As the Web continues to develop and faster Internet access becomes available to more individuals, the likelihood of Web-based programs replacing CD-ROMs is becoming more and more real. One of the sites examined for this article points out that its content takes the place of 20 CDs. That wouldn't have been possible only a couple of years ago, due to speed and bandwidth issues. Today, however, access has become so much speedier that some sites are able to stream video, voice instructions, and other types of audio.
Many resources for teachers and schools are greatly improved when offered over the Internet. Often, online materials can help schools avoid or reduce complicated, lengthy, and expensive installations. Establishing an Internet link is much simpler than setting up tricky installations on a number of school computers.
For teachers, access from home as well as school can greatly help with grading and other record-keeping processes. And access from both home and school can provide a helpful degree of access for parents and students.
Subscription Web sites offer a host of administrative and communications features for educators. Homework can be assigned or created online. A number of Web-based systems facilitate communication between home and school. Expensive resources can be conserved with electronic files in place of paper copies, eliminating a lot of record-keeping headaches.
The benefits for student research are enormous. Online databases are wonderfully easy to search and can save a fair amount of paper and other resources. Electronic resources or compilations of resources can easily be tailored for specific ages or needs.
To have a viable existence, most Web sites must generate income for their developers. The sites discussed here do so through subscriptions. Most subscription sites avoid the aggravating and sometimes inappropriate
advertisements that can be found on so-called "free" Web sites.
This article is intended to provide a quick first look at a representative sampling of the current crop of subscription Web sites. It would be impossible to take a look at every Web site of merit within the confines of these pages. This overview is intended as a starting place as you consider ways to use subscription Web sites in your school.
Web Sites for Teachers
These subscription Web services offer a variety of products for teachers and school systems. Some are grade book and student information systems, others place homework and tests on the Internet. A few of the services offer classroom resources that can be printed and used with students.
All of the sites mentioned here offer high security and all are advertisement-free. Most of these sites offer testimonials and product demonstrations.
Similar material isn't available on the Internet at no cost. If you are able to find any, it tends to be of poor quality and filled with advertising. If you find a site that doesn't offer both high security and zero advertising, avoid it and look for one that does.
This Web-based grade book and student information system offers many features. Teachers can track student progress, post grades, print reports, and e-mail parents and students from within the system. Attendance and behavior logbooks are included, as are e-mail notification options and templates. Printable reports include progress updates and progress details. Parents can view current assignments, grades, and incomplete work; teachers can select the information available for parental viewing. Students can monitor their own grades.
The program is available as a hosted service or a software package installable on a district or school server. Individual subscriptions are priced at $89 a year; discounts are available for multiple-user purchases.
At the time this article was written, the first three teachers to sign up in a school were receiving a free subscription for 1 year. Additional teachers were getting a free 3-month subscription. Incentives are available for school system purchases. Common Goal Systems, Inc., 630/221-0392, http://www.common-goal.com or http://www.teacherease.com/.
This Web-based grade book also offers grade management, ready-made and customizable reports, attendance tracking and notification systems, and school/home communication tools. Teachers, parents, and students can access the system.
The site is integrated with Quizlab.com, a tool that enables teachers to create online quizzes, select from a library of teacher-created quizzes, use automatic scoring and recording functions, and assess and track student progress. Any work performed in either program is accessible in the other.
MyGradeBook is offered with a remote-hosting option only. Free trial subscriptions are available for 30 days. Subscriptions for two to six users are priced at $49.95 each. Group pricing is available for seven or more licenses. TeacherVision.com, a division of Pearson Education, 800/498-3264, or http://www.mygradebook.com/.
The Homework Site
Homework assignments and lesson plans can be placed online with this 100 percent Web-based program for K-12 schools. Teacher and student profiles enable personalized posting and online homework assignment retrieval. Custom pages can feature school names and logos. Calendars can be posted for school activities, homework, and tests. Bulletin boards are available. A test-scheduling feature helps keep tests from conflicting. Administrators can view teacher assignments and lesson plans. Pricing is based on program components and the number of users. TheHomeworkSite.com, 877/495-7483 or http://www.thehomeworksite.com/.
HomeworkNOW can be accessed by computer, cell phone, or PDA. The site allows teachers to post classroom assignments and announcements and provides teachers with a free personal URL for a direct link to homework assignments for their classes. Assignment archives, statistical reports on visits, and a teacher discussion forum are available. Students and parents can access assignments using an assignment directory that does not require a user name or password. A free 45-day trial period is available for schools; afterward, the price is $19 per teacher per year, or $175 for an entire building. District licenses are available. HomeworkNOW, 888/397-6297 or http://www.homeworknow.com/.
Testcraft provides an online or server-based environment for authoring or taking tests and surveys. Separate assessment software packages have been developed for schools, businesses, government, and others. Testcraft offers a range of services and products at a variety of prices. Contact the company directly for program and pricing specifics. Ingenious Group, 888/541-4896 or http://www.testcraft.com/.
K12USA.com offers a variety of online services for schools, including filtered student e-mail, e-mail for teachers and staff, district inventory tracking, technology and maintenance trouble tracking, and more. I especially like K12SchoolBits, the filtered e-mail system for students. Many schools are missing out on a
really powerful reading/writing motivator by not offering some kind of e-mail system. My oldest son became interested in computers when he was 10 and did more reading and writing with e-mail and other online activities than he did in any other medium.
Fees are based on the number of students in a district, with discounts for multiple service purchases. There is a minimum $350 yearly fee per Web service. The SecureSchool filtering service is priced at a minimum of $750. The anti-spam tool, SpamTrakker, is priced at a minimum of $500. K12USA.com, 877/225-0100 or http://www.k12usa.com/.
Classroom Materials Online
These sites offer teacher resources similar to what were once known as "black-line" masters, as well as other materials. These are designed for individual teacher subscriptions, rather than district licensing.
I like paying a reasonable Web site subscription fee instead of purchasing a shelf of books. I think I may be saving some money in the process.
This site, for pre-K-6th grade teachers, features printable teaching materials, as well as tools for creating individualized materials. A lot of the information is free here, however, a $25 annual subscription provides access to everything, including some excellent worksheet and puzzle generators—a total of more than 6,000 documents. At the time this article was written, ABCTeach was accepting submissions for teaching materials. Submission guidelines can be found on the site. ABCTeach, http://www.abcteach.com/.
This is an outstanding resource for early elementary teachers who teach reading. At the time of this review, the site featured 1,300 downloadable printable books (available in English, Spanish, and French versions), worksheets and other resources. The subscription fee is $29.95 for 6 months or $49.95 for 12 months. Group discounts are available. These prices cover a basic subscription that provides access to some of the site's material. A "Plus" subscription provides access to everything on the site for $79.95 a year. School subscriptions are priced at $39.95 each, for 10 or more subscriptions. Reading A-Z.com, 866/889-3729 or http://www.readinga-z.com/.
This site continues to add extremely useful printable materials for elementary teachers (generally) to use with students. Nearly all of the printable materials feature simple quality line drawings and a brief readable discussion. This site no longer relies on contributions but charges a very reasonable $20 annual subscription, while continuing to provide a large free area. Site members have access to a banner ad-free version of the site, with printer-friendly pages. Enchanted Learning, http://www.enchantedlearning.com/.
Databases, Search Engines, and More
Subscription sites designed for reference use tend to be more massive Web services, generally databases, that are much too expensive to be purchased for individual classroom use. Subscription databases are, however, a good buy for libraries, both for school libraries and public libraries. Some of these services charge by the number of patrons who use the service. The following are just a few excellent sites with a different approach to content.
eLibrary Curriculum Edition
The eLibrary Curriculum Edition provides one of the largest collections of periodical and digital media content designed specifically for K-12 schools and libraries. The material covers more than 2,000 full-text magazines, newspapers, reference books, and transcripts, as well as thousands of pictures, maps, Web links, and audio/video content. This site, as well as other online ProQuest products (eLibrary and SIRS databases), includes standards-based searching covering all core curricula subjects. ProQuest Information & Learning, 800/521-0600, http://www.il.proquest.com/.
netTrekker provides a straightforward search engine designed specifically for K-12 education. The extensive site links to close to 200,000 educator-selected online resources—including nearly 20,000 lesson plans and learning exercises—all aligned to state academic standards. Features include areas for Elementary and Secondary grades, a Timeline, Cross-Curricular Search, Famous People search, and Save Search options. Thinkronize, 877/517-1125 or http://www.nettrekker.com/ and http://www.thinkronize.com/.
Search Portfolio is basically a search engine or directory that evaluates and categorizes Web sites which meet certain specific criteria. The evaluation process weeds out a lot of the inappropriate, commercial, etc., sites that can make Web searching so confusing. In addition, the site's categories and tree structure help users begin and conduct searches in a more directed fashion. All in all, Search Portfolio is an interesting new approach to Web searching. Subscriptions are priced at $450 for one school or $325 each for two to nine schools, with increasing discounts for larger numbers of schools. Workingfaster.com, 800/343-9878 or http://www.searchportfolio.com/.
Learn-A-Test is an interactive, Web-based test preparation site designed for library use by LearningExpress, a publisher of test preparation, career guidance and skill-building books. The site provides practice exams and tutorial courses for the ACT, ASVAB, Civil Service Careers, Cosmetology, EMS, Firefighter, GED, GMAT, GRE, Law Enforcement, Praxis/PPST, Real Estate, SAT, US. Citizenship, and more. Learn-A-Test provides instant scoring, individual analysis, explanation of both right and wrong answers, self-pacing, and usage reports for libraries. LearningExpress, 800/295-9556 or http://www.learningexpresslibrary.com/.
CQ Researcher OnLine
One of several products from CQ (Congressional Quarterly) Press, the CQ Researcher explores a single "hot" issue in the news each week in depth. Topics of the 44 reports produced each year range from social and teen issues to environment, health, education, and science and technology. The reports include charts, graphs, sidebar articles, a pro-con feature, a chronology, lengthy bibliographies, and a list of contacts. Each report is approximately 12,000 words in length and is written by an experienced journalist with comments from experts, lawmakers, and citizens on all sides of the issue. The material is designed for students and other researchers who need to complete an assignment, prepare for a debate, or become a quick expert on a topic. Pricing is available upon request. CQ Press, 866/427-7737 or http://www.cqpress.com/.
Subscription Web sites for K-12 education continue to change and grow, despite the hard-hit education economy. The small rural Michigan school district where I work has initiated some Web site subscriptions because of the improvement in services and savings offered, despite discussions of potential staff lay-offs in the district. I suspect many districts will follow this lead.
Our subscription Web-based systems (none of which were discussed in this article) include a library automation system, a report card system that allows limited parent access, attendance and other record-keeping systems, a districtwide network e-mail system (not for students), and more. In addition, our high school and middle school libraries use several subscription Web databases.
It is very likely that, eventually, the advantages provided by subscription Web-based services will lead them to be used for direct instructional purposes in the classroom as well.
Charles Doe has been teaching for 32 years, including 20 years as a Title I reading specialist and 3 years as a media specialist. In addition to presenting and writing articles, he has been involved with computers in education for 12 years. He also is a long-time product reviewer for MultiMedia & Internet@Schools magazine. Communications to the author may be addressed to Charles Doe, Media Specialist, Hastings Area Schools, 232 W. Grand, Hastings, MI 49058; firstname.lastname@example.org.