ChallengeU is a free online pedagogical platform that was created by David Chartrand, a teacher in Montreal. ChallengeU serves schools as well as businesses. It’s aim is to allow people to create and share learning content. It is easy to access since it is accessible on every devices, from computers to tablets as well as on smartphones. However, it does require an internet connection. During my first practicum at Les Prés-Verts in a 6th grade intensive English classroom, I had the chance to work with Manon Provencher, a teacher using this platform for some of her homework assignment.
ChallengeU is presented like a social network; its users are following each other and sharing their content with the entire population of the network. It is also using hashtags in order to regroup specific content altogether. However, it does not recommend posting all sorts of things like people would on other social network. In fact, it is designed mostly for teachers to post tests or homework assignments.
Miss Provencher, as a full-time teacher teaching three different classes (all 6th graders following intensive English format), wanted a platform on which she could put some homework assignments that would be more effective than handling some paperwork. As a primary school teacher, she ends up having a ton of papers in her binders, and by the end of the year, it becomes harder for her to compile results and to find some specific work by specific students. That is the main reason why she started using ChallengeU. On that platform, she can easily put her homework online for her different groups, as well as
For some students, but mainly for parents, using technology is a struggle. Fortunately for them, Miss Provencher found a good way for them to have to do only the minimum. She created accounts for each and every students before the year started, and gave her students a quick tutorial on how to use it. If the students were not paying attention, ChallengeU has the solution. On their website, there are some video tutorials of how to use the platform, why to use it, and also some testimonies of people using it. They also have a couple of YouTube channels in French as well as in English, which is perfect for parents or students to learn how to use it properly in the most effective way.
“The way ChallengeU works is fairly simple”, as mentioned Miss Provencher. First, you create an account. Then, you add your students in the groups you created, and simply have to post some homework on those groups after. It is pretty easy to use, and really allows teachers to design their homework exactly how they want them to look like. You can place worksheet with multiple exercises, some with short text answers, some with long text answers, multiple choices, any way you want them to be! You can also post videos or pictures for pre-task activities. What she also likes about this platform is that she can see when her students are online. She can also send messages to them if ever they need help. She even put some enrichment online, which are far more popular than she would have thought. That is a great indication of how appreciated this platform is by the students.
Julie Beaupré, another teacher in elementary school, says that teachers should use ChallengeU because it is very easy to use. She adds that it takes very few time to get used to the platform itself, so that teachers can start focusing on their content right away. For the students’ point of view, she mentions that students appreciate working with this tool because they are more aware on how important it is to provide some quality work because they can see their work on the wall of ChallengeU. She adds that they find it easier to submit their work on this platform and they enjoy they their work serves as creating revision content for other students; they don’t feel like they work for nothing. She concludes by saying there are plenty of advantages to use ChallengeU, mostly because of the variety of pedagogical uses it proposes; to consult them, visit her article here.
In my opinion, ChallengeU is an amazing platform to use as an ESL teacher. First, because it is available on every devices; making it almost impossible to not be able to use it. Then, it looks very good and is attractive for students. It is also designed to look like a social network, working almost the same way these network work. For instance, students can use the symbol “@” in front of usernames to publish something directly to that person. They can also use “#” for others to relate to a broader subject. For example, teachers would post an English grammar exercise with the hashtags #grammar #english. I am looking forward to using it in my own classrooms since I think it is a great way to make students do their homework, and also to keep track of their result and implication. It is easy to create a profile and link every students to it so they can access every homework. Moreover, if they need help, they can ask for support from their teammates directly on the platform.
Although I am amazed by with what ChallengeU has to offer, I find there are some counterparts to it. The biggest inconvenient I found to it is that it creates a public profile of the user on the internet. Children are not allowed on certain social network and there are a couple of reasons for that; mostly because they are not mature enough and aware of some consequences their actions could have on their lives. On ChallengeU, you cannot have a private account. It would be easy for anybody to look up anyone’s profile. Despite having most of your publications private, it is still possible for anybody to follow anyone else. Although it makes it easy for teachers to find their students and add them to their groups, it also makes it easy for any other bad intended person. I would have prefered a way to keep a profile private and having the opportunity to have a specific access code to access specific groups. Also, I think it would have been a good idea to implant a way to work offline. That way, teachers can avoid some poor excuses given by students who did not feel like doing their homework. In my opinion, it would be great to add a function where students can download tests and homework on their applications, which would be automatically submitted once they have any internet access.
To conclude, I think that ChallengeU is a well done platform with only few things to fix to be optimal. Such an easily accessible tool that is easy to use should not be tossed away by ESL teachers. I highly recommend you try it and make your own opinion of it; but I warn you: To try it is to adopt it.