We are frequently asked about our long-term development directions. Below are our thoughts.
Is the Internet the most significant technological innovation of the last millennium, the end of life as we know it, or just the latest techno-fad? We think none of the above. The Internet is important, it is changing the way people use computer technology, and it does have an “in thing” quality. We know that some educators are being advised that most applications should be web-based, and we know that some educators will only purchase web-based software.
So where does Grady Profile stand? We think that there are both educational and technological aspects to this issue.
From an educational perspective, we believe that the current trend for "web-orientation" is due to a miscommunication of goals and that those who are arguing for "web-based" portfolios are basically thinking about showcase portfolios.
A showcase (which is usually free of any assessment content) is a perfectly valid thing to put on the web. Think of it as an electronic resume or advertisement. (For that matter, think of Toot! and its ability to package for the web.)
On the other hand, Grady Profile is all about an assessment-rich portfolio, full of evaluation, self-reflection, improvement goals, etc. This type of portfolio contains extremely confidential material information which is as private to the student as the most confidential and private material you have as an adult. We do not believe that this type of information belongs on the web — for several reasons:
- Too much web-based information has been stolen for us to feel confident that web security is sufficient to protect student data.
- Even organizations with huge technology resources are susceptible to break-ins and other problems. Most school districts lack the necessary manpower.
- Grady Profile's field-level security model is quite difficult to implement in a web-based context. Its effects on software performance would be significant.
- And don't forget demographic data. In today's world, protecting demographic data on the web (as a student safety issue) is a challenging problem.
However, we do believe that there is a place for the Internet in Grady Profile:
- First, we recognize the desirability of building web-based showcase portfolios. In Grady Profile, we provide this function with our reporting system; in Toot!, we provide a web-packaging option. In both cases, we do not display the entire portfolio on the web. Instead, we let users pick information for web-display, then create HTML web-pages containing the selected material. We think this offers a reasonable compromise between access and security.
- Second, we recognize that there is a real need for people to access student profiles (portfolios) from outside the school. Examples include distance education, teachers working from home, students logging in overnight, parents who want to monitor their children's progress and/or use the portfolio as a means of communication with their children's teachers, etc.
One possible answer it VPN (Virtual Private Networks). This network technology allows trusted computers located outside the network to access information that is on the network as if the computers were inside the network.
Long term, we are investigating a TCP/IP-based "thick" client-server implementation.
- Client-Server means that individual users do not access data directly. Instead, users run programs (clients) which exchange messages with a centralized program (server), which accesses data on the client's behalf.
- Thick client means that the client software (i.e., the program users run on their own computers) is sophisticated and takes responsibility for on-screen appearance, user interface, and other issues. The thick-client approach keeps client-server communications as brief and simple as possible, putting the least possible load on the server and taking best advantage of the computing power of the user's machine.
- TCP/IP-based means that the mechanism by which the client and server communicate is the TCP/IP protocol. This is the same protocol that underlies (and provides the backbone of) the Internet. Using TCP/IP means that clients and the server can communication within a building using Ethernet, or over large distances using broadband or even dial-up access.
This approach will not be available until a future release of Grady Profile.
A journal is not a blog and should not be treated like one.
Unlike a blog, a journal and its content are private. Students need a space to compose and edit their journal entries without worrying about who will see them or what their "public" will think. Journals should be places where students can express personal, confidential, introspective thoughts and feelings.
That just doesn't belong on the web.
We take the security and privacy of journals very seriously in our Student eJournal product. We will not do anything to compromise these principles just to provide the convenience of Internet access.
Years ago, we had a product called Grady Profile Companion, which ran on an Apple Newton PDA and worked with Grady Profile to allow teachers to assess students as they walked around the classroom. Unfortunately, Apple canceled the Newton (and the related educational product called eMate) in March, 1998.
Grady Profile Companion is no more, but we still believe that there is an important place for hand-held computers in classrooms.
At the moment, the choice of platform is quite murky. Conventional PDAs (like PalmPilot, PocketPC, etc.) have lost popularity with the rise of intelligent cell phones. iPod is a possibility, both its manual input and visual readout capabilities fit well with our requirements.
So, for the moment, we're looking and thinking about possibilities, but have no concrete development plans.