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April 22-25, 2003, Santa Clara -Explore. Invent. Connect.


We're All in this Together, Kid: Social Software in School Reform
Tom Hoffman, SchoolTool

Track: Social Software
Date: Thursday, April 24
Time: 5:15pm - 6:00pm
Location: Stevens Creek

Successfully implementing progressive school reforms is an infamously difficult task. Traditional American high schools are atomically organized to minimize interdependence between different classes and exchange flexibility for predictability.

Progressively structured schools seek to make student inquiry the center of their work, often through interdisciplinary projects tailored to individual student needs. This is a riskier process, requiring a high level of coordination between teachers, students, administrators, and parents.

Typically, progressive schools have employed loose or open-ended forms of evaluation, such as pass/fail or narrative assessment. Today, however, public schools and their students are being held accountable for achievement of standards, often simply measured through high-stakes testing.

To apply a standards-based approach in a progressive environment, teachers, students, and parents all have to be taught what the standards are, what work that meets the standards looks like, and understand where a student's work falls on the standards rubric. Teachers need forums to share student work and safely discuss it in relation to the standards. Longitudinal and developmental records need to be maintained for each student and made available to teachers, students, and parents. In short, schools today have a big need for a new generation of collaboration and content management tools.

In the past year and a half, Feinstein High School, a small urban public school in Providence, RI, has experimented with a variety of existing "social software" applications to facilitate communication within the faculty, as well as developing a number of Zope applications to address more complex evaluation needs. Chandler may be an exciting complementary platform. Feinstein has also become a key site for a new project funded by the MacArthur and Hewlett Foundations to develop a new information infrastructure for schools.

Hoffman?s talk explores the context of content management and collaboration in schools, outlines Feinstein's inspirations, successes, and failures thus far, and discusses strategies for moving development of open source solutions forward in collaboration with universities, foundations, and hackers.

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