Getting students involved in building and maintaining your school’s web page is a winning proposition. Students gain valuable, “real-world” skills in communications, teamwork, and technology while sharpening their proficiency in language arts and other core academic subjects. The school gains a valuable new communication channel that is “owned” by the kids—and not just one star teacher or technology wizard.

By sharing ownership, you also share the workload. This makes site maintenance easier—an important consideration for already overburdened teachers and staff members who shudder at the thought of having one more thing to do. Shared ownership also helps ensure an audience. Kids love to see their work displayed, and so do their parents.

Recruiting student webmasters usually isn’t that difficult, although you may have to do some special outreach initially to get enough girls involved. Kids already are hooked on the web and generally are more tech-savvy then their teachers. Channeling that creative energy, however, takes time, talent, and skill.

Like most things in education—a magical mix of art and science—there isn’t one “right way” to get students engaged in web development. The path to success is often one of trial and error and is as individual as the students and teachers themselves.

With that caveat noted, here are some tips from two veteran school webmasters and teachers, Sylvia Knapp and John Sinclair. Sylvia is the head web guru for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and John is a teacher and web master at South Charlotte Middle School. Before joining CMS, Sylvia taught at a local private school, so she brings that perspective to the table as well.

Did you get kids involved by creating a new course or as an after-school activity?
Sylvia: “Treating web development and design as any other academic course—including homework, reading assignments, projects, tests, and quizzes—helps students take it seriously and learn real concepts. The course at the high-school level met every day as a credit-earning, academic elective. The course at the middle school level met every day as a regularly scheduled class. It was graded on project work only.”

John: “We recruit students to join our Activity Day Club, which meets for six weeks. Then they have the opportunity to change clubs or activities. They may sign up again for our club, and I encourage them to do this.”

What special training is required for students to participate?
Sylvia: “We didn’t require any prerequisites, but the first half of the year was spend learning basic web development skills.”

John: “None. But they must learn how to use HTML. During the activity program, we teach the absolute basic HTML so they can set up a basic page with text, graphics, links and, hopefully, a table. Then, they can choose to be responsible for updating and maintaining one of our pages, or they can create one of their own.”

What guidelines and policies do you follow regarding publishing rights, content, copyright, etc.?
Sylvia: “Students need to learn how to develop their own web publishing standards, so they understand why it’s important. We discussed copyright issues, how to cite sources, the appropriate use of photos, student and faculty information (including eMail addresses), linking to other web servers or services, user ID and password privileges, etc. CMS has published standards, rules, and regulations for school web pages that must be followed as well and can serve as the launching pad for important discussions about ethical issues—something that is frequently overlooked in our course content—regarding the web and other technologies.”

John: “We use the CMS guidelines and we require that students know how to use the basic elements of HTML before they are allowed to begin using other web page design software, such as Front Page or Page Mill. As advisors, we try to assist the students in implementing their ideas without overrunning them with ours.”

Are there some things that your colleagues should look out for?
Sylvia: “I think it’s important that web pages have an academic tone. I also think that having too casual of an attitude about web development—no assignments or quizzes, for example—might result in students who don’t treat web development tasks seriously. If you do decide to host a club, rather than a formal class, keep it structured with specific tasks for each session.

“We never give students access to the server; it’s just too much of a temptation. Copyright issues are important and need constant attention and vigilance. It’s also important to stress fairness. If a student is on the football team, the tendency is to promote the team rather than showcase all school clubs, teams, activities, and accomplishments.”

John: “Look out for the 10 Deadly Sins of web pages [see links below] and students who think they know more than they actually do. It can be a challenge making sure that all the pages [students] develop at home also comply with HTML 4.0 and copyright laws. I also have to make sure that when they leave at the end of the school year, I still have time to maintain what they have done.”

What practices did you establish that have worked especially well for you?
Sylvia: “Students really enjoyed learning about setting up home internet access. Parents appreciated this as well. The unit dealing with computer crime and hacking captured their interest and was the perfect lead in to ethics discussions. We also gave students credit within a ‘meet the creators’ section of the web site, so that all [students] could take pride in their accomplishments.”

John: “Students are given a lot of responsibility for developing the ‘look’ and ‘feel’ of the site. They are responsible for deciding what pages should be added and which ones should be updated. They design the logos and buttons and other artistic elements, and we [the adult sponsors] try to keep their focus on the content and the audience, or who is going to be interested in each page they publish.”

LINKS

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
http://www.cms.k12.nc.us

South Charlotte Middle School
http://www.cms.k12.nc.us/allschools/southcharlotte

“Seven Deadly Web Site Sins (And Why You Must Avoid Them at All Costs)”
http://www.zdnet.com/anchordesk/story/story_1716.html

“websins”
http://www.bizjunction.com/websins.htm

“10 Deadly Web Site Sins, Parts I & II”
http://kresch.com/articles/art027.htm

Careers at Home: Internet Business Articles
http://www.careersathome.com/resources/articles.html