CVU embraces latest technology with new Web site (9/17/09)

Sept. 17, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

Next week, Champlain Valley Union High School will launch a redesigned Web site and network that aim to streamline communication and become an integral technological learning tool.


The new Web site for Champlain Valley Union High School employs the latest technology.

Principal Sean McMannon said the Web site change is part of the widespread Web redesigns taking place for all Chittenden South Supervisory Union schools. Like the other school Web sites, this change is a long time coming.

“It’s the future of learning and we need to prepare our students for that,” McMannon said, adding that CVU is following where many college Web sites have gone in recent years.

John Dawson, CVU’s information systems manager, agreed with McMannon, saying that CVU should remain on the cutting edge of 21st-century learning.

“We want to Web-enable the delivery of education,” Dawson said.

The genesis of the new site began three years ago, when some classrooms began using a program called Moodle. This software allows teachers to create virtual learning environments where students can collaborate on projects online. Teachers can also post assignments, messages and discussion topics that students can access outside of classroom time. McMannon said Moodle instantly caught on with students and became one of the most accessed computer tools within the school.

A new Web site was soon created — — and began to evolve. The Web address now shows the pilot Web site that will replace the current design at

The main page will have updated announcements for students, staff and members of the community. Much like the old site, there will be links to student activity Web pages and school information. There will also be a section on the right side of the front page that will link to various student multimedia projects. McMannon and Dawson said just the front page is a step up from the current site.

“Our old network and old system was very limiting,” Dawson said.

Beginning in July, Dawson worked to build the new site and network to include the Moodle programs. Dawson said Google applications proved to be the best and most efficient tools for students and teachers. Most importantly for McMannon, the Google programs are free.

On Monday, the school’s e-mail system switched from a GroupWise account to Google Mail. McMannon said e-mail addresses will not change, however. Google Mail will allow staff and students to create scheduling calendars and send messages to different groups of people. Students and staff have already been using Google document programs in the classroom.

“The nice piece about Google is that it supports collaboration,” said Charlie MacFadyen, CVU’s technology integrationist.

Instead of sending large group-emails that sometimes would get lost in the fray, the school community will be able to communicate via online message boards.

Students will be able join groups associated with their classes and activities and will be able to retrieve information through these groups. Once they sign on for the day, students will have immediate access to their e-mail system and other applications. McMannon said the system is being called the “dashboard.”

“It’s got that one-stop shopping appeal to it,” MacFadyen said.

Many of the programs are nothing new to CVU students, McMannon said.

“A lot of these kids have been doing this for a while,” he said. “The learning curve isn’t as steep for kids.”

But for some faculty and staff, the new technologies will be more of a challenge. MacFadyen said he’s been teaching the new programs in group settings. While certain programs are brand new to some faculty, they understand the importance, he said. McMannon said he’s proud of how staff has rallied around the new technology.

“They’ve handled the changes with complete professionalism,” he said.

Starting sometime next month, parents will also be able to use the site on a more collaborative basis. They’ll be able to create usernames and passwords for the site so they can monitor their children’s class work and school information.

For now, school officials are looking forward to next week’s launch. More importantly, the new Web site signals the major changes schooling has undergone in the past decade. Gone are paper-based projects and outdated e-mail systems.

“Students just don’t learn that way anymore,” Dawson said.