Our Collaboratory: Drupal Intrant Sites

Physical IntranetWhat is an Intranet?

There are two ways to talk about Intranets:  as physical computer networks (see left) and as community information.In both cases,  a distinction is made between public information (the Internet) and private information (an intranet).

Websites can have public and private content (requiring a log-in to access the private). When the logins are granted based on in a community (like a school), the site is called an "intra-net", just as activities inside a school's walls are called "intra-mural". However, an Intranet does not have to be inside a school's walls. Ideally anyone who has a role to play in a school should be able to log in to the school's Intranet from home to access their school files, communicate and work together.

Why Have an Intranet?

Intranet UsersPeople who have an interest in what happens in schools are called "stakeholders", and these include administrators (who want to help the school function), teachers (who want to provide educational value), students (who want valuable experiences), parents (who want their children to succeed) and community (experts helping teachers, businesses who help with projects).

The nature of each of these roles can imply differences in access to information, software, and collaborative groups involved in learning and working together. These are not the same from school to school, however, and a "one size fits all" Intranet can stifle creativity, innovation, and effectiveness. On the other hand, having every school build their own Intranet from scratch makes other problems.

From the perspective of classroom learning, the community of an Intranet can be a great audience for student publishing. Schools need to be very careful about what they make public about their students, but with the community students should not be anonymous: administrators may want their students to be celebrated for achievements, teachers may want their students work to be appreciated by parents, and students may want to get help when they have difficulties, and praised when they succeed.


The Collaboratory

The Empowered Teacher model for Intranets is made up of two different websites. The "sandbox" is a place where all stakeholders figure out what information, software and groups should be created to support student learning and other school functions that do not belong on the public website everyone can see. When a teacher introduces an assignment in class, students go home and work on it, connect with each other to develop projects, and submit their work so that teachers can comment on it, the "sandbox" is what they use.

The other website is like an online teacher center, where projects are developed and teachers study and work together in what are sometimes called "professional learning communities". We call this the "collaboratory" because it is a place teachers collaborate on activities that will then be put on the sandbox for students and other stakeholders to use. The "collaboratory" is also classroom for teachers to learn how to use new technologies and other "in-service" topics that keep their professional skill and knowledge up to date.

=> Read more about our custom Intranet Design



Our Collaborative Intranet

Online Professional Learning Communities and Blended Learning

CollaboratoryOur work with schools begins with the setup, user training, facilitation and management of two customized intranet sites.  Taken together, these tools form the key pieces of a "collaborative online laboratory" to create professional learning communities and host learning 2.0 projects.

  • Planning Site:  Open Atrium (see Planning Site, below), a customizable project management and online community platform made with Drupal. If familiar with project management software, Open Atrium lies somewhere between BaseCamp and GoogleDocs.  This is hosted by Game Face Web Design at first for reliability, but may be transferred to a server in the school once it is a trusted tool.
  • Sandbox Site: Custom Drupal site (See Sandbox, below), configured for teachers to develop web pages and Learning 2.0 projects.  All components are built to specifications based on "support tickets" placed in the Project Management system.  This is best hosted by Game Face Web Design, so that technical problems beyond school personnel expertise do not interfere with teaching and learning. 
  • Moodle: Schools that wish to offer online courses (targeting individuals rather than groups, and geared towards delivering fixed content or skills goals rather than a cumulative curriculum) can add Moodle (the open source version of Blackboard / WebCT) to the collaboratory to support online learning. Used together, Drupal and Moodle can meet institutional control and tracking requirements while offering a deeper, more engaging and open learning environment

The Empowered Teacher is a partner company to Game Face Web Design, a Drupal development company that also hosts and supports Moodle. As Drupal experts, our added value is highest in that platform. If your school has already selected a different tool for some of these functions (like Mahara or GoogleDocs), we will adapt. In addition to the two Drupal intranets, we rely on other tools to supplement text-based collaboration:

  • Point-to-Point VideoConferencing: Skype, which allows both parties to swap between screen-sharing and video sharing.
  • Group Conferencing: GoToMeeting, which allows multiple attendees to view a shared screen and share audio by phone or VoIP.  This allows teachers who cannot get to computers to converse with those who have computers in their classroom but no accessible phone.

As your district gains familiarity with Drupal, you may opt to develop in-house ability to build sites.  We can then add the following to sites to the package:

  • Development Site: A New Drupal installation administrated by local personnel.  Our goal is to transfer our Drupal knowledge to school personnel, at whatever speed makes sense. The Development Site is a place to experiment with Drupal sitebuilding and configuration. This can be hosted by Game Face Web Design until a local server is available, then transferred.
  • Public Showcase Site (Optional): None of the previous three "intranet" sites is designed for public access - logins protect student identity and obviate the need for district-level editorial control. If your public-facing website is built with Drupal, it is easy to import projects from the Sandbox, cleaned of student data and inappropriate material.

But the key to all of this work is the planning site (based on Drupal's Open Atrium distribution) and the Sandbox Site (which is utterly pliable, depending on the scope and depth of blended learning at your school).

The Planning Site: Open Atrium for Team Project Development

Tool Our Version Use Case
Wiki Atrium Notebook Online documents easily printed to paper or PDF, used to outline project plans, list curricular standards, and develop common assessments.
Forum Atrium Blog
+ Comments
Discuss plans, coordinate implementation, reflect on results. Communication begins with a post, continues in threaded comments.
To Do Atrium Casetracker Create projects and cases.  Each case is assigned to a person, given a category and a priority, and associated with comment threads for clarification and updates.
MicroBlog Atrium Shoutbox A quick note to the members of project or the entire community; can also be sent to Twitter or Email.

The Sandbox Site:  Blended Learning Projects

The Sandbox Site is a structured Drupal site, customized for your school.  It is connected to the Planning site by shared Teacher accounts.  When teachers implement projects developed through the Planning Site, they determine which students, outside experts, and others will be participants. 

Without logging in, it is impossible to see any student work, in accordance with COPA regulations.  Once logged in, users can see whichever projects they have been given access to, and participate at whatever level they are invited.  The school has complete control over the environment.

We may also employ other Drupal distributions, such as ProsePoint (for online newpapers), or develop custom subdomains (for curriculum mapping), as required by client needs.

At the end of a project, teacher and student work may be edited and prepared for sharing on the schools Public Site. If that site is also a Drupal site, content can be exported and imported easily.