Blackboard and Edline combined – make the Grade!

Schools are embracing web-based tools to let students and parents keep in touch–and stay on top of grades.

Last night was back-to-school night for my teenage son’s high school.  Among the many things that were on teachers’ minds was one big one—this year, they will be posting all of their grades online for the first time.

My son’s school has just started using Edline, a website that allows schools to share information about classwork with students and parents, and lets parents check up on how their children are doing in school.  Edline is just one of a number of web-based services that schools are turning to to improve teacher-parent communication and help students keep track of assignments.

Another web-based service, Blackboard, is widely in use by school districts, universities and technical education companies as a way to bring the classroom experience online.  Like Edline, Blackboard can also be used by parents to keep track of what’s going on in the school and the classroom.

Depending on how well teachers embrace the technology, Blackboard and Edline can do a lot more than help parents keep track of whether their kids are turning in homework. They can be used as a collaboration tool with students, providing everything from lecture notes to podcasts—audio recordings of lectures and discussions that kids can download to their music player.

One teacher told me that podcasts have actually been popular with students.  “Kids don’t talk on the bus anymore like they did when we were kids—they put their headphones in and tune out,” he said.  And with some bus rides to school being as long as an hour, that’s prime time to refresh the brain before a test.

Some teachers are slow to fully use the technology, simply because of how much additional work it puts on their shoulders.And it’s no small amount of work, especially for teachers who have built up their lesson plans and grading systems on paper.  My son’s school has mandated that teachers will update grades on Edline every two weeks—because the site is still separate from the school’s own grading system.

The systems also have a little bit of a learning curve for parents as well. Schools issue an activation code to parents, which they then use to go online and create an account, with another password (good reason to use a password tool like the LastPass plugin that Charlie White recently wrote about).

On the plus side, they can make it a lot easier for parents and teachers to stay in touch. Edline, for example, can direct messages to teachers’ and parents’ email addresses, so that they don’t have to constantly check the site for correspondence.  It also means that parents don’t have to keep and update an address book with the email addresses for each of their kids’ teachers every semester.

So, if your school is using a system like Edline or Blackboard, don’t shy away from it.  It can certainly give you more ammunition at dinnertime when you ask about how your kid’s day was at school.

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