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SchoolTool: Global Student Information System

As the school year is still young, I thought that I’d move away from curriculum and focus on something every school should have -a student information system (SIS). So, what is a student information system? A student information system is a Web-based application that runs on a server. Teachers can log onto this server and put in and analyze such information as attendance and grades. Students and parents can log onto this system to view information about themselves and people under their supervision, such as attendance and grades. What sets SchoolTool apart from its commercial counterparts is that it is designed with schools in developing nations in mind.

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SchoolTool’s integrated gradebook

So what can one do with a student information system? As mentioned above, data can be collected on such things as attendance and grades, but also on assessments, student interventions and student participation. This data can be used to generate reports and report cards. There is an integrated calendar for organizing school-based activities. This calendar also works as timetable management software for larger school-based events. There is a contact management component as well.

schooltool,energize education through open source,christopher whittum
Tracking student interventions with SchoolTool.

So what’s so wonderful about SchoolTool? First of all, SchoolTool is open source. Beyond that, SchoolTool is free. A further analysis of SchoolTool’s features really requires a breakdown by category. In terms of demographics and personal information, fields of demographic and other data can be customized as needed and stored for each person. These fields can contain a wide variety of data, including, but not limited to, textual, date and boolean (yes/no). In terms of contact management, all of the expected fields are present (address, email, etc.). Furthermore, a single student can be shared with multiple adult contacts and multiple students can be shared with a single adult contact.

schoooltool,energize education,chris whittum
Using timetables to organize school functions.

Documents specifying students skills, standards or outcomes can be generated. Administrators and teachers can generate reports by student, section or teacher. SchoolTool’s integrated gradebook provides an intuitive and familiar gradebook interface for tracking and analyzing student grades. Report cards can be generated in PDF format. An integrated journal allows teachers to track attendance and daily participation. The integrated intervention system can be used generate goals and to collaboratively track student progress between teachers, students, parents and other stakeholders. These are just a few of the features with which SchoolTool empowers users.

If nothing else, this article should inspire you to take a look at SchoolTool. If you’ve heard of it or evaluated it before, hopefully this will inspire to to take a second look. One of the taglines associated with this blog is “educational technology doesn’t have to be expensive.” I’d say SchoolTool is exemplary of that.

Resources
SchoolTool Download

SchoolTool Home Page

The SchoolTool Book

References
SchoolTool Book. (n.d.). GNU General Public License. Retrieved from http://book.schooltool.org/system-requirements.html.

Shuttleworth, M. (n.d.). SchoolTool {computer software}. GNU General Public License.

All screenshots were taken from the SchoolTool Web site.

Tellico -Organize Your Collection

As the new school year approaches, I thought that I’d shift gears again and write about something every teacher could use, but that few do: a means to electronically manage your classroom library and other resources. Tellico is an open source application that allows users to do just this. Tellico has been developed for the K Desktop Environment for UNIX and Linux, but is also available for Microsoft Windows and runs fine in UNIX/Linux without KDE. With Tellico, users can organize books, comic books, music and other media.

tellico,energize education
Tellioc’s opening screen

Upon launching Tellico, it can be seen that there are no surprises in terms of its interface. There is a menu at the top of the screen with a toolbar below this and a search tool to the right of the toolbar. Below these are three panes: one long one on the left and two panes, one on top of the other, on the right. The pane on the left lists authors for the given category. The top pane on the right lists books by the selected author and the bottom right pane provides information about the selected work, as shown in the screenshot.

Everything that you can do with Tellico can be done through either the menu or the toolbar. For example, clicking on the New button on the toolbar provides you with a list of catalogs that can be created. Here are the types of items that Tellico can be used to organize: books, bibliographic entries, comic books, videos, music, trading cards, coins, stamps, video games, wines (probably not at school, but home?), board games, and file listings. Plus there is a generic template available for other items not included in this list.

tellico,energize education through open source
The Search window

Once a type of collection has been established, most of the routine tasks can be handled using the toolbar. Tool tips provide users with more information about each button. For kicks, click on New and select New Book Collection. Now, let’s just jump in an do a search together. Clicking on the Search button opens the Internet Search window. Items can be searched by Title, Person, ISBN or Keyword. For my search, I chose HTML, XHTML & CSS by Elizabeth Castro. You may choose your own book.

My previous experience as a copy cataloger in a local library has taught me that the ISBN is often the fastest way to search, so that is the search criteria I will use. I select ISBN from drop-down menu under Search Query and type me book’s ISBN in the Search field left of this. You can also search for multiple ISBNs by clicking the checkbox next to Multiple ISBN/USP Search to the left, just below the Search field. To the right of this, select your Search source. Options include the Library of Congress (US), Google Book Search and ISBNdb.com, among others. I chose the Library of Congress. When ready, click the Search button right of the right of the drop-down box.

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My book has been found!

Surprise! My first search produced no results. I then tried searching ISBNdb.com and found my book. The key here, folks, is to be persistent and to be prepared to alter your search criteria. Just because the item doesn’t turn up, doesn’t mean that it isn’t out there. Notice that publication and cataloging information appear in a pane at the bottom of the Search window. Click the Add Entry button and the item will be added to your new catalog. Clicking the Save button opens the Save As dialog box. Here you can name your collection and select where to save it. All collections are saved in Tellico’s native format (.tc).

One of Tellico’s strongest features is the ability to customize fields of data for a given type of catalog. Clicking on the Fields button opens the Collection Fields window. Here fields can be removed, added or modified as users would like. Very useful for customizing your database. Another wonderful feature is the capacity to check materials out to borrowers. Simply click on the item in question, click Collection and choose Check-out… and the Loan Dialog window opens. Here you provide the borrower’s name and, optionally, a due date via the integrated calendar and you’re all set. You can even add a reminder to the aforementioned calendar.

tellico,collection organization,energize education
A new entry in my catalog!

The Settings menu provides easy configuration in a number of ways. The Filter option allows for querying of your collections using a wide range of criteria. Tellico can also be used to generate bibliographies for collections, something that could be very helpful with student research projects. The Configure Tellico option allows users to configure Tellico’s general functioning, printing, templates and data sources. Librarians should note that with the yaz library installed, Tellico can access z39.50 servers and read MODS and MARC (USMARC/MARC21 and UNIMARC) formats. I have been unable to determine, either way, whether or not Tellico supports exporting to MARC format. Finally, Tellico has a wonderfully integrated help feature.

Tellico could be just the thing you need to track classroom resources. You could even set up an old laptop in your classroom for just this purpose and have students do data entry for your books. This would be a great way to build skills such as literacy and problem-solving. Materials could even be checked out via this laptop. So, get started now and let Tellico relieve you of the stress of worrying about lent materials.

Resources
Tellico Download

Tellico Handbook

References
Stephenson, R. (2011). Tellico [computer software]. GNU General Public License.

Stephenson, R. (2011). The Tellico handbook. GNU General Public License. Retrieved from https://docs.kde.org/trunk4/en/extragear-office/tellico/tellico.pdf.

Gibbon: Open Source School Platform

What would be better for your school system: a Student Information System or a School Management System?  How’s about having both tools in one software package?  In this installment, I’d like to introduce you to Gibbon, an open source suite that can be utilized to organize your facilities and to record and analyze data on students.  In short, Gibbon is a SIS, a SMS and VLE functionality all in one place.  If you are involved in your school district’s decision-making, you should really check this suite out before shopping for proprietary software.

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The Planner window

The secret to Gibbon’s functionality is modules which can be added to make it do what you need it to do.  There are a set of core modules that are installed by default.  I’m going to take a look at some of those now.  The first of these is Planner.  Planner is a lesson planner that allows you to incorporate multimedia integration into your lessons.  Because these lesson plans are stored on a server, they can be readily shared with parents and students.  Homework can be assigned and collected online.  These lesson plans can even be organized into units and used to generate curriculum maps.  Assignments can be graded and the grades recorded.  Other cool features include students being able to comment on peers’ work, guests being able to take classes and students being able to “like” lessons by awarding them gold stars.

energize education,gibbon,open source school platform,sis,sms
A planning session with Timetable

Timetable allows for the creation of timetables for students and faculty alike.  Resources is a database which allows users to catalog and share resources school-wide.  Library empowers users with the capacity to catalog, lend and track items such as books, movies or even electronics.  The Individual Needs module allows for the creation of lessons designed to meet the needs of individual learners.  These can be archived as the student progresses and used to measure progress.  Activities facilitates the creation and management of school activities, including Web-based notifications and registration as well as attendees lists.  Markbook allows educators to record and track students academic progress.  This data can, if so desired, be easily shared with students and parents.  The Rubrics module not only allows teachers to create rubrics, but the rubrics are actually interactive via mouse-clicks.

energize education through open source,gibbon,open source school management systems,open source student management systemrs
You too can track student performance using Gibbon.

There is one aspect of education that I haven’t addressed yet and it’s the most important component -people.  Students is the SIS module.  Student information from across the system can be accessed here.  Academic, behavioral and medical alerts can be generated and accessed by those who need them.  Students’ attendance history can be tracked in Attendance and behaviors, both positive and negative, can be tracked and analyzed using the Behavior module.  Data Updater assures that the right people, parents for example, have current data on certain students.  Other modules in this category can empower users with the ability to easily create groups of staff and students alike as well as to generate staff directories.  Finance is a tool for the tracking of finances, for example in a fund-raiser. Messenger, an internal messaging system that can be used to set up groups of specific recipients and supports such formats as email, SMS and Message Wall.  The last of the default modules addresses administration, both in terms of school and in terms of the system as well as user and timetable administration.

What could be better than having all of these components in one suite?  Being able to add to them.  There are far more expansion modules than I could possibly address here, but they include, and certainly are not limited to, assessment administration, query building, Moodle integration, an integrated Help Desk and Free Learning integration as well.   There are also proprietary modules available, should the open source modules not meet your needs.

As an experienced educator, I can tell you that if your school or district is looking for a school platform, the search should begin, and will end, here.

Thanks to Ross Parker for permission to use the screenshots and for his work on this extremely worthwhile project.

Resources

Gibbon Home Page

References

Parker, R.  (2011).  Features – Gibbon. Retrieved from https://gibbonedu.org/features/.

 

 

So You Say Your School Or District Can’t Afford to Automate?

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Energize Education Tip of the Day!

It’s that time of year again. Time for school districts to start putting their budgets together for the next fiscal year. As we’re all aware, some wonderful innovations will end up on the fiscal chopping block. A Student Information System doesn’t need to be one of them. Student Information Systems (SIS) allow school districts and their faculty and staff to store student information in a place where it can be readily accessed by other faculty and staff, students and even students’ parents or guardians. This space is on a Web server. Student Information Systems can track such information as schedules, academic performance, parent contact information and interventions. So why do I say that something that sounds so expensive doesn’t need to be cut from the budget? The answer is SchoolTool. SchoolTool is a full-featured, open source Student Information System. With SchoolTool, your district can have ready access to student information usually only possible with expensive proprietary software.

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This screenshot shows a typical record for a (fictional) student. (Thanks to Tom Hoffman for permission to use this screenshot from the SchoolTool Web site).

Energize Education Tip of the Day!

For today’s Tip of the Day, I want to focus on SALSA (Styled & Accessible Learning Service Agreements), which is an open source Web-based tool for creating syllabi. This tool incorporates a form-based interface for easy use. Users can easily outline course objectives and policies. Best of all, once a syllabus is published, you’ll be provided with a link to the permanent read-only syllabus, which will be available in either PDF or HTML formats.

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A preview of my SALSA syllabus

Energize Education Tip of the Day!

For many libraries, especially school libraries, automation can seem to be financially daunting. However, there is an open source alternative that is viable and free. LibLime Koha is an advanced Integrated Library System that includes server software, cataloging (MARC) software, circulation software and software for OPACs. LibLime Koha also comes with excellent support to help users out when necessary.

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Energize Education Tip of the Day!

FET is a timetable management system that can be utilized to organized academic activities for institutions of learning on all levels. It allows for the allocation and scheduling of educators, learners, subjects and even rooms.

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FET Timetable Management Application

Energize Education Tip of the Day!

SALSA (Styled & Accessible Learning Service Agreements) is an open source Web-based application for syllabus creation. It is developed and maintained by Utah State University and utilizes an approachable form-style interface. Two of its strengths are policy inclusion (accommodations, course evaluation, etc. ) and the creation of syllabi with well-defined learning objectives. (Thanks to George Joeckel for telling me about SALSA.)

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Energize Education Tip of the Day!

Tellico is an open source collections manager. It can be utilized to organize collections of books, videos and even wine. Users have access to databases at the Library of Congress and Amazon.com, among others, to find an electronic record for the item to be added. Tellico runs only in UNIX-based operating systems, but a similar program, GCstar, is available for Linux, Mac and Microsoft Windows. To learn more about Tellico and other useful software applications, check out my forthcoming book, Energize Education Through Open Source: Using Open Source Technology To Enhance Learning.

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