Friday, March 22, 2013

Global Challenge is now on LiveBinder!

Monday, March 04, 2013

LaunchPad Solves Teachers' Organizational and Accountability Issues

It was only a matter of time before someone realized that those in the educational community needed one central site where school and district administrators as well as teachers and parents could visit for objective and professional reviews of education technology software. K12TechReview.com is currently in the process of building such a site and will have it up and running soon. It will be complete with criterion-based reviews by accredited reviewers from the education and technology sectors. Most importantly, instead of just looking at the technical features of a piece of software, these reviews will take a hard look at the actual educational value of these platforms. 

As an accredited reviewer, I’ve now reviewed 5 software applications. Below is a sample of my review of LaunchPad (by ClassLink)





Teacher Experience (A)
The quality and ease of use for the teacher, paraprofessional, or administrator.

LaunchPad is a cloud based k-12 desktop which gives teachers access to not only all their files, documents and media, but to over a 1,000 applications. What you get with this software is basically a desktop, tablet, laptop or smartphone with all of one’s teachers tools, apps and documents neatly and stylishly organized in one convenient place and accessible wherever there is an Internet connection.

The Instructional Desktop is a particularly nice feature. It allows teachers to distribute and collect assignments, upload course materials, create calendars, use whiteboards and create collaborative assignments and projects. A teacher could potentially run class from their desk, behind a laptop and take students on an interactive journey through virtually all class content (including ebooks) in real time and have students actually interact with and discuss information. Students could then go along with each presentation on whatever device they have, be it a laptop, iPad or even smartphone.

In terms of accountability, LaunchPad’s portal feature would be a great way to share practically the entire learning experience of a school or class with parents, board members and interested parties in the community.

Overall, LaunchPad offers easy setup, standard navigation, great collaborative and instructional tools as well as access to hundreds of helpful apps and educational websites.


Student Experience (A)
The quality, ease, and engagement for students and their families.

Students should find LaunchPad engaging, intuitive, easy to navigate, self-explanatory, rich with resources and visually stimulating. By using this platform, students could potentially throw away notebooks, folders and no longer have to worry about crumpled or lost papers as all assignments and class-work could be handed in online.

Because the platform is loaded with tools like real time chat, webcam, screen sharing, calendar function and the fact that students could easily hand in work and collaborate with others, there is an infinite number of ways to be engaged in learning. Plus, in terms of accountability, the students’ parents would have no trouble seeing exactly what is going on in class and what it expected.

No one really needs to refer to a class schedule or syllabus anymore, as instructions and expectations would be clearly visible to all students using the system, either by looking at posted assignments or by accessing the class calendar. A creative or tech-savvy teacher could allow students with different types of intelligence and understanding to demonstrate learning in an almost limitless number of ways. For example, a student might choose to demonstrate learning by way of podcast, blog entry or video if the teacher were so inclined to accept student work in this fashion.


Setup and Implementation (A)
How easy it is to set up and configure, implement, and manage the solution in a K12 setting.

With a platform of this magnitude, there could be a moderately steep learning curve for the non-technical user.  But LaunchPad offers instructional videos, webinars, a free demo,
a blog filled with ideas and explanations and a responsive customer service department. Setup should be relatively easy.


Quality of Features (A)
Feature rich; includes all anticipated features plus offers other at no or little additional investment; features integrated smoothly.

There is an exhaustive list of features offered on the platform. Some of the basic functions include being able to 1.) edit documents locally or from the “cloud,” 2.) run Windows applications on any device; 3.) use collaboration tools, drop boxes and interactive whiteboards; 4.) use SSO (single sign on) feature to access websites and more with a single click; 5.) create portals so people outside of class can access one’s materials and  6.) accommodate BYOD programs, allowing students to use smartphones, tablets, etc.

For the teacher who appreciates style and creativity, one can easily change the look and feel of the interface, change background screens and use an avatar or profile picture. LaunchPad also offers a Google sign on and makes it easy to operate on iPad and other devices.


Educational Value
The value to a K12 setting, especially how it impacts student learning. Non-classroom solutions are evaluated in terms of administrative value.

A platform or system whereby teachers, students and administrators store, share files and use applications, is not by itself educational. But the system does exactly what it is intended to do in that it offers great educational potential. LaunchPad is a facilitative tool, and as such puts the onus on the users to create educational value.

If one looks at the educational value in terms of a teacher being more organized and efficient or being able to streamline their teaching functions, then LaunchPad hits the mark. This platform does a great job of creating community, in that it brings all key players, i.e. teachers, students, administrators and parents together. Systems get better by way of communication and creating feedback loops, and in that sense LaunchPad is an invaluable tool.


Security & Privacy
To what extent and in what way can the solution be controlled in terms of access and privacy.

Access to the platform is encrypted using ssl/https. LaunchPad offers a single sign on feature allowing users to save their credentials for their favorite websites and the ability to log into their resources with a single mouse click. Like anything else, this is secure as long as teachers do not leave their computer unattended after having logged into the program.


Exposure
How well the product protects students from inappropriate or undesirable content.

Content is really determined by the teacher, student and possibly administrator and parent, so this can only be determined by the users. All applications featured on the platform are educationally based and appropriate for student use.


Support
Documentation, support, warranty, etc.

ClassLink offers a blog, FAQ section, instructional videos, webinars and product demos with ideas for educators and information on product usage. Their customer service department offers “100% dedication guaranteed,” and allows users to connect by phone or email.


General Rating
Overall, after considering all elements, how did the product feel?

LaunchPad deserves their many accolades and awards for offering a highly functional, organized, streamlined and stylish product. Once a teacher becomes familiar with the many features and apps and learns how to upload assignments and create classes, the platform should really help teachers and schools to increase (as well as promote and expose) their workflow.

Summary

LaunchPad solves the organizational problems that come along with teaching or running a school by creating a functional and useful place for teachers to put all their content and applications.  But the product goes beyond that by also providing a hands-on way to actually deliver content and evaluate student understanding.  For the administrator or school district, it solves the problem of transparency and accountability. Administrators, for example, can easily monitor how the system is being used and can examine the “output” of the teaching staff.  For these reasons, LaunchPad deserves a high rating.