Back to Blogging…

It’s been a while. I’ve been reading, and writing, and listening, but not here. I’ve been watching the Elgg, working on a web site for a friend’s charter school, and Arvind and I have begun webcasting again at

But what I’ve been working hardest on is the day job. Rolling out 18 new SmartBoard rooms, 30 Tablet PCs, and a new community portal web site. We’ve really pushed the professional development model for faculty, and those Tablet PC ‘Fellows’ are really changing their teaching to create more interesting and effective classrooms. Today I met with two of our Tablet PC fellows, and in both conversations, the fellows were reflecting on their learning, and thus reflecting on the learning of their students. The conversations are so exciting. One fellow said, “I’m really excited to use the Tablet in a way that will speak to some of the students that I don’t teach to during class discussions.” That’s what it’s all about. It’s really not about the technology, but using a tool to enhancing the learning that happens in the classroom. That type of comment is what makes the past four weeks of intense work pay off. I went home with a good feeling today!

Two more things… Tomorrow at 1:00 pm EST, Arvind and I are interviewing Fred Bartels , a most inspirational educator and the creator of the School Computing Wiki. Please join us at

Lastly, tomorrow afternoon I begin working with our Math Department on Lesson Study. I am very honored and excited to be part of this group of faculty who will be observing a faculty member teach the same lesson multiple times and then work on making it better through conversation. Now that’s collaboration.

Until Next time…

10 thoughts on “Back to Blogging…

  1. Richard, We’re running a commercial product called Podium from a company called Whipplehill. Thier Pillar platform allows us to deal with much of the minutia of school life. I’m not exploring how we can plug products like Moodle, Elgg, and Drupal into their interface.

    Arvind and I will definitely be discussing these options on our webcast this year.

  2. Richare, yes, Whipplehill’s solution is expensive, yet there is no specific open source comparison, and their price is a fraction of what it would cost to hire an in house programmer. I do think that Open Academic’s work towards integrating Drupal, Moodle, and Elgg is probably the place to go if you’re looking to do this on the open source side and I am following them closely. I’m experimenting in those spaces now and working with Whipplehill to let them see they can integrate with those products… For now, we use some of their attendance and report card features that are part of a traditional school, and not part of those open source products. I’d love to know what you’re working with and it if deals with some of the administrative functions, but is part of the open source community.

  3. For the most part, we draw a line between community and administrative software. Open source apps lead the way for the community functions and most collaborative spaces. Commercial options are clearly best for the administrative functions. Luckily, we have enough in-house expertise to write a fair bit of code so that we can get the two sides to talk to each other as much as necessary. We can also cut back on optional modules that add to the cost of proprietary solutions. For example, at my previous school we never purchased Blackbaud Faculty Access for the Web, as I wrote an online attendance module. They need my help to keep it running in my absence (no pun intended), though.

    On the community side, we have started a new portal with Moodle and are now building some custom add-ons, while waiting for OpenAcademic to be finished. The great thing about open source is the ability to really “try before you buy.” I have just installed Elgg as an alumni web site for a school in Botswana. I’ll write about that soon, especially if it goes well! Thanks for the responses.

  4. Hi Alex,

    I’m on the board of a small independent school that’s looking to redo/replace its current website and love the clean look of WhippleHill’s sites. We currently use SiteSage as our CMS, and I find it to be inflexible and incredibly hard to use. Does your staff find Podium easy to use for updating the site? Also, do you know what the minimum budget is to get involved with them….we’re a small school with a limited budget. Feel free to respond privately if you prefer. Thanks!

    Rick Mosenkis
    Delaware Valley Friends School Board of Directors

  5. Hi Rick,

    Thanks for your comment. Whipplehill has great designers and their back end is mostly easy to use. Sometimes, they have too many clicks, but they are constantly improving. I find their vision for school communications is right on as well.

    You can also look at the other commercial web site vendors out there. Finalsite and Silverpoint are a couple.

    If you are looking for a budget web site though, I would also check out some of the open source content management systems out there. Drupal ( is a great platform. Bill Fitzgerald is a independent school guy who works with Drupal a lot. You can find him at Joomla ( is another open source alternative. I know that Art Gelwicks has implemented it at a school: There are plenty of others who can act as consultants to implement these types of systems as well.

    What is actually most important in my mind, is that the site realistically tells the story of your school. That is shows the personalities of your teachers and students. The school culture. Many of the ideas I have here come from The Cluetrain Manifesto ( Definitely check out the first chapter.

    Good luck with your web site.

    – Alex

  6. Can anyone give an example of “expensive” as it pertains to Whipple Hill’s Podium product? We too our looking to change our web presence and debating on whether it should be open source or commercial

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