Update: Added links to Journ(i)e and videos of teacher and student uses of the platform. Sorry for the oversight and thanks to readers for point it out!
I love free things. I love open source software, and cheap, commodity hardware. Moodle is an outstanding, mature, free LMS that serves many schools very well and is only one example of the sorts of FOSS projects that can save schools money as well as enable students and teachers with powerful learning tools.
Every once in a while, though, I stumble across something that is so good at what it does, that it's completely worth paying for, even in cash-strapped schools. Journ(i)e, the social learning network from the company formerly known as SchoolCenter, is just such a tool.
Journ(i)e isn't for everyone. Schools, parents, teachers, and administrators who aren't ready to embrace social learning and the sorts of relatively autonomous networking that entails should look at more traditional learning management systems. However, for schools and teachers willing to wrap their collective heads around a highly interactive, student- and teacher- driven site, complete with mobile access and anywhere, anytime learning, Journ(i)e holds some fascinating opportunities.
I had the chance to see a demo of Journ(i)e last week and will actually have a test system admin account set up shortly so that I can talk more about the administrative interface. However, as I tweeted during the demo, I wish Facebook worked as well as Journ(i)e as a social network. Interestingly, though, the level of control and safety that can be imposed by teachers is quite significant.
Journ(i)e is one of the best online platforms to support 1:1 computer integration and extended learning day applications that I've ever seen. Students are automatically members of "workspaces" based on the classes in which they are enrolled; they are connected to other students in their classes based on either exports or automated communication with SIF-compliant student information systems. Both students and teachers can create their own workspaces as well, whether for a study group or a club. Students must have a teacher sponsor to create a workspace.
Within the workspaces and as part of their personal profiles, students can blog, contribute to wikis, and access Google Docs (Journ(i)e provides direct integration with Google Apps for Education). The blogs in particular are flexible tools allowing for the sharing of videos and resources, and promoting student interaction.
Here are a couple of videos showing student and teacher perspectives on Journ(i)e (thanks to reader edhedtech for the links):
The system also features built-in messaging systems for inter-student and student-teacher communications. While this is most likely setting off red flags for half the people reading this post, one of the most incredible features of Journ(i)e is that all of these interactions are archived and discoverable. Archiving emails is par for the course, but fully archiving all electronic interactions is as rare as it is important. Most other systems simply don't have the capability.
As the system unfolds, it takes on a very social feel, with a completely natural interface for the Facebook generation. System- and workspace-wide news and message streams are familiar and intuitive and can be leveraged for everything from friendly reminders between group members to school-wide announcements.
From built-in profanity filtering to integration with compatible gradebook software for teachers, Journ(i)e needs to be on schools' short lists of software and platforms to support 1:1 implementations and efforts to engage students beyond the school day. It's not free, but for schools looking to build powerful, social learning communities quickly, Journ(i)e will be hard to beat.
I'll write more about Journ(i)e as I dig into the back end over the next week, but the things a progressive school could do with the right hardware for students, the right bandwidth, the right commitment, and Journ(i)e are pretty darned exciting. In fact, this sounds like a job for some Chrome OS notebooks, doesn't it?