My main gripe with the software my prof wrote for the message board is that comments aren't really threaded. All posts have the original comment as their parent. While this is somewhat trivial, I think there would be a lot to be gained by running a more standardized piece of software, like Scoop or Slash, or anything else that's got more features.
I'm a CS major, and this term I'm taking my 8th and 9th CS courses, and Networking is only the second to have a message board. The other one, a software engineering course, introduced the board towards the end of the course and nobody really used it. In the class I'm taking now, the prof encourages everyone to use the board, and has from the beginning.
The benefits of a discussion forum / message board for a class are many, but the one that first comes to my mind is that the professor doesn't have to answer the same question fifty times. Not coincidentally, this is the reason the prof stated for having written the message board software in the first place. Another benefit is that students can answer the questions as well as the prof. This is immensely helpful when getting a signal 11 error on your project at 2:31 a.m. on the day it's due, when the prof is unlikely to be checking his email (I, of course, have never been in such a situation... ahem).
In considering which of the two major "brands" of weblog software I thought would best fit an educational setting, I ended up settling on a combination of both of them. The "killer app" for Scoop (aside from the pleasant color/font scheme), as far as I'm concerned, is the ability for anyone to post a story to the front page. I don't know if the notion of "voting" would really be applicable in this case, because if a student submits a question as a "story," you don't want anybody to vote it down. So maybe a voting threshold of 0 could be set, causing all submitted stories/questions to appear as major topics.
The feature of Slash (or at least Slashdot, I don't know if it's in the Slash codebase or not) that I think would be most useful in an educational setting is the Sections. I think kuro5hin has this (I can either submit this as an article or a feature), but I know Slashdot does.
So what I am picturing right now is the department (I'm thinking specifically of the computer science department, but there's no reason any other department couldn't do this) has its Scoop/Slash server. The professors are the "editors," and can delete trolls and moderate themselves into oblivion, whatever. Each class that uses the site is its own Section. So I want to submit a question to CS23, I select cs23 from the pulldown menu. If I want to ask a question of the entire department, for example, "is cs 15 a required course?" I can post it to the main page. Departmental / class announcements can also be posted there to ensure everyone sees them (though email lists currently reach pretty much everyone).
The one really interesting feature that's in my prof's program and not in either Scoop nor Slash (and wouldn't be appropriate for either) is the ability to email questions to a central address and have them posted to the forum. I think the way the prof matches up incoming messages to existing threads is through the "re: whatever" in the subject field of the email. While this isn't incredibly robust, it does seem to get the job done. Putting a parent-id number in the subject field (i.e., "Re: in-reply-to-message-number-45") would probably enable complete threading, which I always like. The ability to email comments to the discussion sort of takes care of the technophobes. The prof can still get emailed copies of all questions, and of course, he can just be cc'd (or the list can be avoided altogether) if the question is extremely pressing. The sender of the email can get all the benefits of people reviewing their comments while not having to go through and read through all the comments (assuming that replies are posted to the forum as well as emailed to the the original author).
Anyway, I was wondering what everyone thought of this idea. I've been using a college setting as my backdrop, but there isn't really any reason a high school or even junior high couldn't do something similar. Well, that's not really true, since they may not have the funds to have a sysadmin running a linux box and keeping everything running smoothly. And the most prevalent idea in high school, at least the way I remember it, is apathy, so such a resource would probably go unused. Then there are also the problems in HS of students not having access to the internet (whereas it is almost a given at [residential, at least] colleges), so taxpayers may not want to pay for something their children cannot use.
Since both Slash and Scoop are distributed under the GPL, there is currently nothing stopping any school, or anybody at all, for that matter, from setting up a site like I described above. I think it can be a great resource in an educational setting. I'm really reluctant to suggest something like this to my current prof, since he may take it as a personal attack against his message board software, but perhaps in the future I'll suggest it. I've gotten a lot of usage out of it so far.
In what other arenas do y'all think weblogs can be used in new ways? I've heard that big corporations are now using software like Instant Messenger to communicate internally, since it's faster than email; maybe internal corporate weblogs could be on the horizon? What do you think? Also, are there any other "major" pieces of weblog software available? Please don't suggest the detestable UBB. While showing which posts are "new" since your last visit is cool, I find the way comments are displayed very annoying and not at all natural. But anyway...
(now back to my regularly scheduled hacking...)
Note to rusty: feel free to move this to "features" if you think it's more appropriate.