I received a question recently from a technology integration specialist. He is working with a school which has parents who don’t want their child/student to have an email address at school. Since the teachers are using a variety of web-based tools for publishing student work, and some websites require student email addresses, this presents challenges that need to be addressed. Here’s my take on the situation. Please chime in with your own advice and experience for them and others facing similar situations.
QUESTION: What should we do when parents “say no” to an email account for their child at school, when we want all students publishing some of their work online?
I’d recommend the school and each classroom have a “menu” of digital publication options for student work, some of which require individual email accounts and some which do not. That way when a student’s parent has opted out of an email address for their student, there are still other publication options they can use.
Depending on the grade level of the students, a class email account can be used for some web-based tools. This approach has some drawbacks since students can theoretically edit or delete classmate work when logged into the account, but depending on how students access web-based resources this can be functional. It depends on the tool. I know VoiceThread made a change several years ago so multiple computers can’t be logged on simultaneously to the same account, discouraging this “class account” approach using a single, free account. If students are using a single classroom computer to edit their work, however, it could work for some tools.
I’d recommend several strategies to encourage parents to grant permission for individual student emails.
The first suggestion is for the school to notify parents that student email accounts are required to meet the requirements of state academic standards, reflected in NETS-S. A good case for this can be made and some schools are taking this approach. This makes school-provided email accounts a requirement, not an option for students, just like a cafeteria number for billing or a student identification number for grading. Providing student email accounts is straightforward to do and manage when a school has adopted Google Apps for their domain.
Whether or not the school opts to go with this “email is required for students to be digitally literate” approach, I recommend class-level blogs be used to share student work interactively on a regular basis in all classrooms, at all levels. In addition, a school-wide blog should be used to share announcements as well as periodic cross-posts from classroom blogs. This school blog can be linked at least with an RSS widget on the school homepage that shows recent posts. By having this school-wide blog, exemplary classrooms and exemplary student work can be highlighted for the entire campus. It can also be a way for the positive uses of digital media to be amplified in a more visible way throughout the school community. The RSS feed for the school blog can be connected at least to a Facebook page for the school, and possibly to a Twitter account. The latter things should ONLY be done if a an individual or (better yet) team of staff members at the school will share responsibility for checking and replying to inquiries on these accounts regularly. The point is the school should be intentional about its use of social media and its sharing of exemplary student work, to regularly “show and tell” for parents as well as others in the community the benefits of the digital literacy focus/initiatives at the school.
At some point it can be helpful for the school to establish recommended/supported web-based publishing environments. While teachers should be encouraged and allowed to use “other” websites, these supported environments can be more thoroughly explored for support needs by staff and teachers can therefore expect more help with them than they might with a “brand new tool” they just learned about and want to try. I’d recommend the school use free, advertisement free tools to provide at a minimum class blogs and wikis for teachers to use as “home bases” for each class. My favorite platforms for this currently are Kidblog and WikiSpaces for Educators. There are obviously lots more choices, but it’s good for the school to formally endorse and support use of these tools. I consider a class blog, a class ‘home base’ (wiki) website, and the school’s confidential/login required website for student grades and attendance the “triad of blended learning websites” which is mandatory for every classroom.
A final workaround to consider is to create different student email accounts using a single Gmail address. Sue Waters wrote a great how-to post about this a few years ago. This may not be workable in secondary settings where teachers have over a hundred students, but it can work well in elementary settings with fewer students. The best scenario is for students to have their own email accounts in a managed system like Gmail included with Google Apps, but for teachers and schools not in that situation yet this can be a good workaround. Each student will have a unique email address for creating different web-based accounts, but emails will actually be delivered to the teacher/class account.
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