When the Los Angeles Unified School District announced at the end of May that it planned to cancel summer school, the latest result of California’s multibillion-dollar cuts to education, it estimated 225,000 students would be without the courses they need to stay at grade level or get ahead.
Now some of those students are taking advantage of an alternative to summer school on the Web — SOS Classroom, a collection of free educational Web sites, videos, and games. Educators and others submit material to be considered for the collection using Web 2.0 tools, and the materials are compiled by students in an advanced writing course at the University of Southern California.
The site’s advisory board includes educators from the Universities of California at San Diego and Irvine, the University of Texas at Dallas, and Kansas State University, as well as educational consultants and technology experts.
The idea began in Mark Marino’s upper-level “Advanced Writing: Writing With Technology” course last semester, which focused on using Web 2.0 technology and gathering resources with sites like Del.icio.us, Pageflakes, and RSS feeds, he said. Students were required to keep a blog about those technologies and how they related to one of their personal interests. One student’s blog was about education reform, which jump-started the conversation about how the class could help save the district’s summer-school programs for elementary- and middle-school students.
“We were studying Web 2.0 and talking about whether it’s a business concept, as way to make money off of the Web after the dot-com boom, or whether it’s this tool where good will and networking technology will all come together,” said Mr. Marino, an assistant professor in the writing program at USC. “We ended up deciding on the latter.”
The site, called “Save Our Summers” by the USC students, depends on crowdsourcing, which requires educators, parents, and volunteers to find links in places like e-mail lists, Google groups, discussion boards, and YouTube, and tag them so Mr. Marino’s students can organize them into several categories: language arts, mathematics, and English as a second language. The links correspond to the district’s elementary- and middle-school curricula.
Users can tag these pages by e-mail, by using the tag sosclassroom on Del.icio.us or Diigo, or using Twitter with the hashtags #sosclassroom or @sosclassroom. There is also a Facebook page, Twitter account, and Diigo group for the project.
At the moment, the site is intended for summer camps or personal use at a library or at home. Today, Mr. Marino and some of his students are introducing the project at Champions Camp in Los Angeles, which serves students in kindergarten through fifth grade. He said students will rate the site throughout the summer, and he will return at the end of the month to evaluate their responses.
As the site develops, Mr. Marino’s class will look to expand to subjects like science and history, he said, and hopes to extend the tool’s range of grade levels to include high-school students. The students also hope it is a resource elementary- and middle-school educators can use throughout the school year.
“Schools have this computer time built into their schedule … and where they go from there is solely dependent on whether the teacher knows good resources,” he said. “But what I found from talking to educators is that a lot of them don’t know where to go with that time.” —Erica R. Hendry