Anybody who's ever taught a course knows that there's a lot of data that has to flow between teachers and students to make it a good experience. There are schedules and materials to distribute, papers to collect, and grades to track. College professors have teaching assistants, but how this was managed by grade school educators before the Web is a mystery. Maybe there were gnomes.
There's a free Web tool called e-Office Hours that can help out the tired teacher. The system is, essentially, a specialized Web site publishing tool. Users can create sites for each course they teach. A site can have a calendar, a file repository, a discussion forum, and a simple access control system. There's also a FAQ authoring tool and, for students, a system that attempts to match natural-language questions from students with FAQ entries. It's hit-and-miss, but students can just read the FAQs.
Not only can students pick up files left on courses' Web sites, but they can also place assignments into a drop box for their teachers. Unfortunately, the system is lacking a grade tracking function. That's planned for an upcoming release.
e-Office Hours is not a fancy system. It's not a zoomy distance-education product with a real-time whiteboard broadcasting and a live polling engine. But it's free and it's simple, and it's easier to set up a Web site for a course with a tool such as this than it would be to apply a general-purpose Web publishing tool to the job.