it is an organizational change effort that we expect will take until 2017 to really call complete.  It takes a lot of work to change an organization (people)systemically.  Anyway, my43 (a private and secure technology powered learning environment)  is a number of things:

  • District Intranet to support the business of education for staff only (includes human resources, payroll, financial functions and news, announcements, blogs, documents, presentations, contacts, information bulletins, …)
  • School Intranet for each school to collaborate with staff and students (calendars, announcements, pictures, blogs, documents, forms, …)
  • Virtual Classrooms for teachers to use with students to support student learning using class notes, blogs, wikis, discussions boards, hand-in drop boxes, calendars, announcements, etc.
  • Public web sites for the District, schools, and teachers

We are now talking about implementing a learning management system (LMS) inside my43 to support teachers in creating, assigning, and tracking class assignments.  The goal is to help share lessons, knowledge, assessments, and to make it easier to differentiate learning.  This is great but…  since we began this project, the free Internet has risen up in amazing ways.  What would be amazing is to be able to connect my43 seamlessly to our student information system (SIS) and to free Internet services like external blogs, wikis, Google Docs, twitter, Skype, etc.  Students could choose external or internal tools to complete and demonstrate their work and their work would be connected to the teacher’s my43 assignment tracker and their grade book.   We are so very far from this potential reality…

What a computer is to me is it's the most remarkable tool that we've ever come up with, and it's the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds.” - Steve Jobs

Somebody in my PLN (professional learning network) on twitter tweeted out link to a talk given by Jon Mott, VP of technology strategy for Brigham Young University.  The talk (worth 50 min. of your time) he gave recently pushes us to consider connecting open and private learning networks.  He argues that rather than looking at open OR private, consider AND and get the best of both worlds.  Perhaps a little optimistic at this juncture but worth pursuing…
Jon quotes from the online version of Cluetrain and morphs it into a learning context (on the right):

Online Markets...

Networked markets are beginning to self-organize faster than the companies that have traditionally served them. Thanks to the web, markets are becoming better informed, smarter, and more demanding of qualities missing from most business organizations.

Online Markets...

Networked learners are beginning to self-organize faster than the schools that have traditionally served them. Thanks to the web, learners are becoming better informed, smarter, and more demanding of qualities missing from most educational institutions.

I think this is an important development – learners taking charge of their own learning.  Although Jon’s context is in the higher education space, I wonder how the ideas map to K12.  The gist as I understand the thinking is that students would use (free) tools at their disposal on the Internet and the institution (school or District) would have a portal system that can connect with and aggregate content from free Internet tools.  For example a writing assignment might be done in Google Docs or a blog post and the teacher’s portal would reflect live updates from the student’s writing much like an RSS feed might work.  You might say that this is possible today – it is, but it’s complicated to administer.  What’s needed is a really simple interface for teachers to easily receive connections to work that students refer to them.  Assessment of student work would need to occur securely inside the portal and be easily accessible to students and their parents.  And all of it needs to work with a single login ID common to all services!  For us, we need my43 to be able to do this.

YOUR ORGANIZATION IS BECOMING HYPERLINKED.  Whether you like it or not.  It’s bottom-up; it’s unstoppable. – the cluetrain manifesto, p. 127.

The key contrast I see between a school or District owned portal (content / learning management system) and a system on the Internet includes:

  • ownership (student vs. organization or teacher)
  • privacy and security
  • flexibility and speed of change
Inside a District portal, the content is often locked into a teacher’s classroom / course (as it is for us currently with my43) and the student’s work isn’t portable, but it’s secure and private.  Outside the portal, the student is in control, owns their work, chooses tools they prefer, and can keep it as an evolving portfolio for life, moving it around as needed.  Portal systems evolve and change to accommodate new tools much more slowly than free Internet systems.  Free Internet systems (should) cause worrisome privacy and security concerns for school age children and their parents and certainly for schools and Districts.  And the complexity of this flexibility would probably overwhelm most teachers and students, especially for the younger grades.

I think this development of the secure portal connected seamlessly to the free Internet will be worth watching and experimenting with.  I know that in our District our learning portal, my43, is not the only learning space teachers take students to.  They are embracing external blog and wiki services, twitter, and other tools AND my43.  The challenge is that this outside learning is not yet easily connected to my43.  I think the complexities and security concerns will be addressed since the technology mostly exists to make this happen.  Time will tell if there’s a sufficient interest in and for K12 organizations to pursue and build it. 

Do you think there’s value in giving K12 students choice in the tools they use to demonstrate their learning?   Or should schools and Districts provide all the tools in a secure internal technology powered learning environment?  What portal system do you use and does it seamlessly connect and integrate with the outside Internet?


  1. We use Moodle to provide a place for students to have a school based social network with a lot of the features of external systems in one place. I agree that the more the internal system can take info and connect with external systems, the better.

  2. We've been using moodle for several years now. I would suggest it as you can tie into Active Directory for accounts. Makes it very simple for teachers to build courses from a simple webpage to full out LMS. Using it heavily with our DL school as well and all grade 10 and 12 students have mandatory courses with it. And it's free, which is excellent in a cash strapped IT time. The cost should be the last consideration when planning I think, but since it would pass any other test, and comes in at $0 it is a clear choice.

  3. Colin and jbell - we looked at moodle, first class, and sharepoint when we began our project and settled on sharepoint - a good fit with other tools we had and for K12 quite affordable. I'm impressed with the adoption of moodle in education though - pretty good traction. The good thing about tools and platforms is they keep improving over time.

    As to portals, LMS... the real challenge isn't often the tool, it's the people practice change. That's a lengthy journey hey.

    Thanks to you both for dropping by and sharing what you're doing for portals.


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