Chalksite is a new web applications for teachers, students, and parents that I am actually very happy to have come across. It is a services that I feel every teacher should be excited about. To explain, let me first give you a little background. While attending college, the student control panel was the one thing that I always felt my educational system just could not get right. Every student was given access to a control panel that had been built to help students keep track of schedules, important dates, finances, email, and announcements, and I am sure the average college provides students with this as well. This is great, although I personally found it confusing, horribly crafted, and pointless (I really didn’t like the control panels during my college education). So, what were these systems lacking? I feel they were mostly lacking student/teacher communication. Whether I had to catch up on missing assignments, ask a question, keep up with grades, or whatever the case may have been, I had to email the teacher. Now, the problem with this is that I had to wait for a reply, the teachers had to put time and effort into making a reply, and not to mention teacher email accounts were built into the control panels as well, which teachers weren’t too fond of either (funny). What I am getting at is communicating was a handful and had always seemed to be more troublesome then it should have been in an educational system.
Chalksite solves this communication problem by providing teachers with an easy to use central point where they can communicate with students and parents, post assignments and grades, send messages to each other, and even manage a website for their courses. However, so there is no confusion, Chalksite is not a learning system like Nuvvo. It is more of a system to organize and communicate rather then a full-fledged system for teaching. This is what I like about it though and it definitely is a service that I would have absolutely loved to use back when I was attending college.
Lets say you are a teacher. To get started, signup to Chalksite (there is a free plan) as a teacher. You will then be given your own address (username.chalksite.com) to access your control panel in which you will create courses, assign students to, and customize to your liking (color schemes). Each student that you assign to a class will then receive an email notification requesting them to signup to Chalksite as a student (they receive their own username.chalksite.com address as well) and to subscribe themselves to the teacher. Once you’ve created a class and have students assigned to it, you can then start adding assignments to your course for students to track. When a student hands in the assignment in class, add their grade to your Chalksite for them to see.
I remember when I would have to wait for a whole semester just to find out what my grades were for each assignment. I also remember my teachers would whip out their gradebook and red pen as they list my grades for each assignment telling me to figure out my average (or was this just my schools method?). Well, not any more. Chalksite’s gradebook does all of this for you and it is very simple. Teachers enter the grades for each assignment in the gradebook (first screenshot) and the students could then login and keep track of their grades (second screenshot). Teachers add the assignment to the gradebook, fill out the total points each student received for the assignment, and the students average would automatically be calculated (note: “Billy” Benzinger is the only student in my “Parallel 101″ course and multiple students would be shown have there been more students attending my course). Students can then view a basic list of grades for each assignment and see their course average.
Assignments, messages, and gradebook functionality are features that I expected to see in Chalksite, but what I wasn’t expecting was functionality for creating full-fledged websites and weblogs for students and parents to follow. It only takes a matter of minutes to get a site up and running and managing them is as simple as selecting a template and filling in content. There are currently eight templates that you can choose from and hopefully more soon. Once you select a template, you then create a web page that is either a content type of Free-Form, About, or Weblog. Free-Form for any content (like a syllabus), About for your biography, and Weblog for making updates and announcements on your site. The first screenshot above shows the management of webpages and the second is of my test website which appears much like your basic weblog type style site. The webpage functionality is excellent, however there were two features that I would have liked to see. First, the weblogs do not allow for commenting, although I have read this is on their todo. Secondly, I would like to upload files when needed for a page. Maybe I want to attach a document to my syllabus or about page. Being able to upload the document would be of big help.
Overall, I like the direction of Chalksite and what they have created. It makes student/teacher relation more personal and makes me wish it was around during my college days. It provides the right amount of functionality to make communication possible and I love the simplicity in it. There are a few things here and there that could use improvement (for example, associating assignments to the gradebook area automatically), but for the most part, everything worked great. If you are a teacher or educate in any way, you may want to give Chalksite a test drive. It really lives up to its slogan, “Expand Your Classroom.” Also, if you happen to use Chalksite for your classes, please let me know how it works out for you.
One last note: If you are a parent wanting to follow your kids grades and assignments, signup to Chalksite as a parent and share the account with your child instead of your child creating an account for themselves. The Chalksite will function the same as a normal Student account.