First Class Collaboration Suite (www.firstclass.com) is available for both educational and business use, but we are going to focus only on the educational use. First Class provides features that work for both communications and for training. First Class users have set up collaborative online learning communities (sites where literacy practitioners or literacy learners can both meet and learn) and e-learning events (incorporating everything from virtual schools to blended learning).
First Class is easily downloaded and installed onto any computer from a link at the website. Once installed, First Class opens on your computer as a “desktop” that provides access to all the software's features. You can customize the look of the desktop to suit your preferences. If you are a member of more than one group, or if you are registered with more than one training event, each group and event appears in its own section.
First Class offers a variety of ways to communicate with other First Class users. For example, you can send e-mails to other First Class users or to your regular e-mail contacts. You can also have instant message discussions with fellow First Class users who are online at the same time you are. You can post, download and edit documents. You can set up discussion groups. You can use the calendar feature. You can set up a virtual classroom or a meeting space. All users are required to log in which means that your First Class space is private and only your colleagues or fellow participants can join in the discussion or access the training event.
First Class works on Windows (including Vista), Linux and Macintosh operating systems. For more information, be sure to check out the brochure available on the First Class website.
First Class can be downloaded directly from the website at no cost. However, it does need to be set up to work with a server so this may present some technical challenges for smaller organizations. For more information, contact First Class at 1-888-808-0388.
Humber College, as part of the Ontario Learn distance education network, has developed an excellent online demonstration of FirstClass: www.online-learning.humber.ca/tutorials/embanet_fc.html.
Technology in Action
Literacy networks and agencies in western Canada have made extensive use of First Class through their e-Lit communication system. Unfortunately, this system had to be discontinued because of funding cuts, but it was a very popular and effective way for literacy practitioners to communicate and engage in online learning for a number of years.
Deborah Morgan from Alberta delivered the popular Writing out Loud (http://writingoutloud.com/) workshops, using First Class.
The Alberta-based Centre for Family Literacy (www.famlit.ca) recently offered its Foundations in Family Literacy Training using First Class.