Culture

The Web 2.0 homeroom

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 call 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 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.

Students can not only pick up files left on courses' web sites, but place assignments into a dropbox 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 like this than it would be to apply a general-purpose Web publishing tool to the job.