ePals ups its game with Learning Pages partnerships

Does ePals represent an even better value, despite an actual per-student cost, than free collaboration services from the likes of Google? It's getting harder to dismiss its "Premium Services."

I've been a fan of ePals for a long time. They seem to keep adding features, though, making a compelling case for schools and districts to actually pay for their premium features (even in the face of Google Apps for Education and Live@Edu).

First they added LearningSpace, a slick social learning and virtual school environment. Then they integrated the underpinnings of Microsoft's Live@Edu with their SchoolMail product, making their email essentially hosted Exchange with all the granularity and control that implies. On Wednesday, the company entered the content space, partnering with a variety of high-quality publishers to provide vetted, personalized supplemental learning materials to students. Good idea, huh?

According to the ePals press release,

ePals Learning Pages allows publishers to focus a variety of educational media and activities on a monthly educational theme and then fuse user communities around that theme. For example, in support of the ePals featured topic of weather this month, SnagFilms is using its Learning Page to explore water sources and natural disasters using videos, suggested classroom exploration topics, and student discussion forums.

"Content plus context enriches the learning experience," said Rick Allen, CEO of SnagFilms. "The Learning Pages initiative brings award-winning films from our library together with the pedagogical resources and ePals community and technology tools to create a remarkable resource for teachers and students. We saw its power during the testing phase, and are delighted to join this broader roll-out."

In addition to SnagFilms, ePals counts National Geographic Kids, the International Reading Association, Microsoft Partners in Learning, and Common Sense Media as launch partners, although new content will be added on an ongoing basis.

In addition, as ePals Marketing Manager, Jacqueline Van Meter, explained,

ePals is probably best known for the role-based policy management system that makes our products the safest, most secure collaboration & communication tools available today. The new Learning Pages program will directly leverage these existing constructs to deliver targeted Learning Page resources to ePals teachers, parents and students based on role. Rather than having to search the site, ePals users will see a dynamic menu on their homepage of Learning Page resources most relevant to them.

For districts looking at hosted email and collaboration software, whether Google Apps, Live@Edu (now Office365 for Education), or another service, it's hard to ignore the price tag of these platforms (they're free). However, with robust safety and content filtering/monitoring tools; granular permissions and connections between teachers, students, and parents; social learning environments; and now focused, quality content, it's harder to say, "Well, ePals isn't free, so we can't pick that." Did I mention that ePals is eRate-eligible?

This isn't to say that Google Apps and Live@Edu aren't great values. They absolutely are. However, ePals does bring some unique features to the table, not the least of which are the new Learning Page partnerships that match content with this powerful platform.