Sometimes the teachers working on the application used it live in their classrooms, which sparked interest from other teachers and at times created hotspots of interest from those in particular subject areas.
"It's a much more formative way to do development compared to the traditional user specs," said Williams. "For something of this nature, I don't think you can use that traditional methodology as easily."
MyClass was piloted at a number of elementary and secondary schools in 2006, and the uptake was extraordinary.
"We were overwhelmed by the level of participation. We had over 1,000 teachers use it, and clearly it was helpful to them," noted Neal Larsen, manager of classroom technology at the Board. "Much of the success of the project can be attributed to the close partnership of the IT department with our curriculum department and participation of teachers in the initial design."
MyClass was quickly adopted by over 200 schools when it became available in the 2006-07 school year, and in 2008 the Board had 4,500 class Web sites in operation.
The effectiveness of the program has been confirmed by the huge response from parents, who affirmed that they are now better able to help coach their children and prepare them for tests. Instead of finding a two-week old spelling list crumpled in the bottom of a knapsack, for example, parents can now find such lists, and many other educational materials, on the class site.
"The parents like to be able to go in and see the assignments there on the class site, together with their kids. About 80 to 90 percent of our teachers are using MyClass," said Linda Galen, principal at Harold M. Brathwaite Secondary School. "By posting homework, important dates, resource lists, ideas for improving math skills, and links to helpful and relevant resources, teachers make the road to student success very transparent."
A side benefit of MyClass has been increased resource sharing among teachers. For example, one teacher did an excellent introduction to the Brampton library and published it on her MyClass site, and another teacher saw it and asked her if she could reuse it.
Said Williams, "What we're finding is that there's a great kind of spontaneous collaboration going on. There's a community beginning to form of teachers who are borrowing resources from each other for their own MyClass site. So internally we have to figure out how to make that sharing easier for them."
SharePoint has been a big help in this regard. Even though there's been huge take-up of the technology, no classroom training has been done to get users up to speed -- only online training has been provided.
"That tells you how easy it was for them to pick up and use," said Williams. "It was compelling enough for them to learn on their own, and that was important for us because we're pretty geographically dispersed and training is always a big consideration in any IT initiative."
When developing MyClass, there was a lively internal debate over whether or not to make the class sites password-protected, which would enable them to present a wider range of information. But with 145,000 students and 300,000 parents to deal with, managing passwords would be an enormous task. What's more, passwords would be hard for younger children to remember, and perhaps pose a barrier to new Canadians. So in the end, it was decided to make the sites open. That means no student photos, no information about class trips, and no publishing of marks. The sites are essentially used for the one-way dissemination of homework assignments and resources.
Another issue around MyClass is student access to a computer at home.
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