An Interview with Artia Moghbel: SchoolRack
Michael F. Shaughnessy - August 12, 2009
Senior Columnist EducationNews.org
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico
1) First of all, what exactly is “SchoolRack"?
Simply put, SchoolRack is a powerful communications platform between teachers, students, and parents. We offer free tools for K-12 teachers to establish colorful classroom websites, helping bridge the communication gap between themselves, students, and parents. Recently, we’ve also added dynamic features to the website, including discussion boards, online assignment collection, and more. With these new features, we hope to make the process of teaching and learning a two-way dynamic with students/parents and want to encourage new, creative ways to teach inside and outside the classroom. The most important feature though, in my opinion, is that it’s really simple to use.
2) Why would, say, a Social Studies teacher want to have his or her own web site?
Regardless of one’s position at a school (be it a Social Studies teacher or a Guidance Counselor), it’s helpful to have an online presence to keep students and parents informed. The benefits range from saving paper to noticeably improving the quality of education.
In fact, an Associated Press poll from 2007 found that half of Americans think that schools do a fair to poor job preparing students for college and the workforce. And according to the U.S. Department of Education, learning improves when teachers increase communication. SchoolRack is ideal for improving communication in the classroom – teachers often rave about how they’ve bridged the communication gap between themselves, students, and parents using our simple tools.
3) I know that many teachers do have their own web sites and post homework assignments and review sheets online. Do you think this makes an educational difference?
Absolutely. Students are wired differently these days and I say we play to their strengths through the Internet. Not to mention that it’s proven to make a difference in the quality of education.
Also, think about your own experience in school – there are times when having access to important information the night before an assignment was due was necessary. Having access to this data 24/7, whether you're a student home sick or a parent trying to help with homework, is really helpful in this day and age.
4) Recently, I heard about a teacher giving out her cell number. Is this wise, prudent and judicious?
Students are taught to respect their teachers and I feel that most of the time giving out a cell number isn’t a problem. However, because of the rare delinquent student, I wouldn’t find this a prudent thing to do. Teachers have found other ways to keep in touch with students outside of the classroom. For example, SchoolRack offers a private online messaging system that would alleviate the need for students calling a teacher directly. This means a teacher can respond to student requests on their own time.
5) I can see a teacher posting a lot of hyperlinks to other relevant, important sites. How does SchoolRack help with this?
SchoolRack’s rich text editing system allows a teacher to publish any form of content on their website. They can post anything from a hyperlink to a YouTube video. Because of this flexible system, many teachers actually do use SchoolRack to manage large lists of resources for students, such as a list of links to external learning sites.
6) Why should parents know about SchoolRack?
Parents are our biggest advocates. Given most parents’ busy schedules, the vast majority of them love finding all the necessary updates they need in one place to track their student’s progress in school. Not to mention, they can be a second line of defense against student excuses: if a parent knows homework is due the next day, chances are they’ll make sure their student does the work on time.
7) Who started this idea and when did it start?
I founded the website in 2003 (six years ago) when I realized teachers at my own school could benefit from such a service. To be exact, I had a teacher that wanted to disseminate a 70-page project instructions document and didn’t want to waste reams of paper printing it for 80 students. She asked if I could post the document online for students to read digitally instead. I happily did so, but that initial favor sparked the idea for SchoolRack, and we’re now six years into the service and growing rapidly.
8) What are some of the "draws " or attractions to teachers having an "online presence"?
Aside from directly improving the quality of education in your classroom, one thing that isn’t often mentioned is that building a website shows students that you are taking things seriously in the classroom. For example, most teachers build a website to post information, syllabi, and expectations about a particular class. When students aren’t given this information up front, they take the class in stride and may realize halfway through a semester that they were either misguided or under-prepared. If you build a website and lay out class expectations up front, this has a positive impact on students.
Also, our users actually find it fun to build a website and see all the number of visitors that come each day. Usually the only hesitation teachers have about getting started is the time commitment, but teachers are always surprised at how easy it is to get started, effortless it is to maintain, and especially how effective it can be. We built the service with this in mind, so updates can take less than a minute to push onto a website. Also, the SchoolRack learning curve is minimal.
9) Is there a place online where I can get more information?
Yes, you can visit the SchoolRack homepage at www.schoolrack.com. We offer two types of teacher accounts: one that’s completely free (SchoolRack Free) and one that costs $5.95 a month (SchoolRack Plus) with extra features and storage space. Most teachers find SchoolRack Free to be enough for them.
We also offer our services to schools at a large discount. We have tested this in some schools already with great success, and are planning on releasing it publicly next month.
10) What have I neglected to ask?
A few other things:
Growth? We’ve noticed in recent years that SchoolRack has experienced much stronger growth than when we first launched, and I don’t think this is just from word-of-mouth spread. Each year we nearly double in size and I think this is a direct result of the strong push you see nationwide for schools to more readily embrace technology. Administrators are starting to realize the huge potential in using technology in the classrooms, and we’re seeing this first-hand with the number of registrations at SchoolRack.
Free vs. Paid? Our free version will always be available for individual teachers that want to take advantage of our services. But the feature-rich, paid version has become a popular option for schools and districts because it’s affordable for schools on a budget and is tax-deductible. This way districts and schools can use our services at a fraction of similar services out there that charge thousands of dollars a month for the same functionality.
Development? For our users, we’re always working to release new features and improvements monthly. For our larger customers (schools and districts), we build custom services and websites. So as long as a school is thinking about establishing a leading-edge web presence, we’ve got them covered from individual teacher accounts to streamlined school accounts.
To learn more about our services, visit our website (www.schoolrack.com)
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