Building the perfect curriculum sharing tool

7 Jun 2005

Here is a list of the features I want/need in whatever curriculum sharing tool with use:

  • Web-based utilizing standards-compliant, semantic markup
  • Searchable
  • Extensive use of RSS to allow teachers to subscribe to various grade levels or subjects
  • Ability to link to state and national standards as well as whatever local standards we’d like to include
  • Comments enabled on lesson so teachers can leave additional information about how the materials worked for them or suggestions for improvements
  • Hooks to plug into whatever intranet portal technology we choose

Is that so much to ask?

This tool has to get used. Creating yet another Web site that goes unvisited is unacceptable. To that end I think it’s crucial that the system support not only browsing and searching for materials, but notifications too. We know our curriculum, we know when it’s taught, and we know who teaches it. Wouldn’t it be cool if the system could send an email like this:

Dear Tim,

You must be thinking about your upcoming unit on the water cycle 
right about now. Perhaps you'd be interested in one of the following
lesson plans that have been posted since the last time you taught
this unit.

At the end of the message would be a list of hyperlinks to complete lessons available in the system including rubrics, printable instruction sheets, and whatever else is necessary to teach the lesson. I think a system like this would get used a lot.

10 responses to Building the perfect curriculum sharing tool

  1. Sounds like you’re looking for a full blown computer programmer to create this piece of software 😛

    I’m not sure there’s anything out there that would do all of it, but I would think WordPress would come very close. You already appear to be very familiar with WordPress, but for those that aren’t, it would allow for:

    1. Multiple authors and commenting on posts
    2. Uploading of files
    3. Web-standard compliance
    4. Separate RSS Feeds depending on topic or grade level
    5. Easily searchable

    As for hooking the system into your intranet portal, they WordPress community is large enough (and benevolent enough) that I’m sure you could find someone willing to write (if it’s not already written) a plugin for you.

  2. It’d be neat to work in an rss feed of recent news for certain subjects as well, kind of a real world hook for the students and an idea boost for the teachers. When you’d get your “water cycle” notification in addition to the lesson plans you’d have some links to recent news articles on the subject.

    It’d also be nice to work the library database into it as well. Then you could see all the videos and books that might be useful.

    Finally, I’d like to see the option to incorporate student work both for examples and to enrich the content.

    All of that available and searchable will be quite a task. You might also want a ratings system for those too lazy to write real comments (kind of “on a scale of 1 to 5).

    You are right in saying the key is usage. There is no point in creating another dead content dump that no one uses. There are plenty of those around. The key may be interaction. The ability to create a “homepage” for the teacher to sort and organize what they like (kind of like bloglines) and for other teachers to be able to see what each other is “subscribed” to.

    There is certainly a lot to think about.

  3. Interaction is definitely one way (in many ways the best) to encourage users to share and use the resources available, as Tom said. Quite often I’m discouraged by sites which have message boards or repositories that simply lay the content out with no way to customize what I receive and how I get it.

    A Bloglines like subscription is a way to help, but if you’re interested in finding ways for users to share their thoughts quickly (a big plus for many teachers) you might consider a chat box, or something of that nature. A place where people could quickly post a short thought or discovery and have it immediately viewable by the entire community. That could easily tie into the ratings system, and give people that aren’t too lazy, but don’t have much time, to give their input.

    I forgot to mention it, but it would be possible to use a plugin for WordPress to notify people in a particular usergroup that something of interest to them has just been posted, or as you suggested, the system would be pre-programmed to send out content appropriate e-mails to certain usergroups.

  4. Good point about the chat box. I was a little harsh and negative with the lazness comment. Sorry about that.

    I thought a text chat option would be interesting. I think eDonkey or LimeWire had something like that based on IP addresses and files that were being shared. You see a teacher (either as a creator or holder) of things you like and you could contact them. That way you could create a friends network of people for chats about interesting topics. It might not be worth the trouble to integrate with the other options available but keeping things within the program without the hassle of registering for additional names etc. might make it worth it especially for the less tech savy teachers.

  5. Hehe, I just realized that we’ve already formed a small community (much like the one Tim is describing) in just a few hours this morning. I’ve been posting comments here in response to what you’ve written Tim. And unless my deductive reasoning is off, you’ve signed up for my new community at the Tech Savvy Educator. I’ve been reading your blog in between classes this morning, and thinking about ways to improve my own site because of the discussions we’ve had here, and the thoughts both of you have written.

    Man, I can’t wait to see what happens once the site gets really going, especially if we can create this is just a matter of minutes. Actually, that’s what’s ultimately going to make any endeavour to catalog, gather, or share resources like the one you’re describing succeed, Tim. The human factor is the biggest part, and without people willing to put in the effort most web pages do turn into the unvisited repositories. I suggest the “finding of champions” be added to your list of must have features. Without a good solid core, it’s hard to get anything off the ground on your own.

  6. It just occured to me that Moodle might be exactly what you’re looking for Tim. Have you ever had the chance to use it before?

  7. Oh, we Moodle all right. See

    Moodle certainly seems to have elements of what’s described here, but I think it has some limitations that would make it less than ideal. At the very least we would have to do some hacking to enable the notifications and searching. I still suspect that a more specialized tool, whatever that would look like, would be better.

    I love the idea of pulling in content specific RSS feeds. That would be a great resource. I wonder if PubSub or any other tool like it will get good enough that it can reliably filter for good content on a particular topic. (Side note: I’ve got a PubSub search currently for “Lance Armstrong” and “Tour de France.” It’s not bad, but I get a ton of identical hits with it. That’s a bit annoying.)

    I highlighted GEM in my first post on the subject of curriculum repositories back in March and still like the model. It uses RDF for the metadata and provides a front end that accomplishes a lot of what I’m looking for. Since we’re leaning toward Plone for our school intranet it would make sense to use that technology. I’ve contacted someone at the GEM site to find out more. I’ll post about that soon.

  8. attended a confrence on higer ed open source tools. sakai looks reallly cool. also interops with moodle.

  9. I agree with Ben: it seems like WordPress would do much of what you want, given a few modifications.

    I’m thinking of a side project that needs to have similarly metataged RSS feeds so that folks interested in a particular subject area can subscribe to that feed and, as it is placed on the site, new content is delivered directly to the user.

    Everytime I slave over a lesson, it seems crazy for me to keep it all to myself, only to have some other teacher out there somewhere have to slave over an identical idea. Also, with sharing lessons and activities, the product is improved with the more people that see it and contribute ideas.

    This topic came up elsewhere, too. Maybe we can all bang our heads together to get *something* going, then work to improve it later. I’m up for the task; you have my email, now.

  10. Andrea Pokrzywinski 16 Jun 2005 at 8:23 am

    Hi Tim and All,

    We are looking for a tool like this too. Have you ever seen Barbara Bray’s My-ecoach site. ( She has an awesome start on building a commons that will do what everyone is talking about. She has a programmer building her program in php. She is working with David Warlick to build in a curriculum mapping component and an assessment builder. It’s very cool! BUT it’s commercial with an annual subscription rate.

    We almost bought into this, but I want an open source solution! I would love to collaborate on building something.