Sunday, April 20

Record-Keeping Options for Homeschoolers

I've been reviewing a few options for tracking information for our learning systems. Mostly I want something I can use to add after-the-fact classes though I'd also like the option to track the odd assignment or upcoming field trip etc. I want something I can customize but I also need the system to be reasonably user-friendly (are they mutually exclusive?) So far, I've looked at five options and as a context for my comments: I'm far from a power user but I'm reasonably computer-savvy for a layperson.

[Update: I've been meaning to do a rev on this post for a while, but so much more important and useful is this recursive bit (hee, hee: here's where I link from my blogpost on blogging, to another blog on blogging):

I'm not going to try and recreate the wheel; Just read this post, Organizing Assignments with a Blog on Suji's Fun-Schooling Blog]

Homeschool Easy Records (Software Program)

Benefits: Free 30-day trial (with some limits on functionality), very comprehensive hs'ing specific program; separate sections for Record-keeping and Lesson-planning, can track unit-study, related community for sharing developed lesson plans,

Downsides: More complicated than I could figure out in a couple of hours without help,

Conclusion: For $39.95 I may buy it to further explore the full functionality; complicated; if you're interested in grading and reports and stuff like that, this could be a good choice but I suspect this one is way more "school-y" than most of us would want or need, though that said, it could be a good way of tracking external classes and their related grades all in one place (for high school / college applicants).

Home School Incorporated (Web-based Program)

Benefits: Fairly easy to use, simple online sign-up, responsive customer service, free Homeschool Planner (PER)

Downsides: Program is weak and not very flexible. I couldn't log "read plot summary" for a field trip in advance of the field trip (could only put it in the notes for the trip on the day of which would require me to remember to say "read the plot summary"), despite quick response from customer service, the fix she suggested didn't work for me, so while they only charge for the support ($50 annually) and the program itself is free, I'd definitely say you will need the help as the program is not very smooth in spite of its simplicity

Conclusion: Definitely won't work for me. Might be ok for someone who wants the benefits that Basecamp (below) offers but wants a free program that provides sharing. Better be patient, too as this one is clunky!

Homeschool Tracker (Software Program)

Benefit: I have no idea but some people apparently like it:

Downsides: Tried to download trial three times with no luck

37signals Basecamp (Web-based Program)

Notes: Free level only allows for one project so if that project were "Homeschooling Journal" or records you could use the Messages section to communicate to your other users (kids), the Milestones section toblog assignments, events, field trips and classes and the To-Do section to outline specifics which relate to specific Milestones. There is also a Whiteboard feature which would be most useful to me as a logbook.

Benefits: Good for integrating calendar, to-do and associating To Do's with projects; free at the one project level; sharable (for $12/month)

Downsides: Very limited: only has 3-4 types of interfaces and is not very customizable; no ability to create reports

Conclusion: This could work well for someone who wanted a power-To-Do list and might be good for someone who just wants to improve tracking but doesn't crave perfection or homeschool specificity. Probably not right for me. Given the lack of customization, I'd rather keep using my jotspot which is more customizable.

Jotspot (and other Wikis)

Benefits: very flexible, free

Downsides: require an organized brain to figure out how you want to structure things. You have to design the relationship between things so this is not the best option for anyone who just wants plug and play unless you just want to use it for a collaborative journal (which is our primary usage)

Conclusion: Given that I like Jotspot, I think for anyone who is inclined to set up their own system Wikis are great; I also like PBWiki. (but again, be prepared to read a White Paper to find out how to do certain things). The truly great one appears to be Google Sites (previously mentioned by Jennifer) which is Jotspot on Google steroids.

Google Sites

Benefits: highly customizable, Available templates make it much more plug-and-pay than Jotspot and PBWiki (for example, there is a "classroom template" and a "student club" template which could be an easy beginning point for some), integrates with other google apps,

Downsides: still not as simple as some of the software programs and making it highly homeschool specfic or personal will still require a bit of savvy set up; you need to have your own domain to use it (as opposed to gmail, yahoo, or hotmail etc)

Conclusion: GS looks great based on my initial tour! I haven't been able to try customizing it yet though because all of my domain name address are currently broken. They will be allowing for Jotspot users to migrate to GS but that isn't available yet. That's looking like my best bet for retaining my previous work and customization in Jotspot while also being able to access the integration with Google features like calendar, which I currently cannot do on Jotspot.

[Update: I successfully and happily used Google Sites for a few years and then suddenly, somehow lost all the information on one of the sites. Big downside!]

I just wish that some of the above had database features included. Then again, J is constantly telling me that I mess myself up by trying to create overly complex systems which I then cannot follow. Integrating a database feature into my homeschooling record-keeping probably fits into that category. ;)

1 comment:

  1. Lisa, these are wonderful suggestions! Thank you!