Student Spaces

I think that it is getting more complicated for school districts to decide what to buy or build and what to leverage for technology learning spaces.  iStock_000002030715XSmallThe past few years have brought so many options, many for free, out on the public Internet.  Tech savvy teachers are taking their students to wiki, blog, google docs, social networking, social bookmarking, video sharing, and other spaces on the public Internet.  There are so many fantastic tools available for free.

There are some challenges though with just using what’s out there on the Internet…

  • privacy law issues, especially for Canadians, and more so for British Columbians (obligation to protect student identity)
  • multiple digital identities to create and manage (this seems to be evolving though – often a user can login with their google, twitter, or facebook account)
  • different tools have different setup and navigation details = complexity for less tech savvy teachers (kids care less about this though)
  • complexity for parents – they have to gain access to, visit, and navigate multiple disconnected places likely with their child’s or their own digital identity
  • similar complexity for school principals

Buying / building their own learning platform can be expensive for school districts.  But, the benefits can be substantial…

  • comply with privacy laws
  • single digital identity
  • access / permissions based on secured student information for students, teachers, principals, and parents – a safe and secure space
  • consistent place or space for all making it more accessible to the less tech savvy – more efficient professional development is also possible – a base level for all to jump off from

iStock_000006664728XSmallI think the ideal system consists of both and not either or.  All students and teachers should have their own secure spaces that are interconnected automatically based on student – teacher relationships.  These spaces should support the general needs for teaching and learning such as…

  • document sharing and co-editing
  • blogging
  • wiki page editing
  • online discussions
  • content tagging,
  • auto quizzing
  • video and audio (pod cast) sharing

Internal spaces provide a safe haven for learning.  Some topics are more sensitive than others.  For example we’ve had high school girls health classes have online discussions in their virtual classroom about sensitive topics like sex, emotions, etc. – topics that probably shouldn’t be discussed openly on a public (even if secured) wiki, twitter, or Face Book.  With a safe and secure portal, teachers and students have options for working together more privately when they need or choose to.

From here, teachers or students (as they mature) could choose to also use and embed external tools where appropriate. flickr - langwitches - digital portfolio - 4859583721 I think that as students progress to high school, more of the tools they use to host their learning should be external.  That way they have a portfolio of their learning, a show case of who they are, to use to support their post-K12 life.

Ideally, there would be a mechanism to connect a student’s or teacher’s external content and interactions back to their internal secure space.  Perhaps to start with it’s as simple as embedding RSS feeds for their Google Reader and bookmarking tool.  This could provide a comprehensive view for teachers, principals, parents, and the students of the learning and teaching, in one space.  With some development, maybe there could be a page where students and teachers register external tools such as their blog, wiki, bookmarker, twitter, etc. with the portal and the aggregation of content happens automatically.  This mechanism would in essence glue the public Internet learning and teaching to the school district secure spaces.  Perhaps the internal secure space becomes the new “report card” that parents and their kids refer to to monitor progress.

Or perhaps the external and internal spaces will meld with something like SOCRAIT (published in Jan-Feb 2011 edition of The Futurist).  The author describes a really interesting learning platform that if developed, could fit nicely in to the environment I’ve described here.  SOCRAIT is a powerful idea for personalized learning.  I encourage you to take a few moments to read about it.

In our school district, we have the beginnings of some of what I describe in our my43 learning and work portal but we have a long ways to go.  For instance we don’t yet offer student spaces – our portal is very teacher and school centric.  I am specifically interested in what a student space should look like and include.  We, with Surrey and Victoria School Districts, am working loosely with Gary Kern of West Vancouver School District to conceive of a design for this.

I am interested in what others think of the idea of a safe and secure internal space connected to external tools and content.  I’ll leave you with some questions to ponder and respond to…

  • What features and capabilities do you think a Student learning Space should include?
  • Should students be able to customize their space?  If yes, what aspects (color, layout, background, RSS feeds, edit permissions, etc.)?
  • Should students be able to create blogs, wikis, discussion boards, document sharing libraries, etc. on their own?
  • What default sharing settings should be set for student spaces (class, school, level, District, other)?
  • Should students be able to share their content (blog, wiki, discussion board, documents, etc.) publicly outside the District?
  • Do you think an internal safe and secure portal is important for K12 education?  Why or why not?
  • What tools do you use to support similar learning and teaching activities?  Why?

Light bulbNotes from consulting with our Student Leadership Council (~50 grade 6-12) and the Riverside Secondary digital immersion grade 9 students are now available here.

Thanks for your help!


  1. Brian,

    The term "portal" just throws me off. I understand what you are doing, but from my limited experience with them, the amount of student development that has happened on portals is limited. My thought of a student going home and saying, "I am going to go check out the portal!", just doesn't seem realistic. I really believe that it is important to leverage a lot of the things that are out there already to go to the student, instead of making them continuously come to us. That being said, I do not know enough about BC laws that may prevent you from doing some things. I just hope that whatever you do, you have the vision to later have it opened so that students can connect outside of their school and district. You definitely need to put the students in safe situations, but if it is really limited, is it worth all of the extra work that you will embark on?

    We have started a WordPress MU site that has a lot of functionality but has different levels of security. Eventually we want students able to connect outside of our school and that is the vision, but we have started by allowing students to have their own spaces that they can create and develop their own work. It is all tied to

    Here are my responses to your questions:

    * What features and capabilities do you think a Student learning Space should include?

    It should be something that they feel comfortable with. Are you aiming for students to create their own personal learning network? If you are deciding how it should be done, is it really personal?

    * Should students be able to customize their space? If yes, what aspects (color, layout, background, RSS feeds, edit permissions, etc.)?

    If you are making their learning space, should they not be able to determine what it looks like?

    * Should students be able to create blogs, wikis, discussion boards, document sharing libraries, etc. on their own?
    * What default sharing settings should be set for student spaces (class, school, level, District, other)?

    Why not start with school? This is a great way for them to learn outside of their classroom and get their license. Just have the vision to go beyond that.
    * Should students be able to share their content (blog, wiki, discussion board, documents, etc.) publicly outside the District?

    Yes...they already know how to connect to their "buddies". They need to learn how to connect to a global audience in a safe and secure way.
    * Do you think an internal safe and secure portal is important for K12 education? Why or why not?

    I honestly do not think it is needed. There is so much out there that is free and the real world is not "closed". When we close things we are not preparing our students for the realities of the world. How do your early years prepare students for using the Internet properly? Education and information is the way, not shutting everything down.
    * What tools do you use to support similar learning and teaching activities? Why?

    I think it is important we start students off in a direction, but ultimately we should not be choosing their path. I understand that laws may be holding you back, but is there a better way that is not conflicting?

  2. George: we created a portal (began 2007) to support a variety of learning, work, and sharing for employees, departments, schools, teacher-centric virtual classrooms. Within the virtual classrooms students work on mostly teacher assignments but in collaborative ways with each through discussion boards, wikis, and blogs.

    We also have quite a number of teachers who take their students out to external places to create and share through wikis, blogs, google docs, etc. We do support and encourage both for similar reasons to those you've shared. I would say though that most of the online learning is teacher directed still, regardless of where it takes place.

    I like how you said "if you are deciding how it should be done, is it really personal". Great point. I wonder though about this being a matter of degree that changes with the maturity of the students and/or comfort of their teachers? But I agree students need to make their space their own and that should include as much flexibility to "paint it" the way they want as much as the tools allow and open it up in safe ways.

    Starting with school level sharing makes sense - it's contained and a safe way to experiment - good suggestion.

    It's interesting that you don't think an internal portal or space is needed. Shouldn't there be degrees of freedom so to speak that are age appropriate? Also, we have found that there's a lot of degrees of comfort amongst teachers and parents with open versus more secure spaces for kids. Should there be a gradual shift from mostly closed (at K) to mostly open (at grade 12)? Regardless of the privacy laws, don't schools and districts have an obligation to be protective?

    Hey, thanks for pushing my thinking and for taking the time to respond so thoroughly - much appreciated. It is part of a greater conversation we're having about digital rights and responsibilities, privacy, openness, etc. Somewhat of a tricky conversation in BC...

  3. I am an elementary teacher in SD 43 that loves learning about all the fantastic sites that increase student motivation and learning like glogster, animoto, voicethread. At my current school I would say that I am the only teacher using these tools. I love the idea that students would have their own sites in the future. However what responsibility would the classroom teacher have in monitoring these websites? If they are not comfortable in having their own classroom website then they definately will not be willing to spend time in looking at student websites. In the elementary setting I would say that most teachers are not using these tools. Therefore a concentrated training effort should be put forth to increase their knowledge in this area. Perhaps student sites would be given via the teacher so this may not be a great concern.
    Another concern I have is the amount of material on the school district site. I thought we were trying to conserve our technology use. Would this slow down the system further?

  4. -Anonymous: you raise some excellent points that we would have to consider in implementing something like this. It really does vary from school to school how many teachers use educational technology and to what depth or extent. We've made some pretty good progress overall though.

    Responsibilities for monitoring would have to be worked out and I think with teachers involved we could develop some practical ideas. Certainly more prod-d, staff dev, is needed to help teachers become more comfortable with these new tools.

    I think also at the elementary level there would need to be more teacher involvement in when, how students would be given "student space" and as they get into higher grades, perhaps more student choice. Again, we would need to have these conversations with teachers, principals, and students to figure out how to best implement this.

    As to material on the District site - yes, we are trying to "go on a network diet" but we are also working to provide more space and capacity. So the diet is just good practice but we expect educational use to increase over time as well to make sure the system keeps up and meets the needs.

    Thanks very much for your input - great questions that we'll have to get folks together on.

  5. Hopefully adding clarity to this, the idea is to design / create a space that provides students with a secure space, an online portfolio:
    * For their own web presence / site within my43 – students can customize the look, add web parts / tools, etc.
    * For class announcements
    * To organize their online contacts
    * To work on / upload / track / organize assignments (documents)
    * To create/use wikis to collaborate with other students, teachers
    * To blog securely, possibly with ability to have the blog accessible publicly to the Internet
    * To bring together (aggregate) into one place all other online learning the student may have out on the public Internet
    * To create online discussion boards and invite other students, teachers to participate
    * To create online surveys to gather input from other students, teachers
    * Where teachers, the principal, and eventually the student’s parents can go to and see / participate in the students learning activities
    * For teachers to evaluate and assess a student’s learning

  6. *5 features this should have would be: Should be able to upload, embed videos and slideshows for presentations, live chat and email, should have multiple pages for different projects or different courses,include automatic save every few minutes, and follow people.

    *Customize: We should be able to change the backgrounds and have the ability to move content around, different fonts for titles and paragraphs, be able to place photos wherever, and be able to link words to other pages and websites.

    * The only issue might be that if we all accessed the server that the system and internet will slowdown and glitches might occur.

    *This would help complete assignments and allow students the creativity they need.

    *, Wikispaces, Glogster, Google, and Yoututbe.

    Digital Immersion

  7. 1) In this place, we can have a discussion board so we can ask for help when we need it. Students/parents/teachers can help you, its open to anybody.
    2) Each students spaces can have their own homepage, which they can customize their color, layout, font and background.
    3) I have a privacy issue because I don't want other students to see my work, while I don't mind parents/teachers seeing my work.
    4) We could choose our own sites so it can be fun not boring.
    5)I) wikispaces-it can be used as a collaboration websites where all members in your group can come to one place and keep all work organized.
    II) Office Live- online version of microsoft office.
    III) Prezi- online presentation, slide show application. You can have members of your group come and edit the prezi.
    IV) Blogger- you can display all your work, easily, letting your parents easily look at your work.
    V) Google- is a search engine with lots of tools you can use.

  8. 1. If I had a space the features and capabilities it should have access to WikiSpaces because you can work together at the same time as a partner, Twitter - Faster than using email, and a place where everyone can access, To embed videos and post links - because it enhances education through different strategies.

    2. I would like to customize backgrounds, so that it is styled to your own taste, while intriguing viewers. your profile picture, customizing your pages. replying to peoples comments.

    3. concerns and issues I have are some students might vandalize other students work if they dont know the boundaries of how to use technology.

    4. This would definitely help complete work better because you have more freedom, all carried in one device, not limited to the way you can learn/ do your work.

    5. Our top 5 external internet site are:
    1. Twitter
    2. YouTube
    3. Wikis
    4. Google
    5. blogs

  9. If we have a Student Space there should be a instant chat-box with everyone in the classroom already added and a forum with discussions where you can ask the teacher questions

    We would like customize the colour, organization and the ability to arrange objects around as well as file management similar as on the computer.

    Concern and issue we would have is the difficulty to reach the website,
    instead of always first going into Intranet to would be much easier to have a simplified URL

    Having a individual space will benefits students greatly in our opinion, since everyone is automatically connect with each other.

    Our top 5 external internet sites we used that help us with our school work are Wikispaces, Twitter, Blogger, Wordpress, and Glogster.

  10. 1. If we had our own spaces we should have customize and personalize your spaces
    It should allow you to put in wiki’s , blogs, tweets, RSS feeds, YouTube videos, and glogs
    2. The background, the fonts and letter colors,

    3. Other parents and people can see and maybe copy our work and us it as their own work,

    4. This would help me because instead of drawing or writing I can type, you also can’t forget your homework, and you can hand in homework early without having to worry about the teacher losing your homework
    5. What are your top 5 websites

    1. Wolfram alpha-it lets you search anything and will give multiple results based on how many answers there can be.
    2. Wiki Spaces- wiki spaces is organized and easy to use, it lets you to cooperative project with friends without having to use two different pages
    3. YouTube- YouTube lets you watch videos posted by other users

  11. Here are our responses to the questions:
    1. We think that the features and capabilities for a Student Learning Space should include organization, the ability to personalize it, and have forum-type discussions. Maybe a chatroom of some sort.
    We should also be able to have a "Message Teacher" box that'll send a private message to our teacher.
    2. Yes, but not too much, otherwise the spaces will look like MySpace profiles!
    We should be able to change these:
    a. Color palette
    b. Font family
    c. Layout
    d. Background, but maybe from a preset set.

    Or perhaps just let us change to a preset theme, like Wikispaces does.

    3. We are concerned that parents would be able to see our work, and the fact that anything that is posted online, stays online (Much like Las Vegas)

    4. Probably, but there's always the chance of the internet being down, and not being able to hand in work!
    5. We use these websites the most:
    a. Google
    b. Wikispaces
    c. Twitter
    d. Blogger
    e. Easybib

  12. -If we had a space, the features and capabilities it should include are free writing space (like a Wiki), an area we can embed pictures and Glogs (Glogster), a secure site where not just everybody can see, and where we can have a homework section where our upcoming work can be organized (like soshiku).

    -We would like to customize backgrounds, header and footers, layouts, and fonts.

    -The concerns we have with this type of site is that everybody can be able to view it but it would be a good idea if only the owner could edit it (unlike wikispaces where everyone can edit).

    -I think that this would help because it's the websites we use, mainly in digital immersion combined into one master site.

    -Our top Five External Internet Sites are...
    1. Wikispaces; this allows us to share our work with others via an easy online writing program. The only downside is that everyone can edit our work if it is not set onto private.

    2. Twitter; on this we can communicate in ways such as tagging a tweet to #RSideDi, posting pictures(twitpic or yfrog), sharing notes (for tweets longer than 140 characters use twishort), and sharing videos.

    3. Google Wave/Gmail; to collaborate with other people. Google Wave is amazing for having group meetings in real-time. You can also video chat via Gmail to help others with homework and such.

    4. FaceBook; this can be used to share photos, videos, and other notes that others in the class may need. You can also 'Places' and that says where you are for like field trips or something like that.

    5. Engrade; we can see our grades through Engrade as well as our percent and what we scores on individual tests.

    Cassidy, Emily, and Lindsay

  13. derek, cory ,michaelJanuary 17, 2011 at 9:48 AM

    If you had a space, what features & capabilities it should have?
    I think it should be set up like Google docs, and Engrade collaborated. I like that in Engrade all your classes are very organized, and I like all the applications and uses that Google docs can be applied to.

    What would you customize?
    We don’t care much about customization, but if we were to customize anything we wold make it so we could change the theme of the page. So trusted people could comment upon our work, and give us helpful information on how we can improve.

    What concerns & issues do you have with this type of site?
    I’m am concerned about if someone looks at my work and uses it, or if someone could get onto my account and mess stuff up, like posting rude stuff then my parents would see it and so would teachers. Then they would think it was me that put it up.

    Would this help complete school assignments?
    Yes, we would way rather work on a computer because it’s easier to type things out and faster. With a laptop you can easily look up anything you need for what your working on.

    What are your top 5 external Internet sites?
    My favourite sites for school use are Wikispaces, Engrade, Google docs, Tumblr, Twitter.

  14. Riverside Students - thanks very much for adding your ideas to this. I really appreciated having time in your classroom today to talk with you about this. Your thoughts and ideas will contribute to what Student Spaces eventually becomes for you and your fellow students. Great job!


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