August 24, 2009

Give Your Students the Ultimate IT Experience

This text was initially published by Profweb under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International licence, before Eductive was launched.

I know two infallible ways to fire up my students’ motivation; I have them create something, and then I provide them with an audience to share their creation with. For me, the website software Joomla has turned out to be the best tool to reach that goal.

Teachers are now aware of the great advantages of having an online meeting place with their students, and nowadays many user-friendly platforms are readily available. You can either set up house in a space often especially designed for teachers that already exists; or you can create your own teaching environment with HTML editors and other IT tools. This second solution obviously gives you more freedom and control, but, unless you are a full-fledged developer, can be quite daunting (Battle of the Bandwidths dealt with this dilemma at this year’s Rascals).

1. What is Joomla?

Joomla really offers you the best of both worlds. It provides you with a flexible template to which you can add more than two hundred different plug-ins and tools; yet it is simple to use in that you don’t need to write one single line of programming code. In a nutshell, Joomla is a free open source content management system (CMS) that uses a dynamic structure for publishing content on the web. Unlike static platforms, it allows you to change the design of your whole website with just one click; so there’s no need to modify any content and rewrite any program. Content and form are separated (Great video on what dynamic means).

My own views serve as a counterpoint to those of my students.

2. Why Joomla?

The obvious question at this point is this: What makes Joomla better at helping your students create content and present it to an audience? I’ve set up two Joomla websites so far, and I see three key advantages to this platform. For starters, in order to get the most of your website, you should think of it as something more than just a common space where you communicate and share with your students. When you start seeing it as a professional location where real knowledge, expertise and analysis about one particular field are provided, Joomla’s first strength really comes out.

This is the home page for my site. Links to the various features available with Joomla that I have used are shown.

Suddenly, your students become collaborators and experts competing to offer fresh and original output in a given field to a real audience. This sense of responsibility empowers them and pushes them to excel in their discipline. This approach defines your website as an ongoing project that can last forever, as the content remains there and builds up year after year. Students have access to what has been done in the previous years, which not only serves as a model, but also a yardstick against which they can measure their own endeavours.

The second argument for Joomla is that, unlike some pre-packaged webspace widely available now, it is directly on the web; in other words, it is not a closed space attached to one school, but rather an independent entity (with its own URL), like any regular website, open for anybody to visit. This gives your students a potentially huge audience, as their work is now accessible to anybody on the planet and to future students who can review and analyze what they’re doing.

A third element worth mentioning is the sense of community such a website can create. Students can be given different roles within the website organization thanks to the possible nine degrees of authorization allowed by Joomla. In addition, students can respond to each other’s work and ideas through comments and rating. In the process, they of course also help one another through collaborative projects. This is mainly possible thanks to the numerous applications readily and freely (for the most part) available with Joomla. Just to name a few, you can add to your website such things as blogs, RSS feeds, chat rooms, forums, polls, photo and video galleries, FAQ, wikis, calendars, quizzes and surveys, newsflash, streaming and broadcasting, content statistics, and so on.

Student financial analysis is available to the public at large.

3. How to use Joomla

My latest website, Jeff’s Economics Café, is especially designed for my business groups. Last semester, among other things, my accounting students produced a financial analysis on a company of their choice, and posted the video or audio on the website; likewise, they did research in their field and published the result on the site. This semester, my marketing students will add more interesting content to the site. I feel such a strategy boosts their motivation as it gives them a window for their work.

Some of you might think putting together such a website requires a lot of work and expertise. For sure, setting up the platform requires finding a good host and an appealing template, but if you’re like me, the learning curve you need to embark on will be greatly offset by your passion for anything IT. The results will pay dividends, as we say in finance, in terms of motivated students and their resulting exciting information for years to come.

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