As the largest school district in British Columbia, serving over 62,000 students and 7,000 teachers, communications for School District 36 in Surrey can be difficult.
To help foster collaboration and interaction, the district is installing
Open Text Corp.’s FirstClass collaborative communication and education development.
FirstClass is designed to allow users across a variety of platforms to share information securely, and includes e-mail, voice messaging, fax, shared online workspaces and instant messaging.
Shelley Wilcox, co-coordinator of online learning for School District 36, said the district has long been committed to e-learning and to using new technologies to improve the learning experience. A pilot project within the school district had already been using FirstClass, and they decided to expand that district-wide.
“”We chose FirstClass because it is a robust application with applications beyond its communications capabilities,”” said Wilcox. “”Since our district focus is to support learners and enhance student achievement, we will be using FirstClass to support our literacy projects and to offer instruction to students to publish for a variety of audiences.””
With the new version, Wilcox said teachers will be able to integrate tables into FirstClass documents to display a variety of instructional documents and to publish and present information in different ways, from online documents to Web sites.
Parental involvement is an important part of the learning process, and Wilcox said this feature will allow parents to be better informed of what their children are working on.
As part of new provincial graduation requirements every B.C. student is required to maintain a portfolio of work through their high school years that will demonstrate their mastery of the curricula, and Wilcox said with FirstClass they will be able to build that portfolio online.
“”We are developing e-portfolios using FirstClass that enable both students and teachers to create digital repositories within their accounts in a secure environment and then present the evidence required for our ministry mandated graduate portfolios,”” said Wilcox.
The portfolio project is designed to encourage students and teachers to collect learning objects and evidence in a variety of media, from documents to digital pictures. Wilcox added they hope to use the software’s conferencing feature to encourage peer review of work, and to showcase examples of best teaching practice and student portfolios.
“”FirstClass has offered excellent support to our district in assisting us to deploy communication tools and to foster the development of electronic portfolios,”” said Wilcox. “”We are planning to gradually extend our use of FirstClass into the e-learning environment to assist classroom teachers to integrate electronic portfolios and curriculum instruction.””
While FirstClass is also used by airlines, newspaper and advertising firms, and companies in a range of other industries, John Meyers said 70 per cent of FirstClass customers are in the education sector, primarily K-12.
The vice-president and general manager of OpenText’s FirstClass division, Myers said the lead customer in 1989 that really helped to shape the product that would become FirstClass was the Scarborough Board of Education.
“”The person that sponsored the project at the time had an inkling that computers would become important in the education process and specifically he wanted a solution that would enable teachers to collaborate together using personal computers,”” said Meyers.
While companies like Alaska Airlines use FirstClass today as their groupware product, Meyers said there’s no question the heaviest influence on FirstClass has been K-12, and the education sector continues to shape product development.
Meyers said what sets FirstClass apart and makes it ideally suited to the education sector is that it is not only cross-platform, supporting Mac, Windows, and soon Linux, but is back-compatible with Windows 95 and Mac OS 8.
“”This is important for Surrey, because it means many more people in their education community can actually get online and use FirstClass,”” said Meyers. “”Unlike corporations who typically will standardize on a single platform and make the investment to have all corporate computers upgraded to the newest version, with schools it’s another story.””