ePals: An Integrated Solution for Students of the Future

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Written by Zach Sims and Edited by Sid Yadav.

Editor’s Note: Zach is a 16 year-old school student with an interest in Web 2.0 technologies and will now be regularly contributing to Rev2. Since his age group is one that is arguably most affected by this kind of technology (and really who all this is aimed toward), I thought it would be valuable to gain an insight and perspective from someone of his age group. Zach originally wrote this article for his school’s ePals blog.

For years, students have grappled in an unfamiliar world of technology. Schools with hundreds of computers often housed students with no knowledge of how to use them. Notes were kept on paper, students had decentralized e-mail systems, and collaboration was discouraged. The rise of the semantic web, as part of the Web 2.0 movement, seems to be pushing schools to open up. ePals, a revolutionary new system, seeks to change the way students handle technology.

As a high school student, I’ve experimented with dozens of services that promise to streamline both the way I work and the way I learn. “Back to School with the Class of Web2.0,” an article on SolutionWatch, lists dozens of ways for students to improve the way they work with the web. I’ve used both MyNoteIT and Stu.dicio.us to test the usability of the applications these startups produce. While their products are compelling, the effectiveness of their solutions depends solely on their userbase. If my friends aren’t using the tools, I lose the usage of many of the services’ prominent features. I cannot share notes if there’s nobody to share them with, and I cannot discuss homework and tests either.

ePals, however, seeks to change that, albeit in a more stringent and less democratic manner. Unlike other web tools (like those suggested in SolutionWatch’s article), ePals is meant to be implemented by a school district. Most, if not all, of the Web2.0 sites rely on the user population to keep them afloat. The viral nature of these applications means that it’s often up to the student to spread the word in order to make the use of a product worthwhile. ePals takes a very Web 1.0 approach to spreading, however. ePals houses no advertising, meaning their revenue stream must come from the cost of subscriptions.

Web 2.0 websites typically remain free and full of advertising in order to stay afloat. ePals targets wealthier school districts in lieu of courting students to use their product. If forced upon them, students have no choice but to use ePals. Once they do, however, they’ll discover that it provides many useful tools that should help improve their educational experience. Several tools found in Web 2.0 applications, like CollegeRuled, have been integrated into ePals. Students can send each other e-mails, share notes, and collaborate on projects (with a Basecamp-like solution).

The biggest plus to ePals is the standardization it provides. With such a solution installed across a school district, the district knows every student’s e-mail address, for notification purposes and for a teacher’s messages. In addition, it allows teachers to view students’ web activities, ensuring they utilize proper study habits. Teachers also benefit from greater control over student activities and the ability to send an e-mail to an entire class without worrying about e-mail addresses. While new sites like Chalksite and Engrade provide dozens of benefits for teachers, they don’t provide the standardization that ePals does.

Opinion

I’m a big proponent of the Web 2.0 movement, both because of the content it has created and the participation in the internet that it’s caused. I write for several blogs, but most students don’t understand the concept of a blog. ePals is a baby step toward comprehension of the internet for those still involved in the educational system. Hopefully, by the time they depart for college, students will be prepared for a new generation of technology, prepared to help them succeed in the future.


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