6 Tools to Facilitate Communication

Posted on Wednesday, June 28, 2006 by Miguel Guhlin

This item was originally published in TechLearning.com/blog on 06/28/2006.
"We'll have to start our own radio station soon," shared my supervisor with me. We had joked about this possibility a few years ago, but neither one of us had followed up on it. But now, we needed to do it because the Communications Department was interested. "May I interpret that as a mandate?" I asked.
"Sure."
With a talented staff member handling the technical details, and another one working on content development, twenty-four hours later, using free, open source tools, my district had its first online radio station (accessible only via the Intranet for now).
Often, we are called upon to come up with solutions for sharing ideas and information with a wide audience. In the past the process for these solutions was to do the following:

1) Identify a need.
2) Do some research on the tools available, especially considering the cost of the software or service.
3) Present a proposal outlining the best tool for the job, if such a tool existed. And, if the proposal was approved, figure out what budget code to pay for the tool.
This 3-step process might also involve presentations to stakeholders, including upper administration. After all, with any significant purchase, administration has to be involved.
Then, free, open source software (FOSS) came into the picture. While many of us are familiar with FOSS by our experience with OpenOffice--a popular alternative to MS Office--and the GIMP as an alternative to Adobe Photoshop/Fireworks, we often forget that server-based solutions abound as well. While the process can remain the same, you can focus on the solution rather than the cost of working with a vendor. This came save time and increase productivity.
This blog entry shares six solutions that I currently am using in my school district. Each solution depends on the freely available Windows Apache MySQL/PHP (WAMP). You can find more details online.
1) Online Discussion Board - Moodle - http://www.moodle.org
Moodle is a serious alternative to Blackboard, and you can now find increasing numbers of K-16 institutions and non-profits using it. Cost? Free.
2) Web Page/Site Content Management System - Mambo - http://www.mamboserver.com
Need a way to manage your school districts web sites? You could pay over a $1,000 for Microsoft's solution, or learn how to setup Mambo (or any of the over 50 content management systems available). Find out more at http://www.cmsmatrix.org
3) Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) - phpMyFAQ - http://www.phpmyfaq.de/
Managing a web page of frequently asked questions can get tiresome. Create an RSS-feed subscribable, database-backed web site that people can access via Bloglines.com/NetVibes or some other RSS aggregator, as well as search via the web interface.
4) Online Survey Tool - UCCASS - http://www.bigredspark.com/survey.html
While some use SurveyMonkey and other web tools, you can easily set up your own web survey tool on your computer. This gives you control over data submitted.
5) Wiki – MediaWiki - http://www.mediawiki.org
If you've seen Wikipedia, then you know what a wiki is. It is a way for people to collaborate on a document, revising, editing and composing. It can be open or restricted access. While many are starting to use commercial wiki services that offer free service to educators (e.g. Wikispaces.com or PBWiki), you might want to set up a wiki in your district for revision of certain documents.
6) Online Radio – Icecast – http://icecast.org
Set up your own Internet radio station, broadcasting a variety of content encoded as MP3/OGG formatted sound files. You can set up a playlist of previously recorded content, and then share it as an audio stream that people can listen to using iTunes, Windows Media Player, or the free VLC media player. Imagine the possibilities! You could take existing podcasts and stream them, or make district specific announcements. Imagine a few words from your superintendent, teachers in the field sharing their ideas about digital storytelling, etc.
What are you waiting for? These solutions have already been tested in education and business environments. Abandon the old model of sitting around waiting for administration to free up precious funds, and implement solutions that work!