I just set up a nicenet "class" for participants in the New Orleans Writing Marathon to post their pieces for response prior to publication in the anthology, and I realized that I haven't talked much aboutNicenet here in a long time.
With the SLWP Advanced Institute this summer I had opportunity to use Blackboard for the first time. I was struck by how I could do all those same things on Nicenet -- for free! Since many of the participants in the marathon just came for the marathon, setting them up on Blackboard became a very difficult task. Hence, the Nicenet home for those folks.
If you aren't familiar with Nicenet, it is worth a few minutes of your time to check it out. It is internet-based, so there is no software to download or host. It can be accessed from any computer with internet access. Also, there is "protection" for students because the classes are closed, and you need a class key to join. As the instructor, you have the key and give it to the students. You could also give it to their parents if you wanted. That would make students' work available to the parents. It could function as a way to communicate with parents and for parents to communicate with you.
I have used Nicenet for about 2.5 years now, and I continue to see new ways to use it. And, as I said, it is free. In those 2.5 years, I have received one message from them soliciting a donation. Because I so highly value it, I sent a small donation (very small, as donations go!) and have not heard from them again. That was over a year ago, I think.
I really can't speak highly enough of Nicenet. Please check it out!