A Facilitator's Best Friend

Web-based applications are probably the easiest to include in a lesson plan. They tend to be compatible accross platforms (web browsers), implimenting a new platform in the case of incompatibility is almost alway free, and students are more likely to have access to them than many other forms of technology. And, the best part, there tends to be multiple sites with different features that give you a plethora of options on what to choose.

The magnitude of the choice can be a little much a times, however. Still, if you keep the following things in mind while researching, you should be able to easily narrow things down and find something that works for you.

How trustworthy is it?

One of the things that you learn almost immediately when searching for sites to integrate into lessons is that corporations do not corner the market on usefulness. Small blogs and a up-and-coming sites can have useful tools that are just what you need to properly convey your point to your students.

However, the thing that must always be in the forefront of your mind is that, on the internet, things are not always what they seem. Sites may ask you to download a plugin only to install a virus on your system. Others may ask for information in order to gain access to you personal and/or financial information in order to commit fraud. Still others may contain faulty or outright false information.

Never install anything from a site that you just found, no matter who it seems may run it. Do your research first. If you cannot find congent and useful reviews of a site or online application, it might be best to leave it be for the moment and find something else.

Know the privacy rules

If a website requires you to enter you or your students to enter information in order to gain access, it is extremely important that you know what will happen with that information once it was collected. While true of everyone, it is especailly troubling if the information collected on children should find its way into nefarious hands. Read the terms of service that about who has access to your account info and if it will be sold to third parties or used to advertise to you. While you can usually not avoid some version of information brokering when dealing with a website that requires a login, you can pick a site that adheres to a certain comfort level about how much information you are required to give and how much they give out.

Who else is online?

The world wide web is a world unto itself and, just like our world, there are times when there are people you do no wish to interact with. Whether it be an issue of personal safety, personal comfort, or a lack of desire to be exposed to certain topics, you should try figure out the type of user that frequents a site. Not only does this keep you and your students from running into unsavory elements and information, it can also dictate how often the site is update and how trustworthy what you find there is in terms of safety and facts.

Be age appropriate

We said it before, and we said it again; you have to know your audience. A site that is overly text-heavy site is likely not the best choice for students who are English-lanugage learners or just learning how to read. Conversely, a site that if full of juvinile colors and animations will immediately alienate adults. Find a site or online application that provides a certain level of challenge for the education-based user while not being so hard or inscrutible that they are left confused.

File saving and sharing

Cloud-based computing (applications that are based entirely on the web) are becoming more and more popular and creating an ease of collaboration and file disemination that we have never seen before. When choosing a site that will allow students to work exclusivily online, be aware of how secure thier cloud storage (where thier files are stored) is and how many people will be able to view the files that are created.

The first task, knowing how secure the cloud is, can be a tall order as many companies do not reveal or downplay hacks and viruses. Still, be aware of what is out there in order to form a good decision.

The second point, knowing who has access, is a matter of knowing just how publically viewable files are and who can change them. Can a file be seen by everyone online with access to the system or do they need a permission of some kind (link or password)? Can a file be be editted and deleted by a someone other than the original owner? Can multiple people work on the file at the same time? How many iterations of a file is saved on the system? Can you download copies of what you create to a personal storage device? There are things to consider when deciding what kind of creation, saving, and sharing service to use.