Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

When Parents Don’t Want Student Email

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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6 responses to “When Parents Don’t Want Student Email”

  1. Hartmans Avatar

    I have found to be a nice way to address this issue.  With this program, the teacher has a great deal of control over the accounts and the amount of access the users have.  In my classroom, we use these email accounts to create other accounts and for password retrieval.  There are many other features, but most are available in the learning management system we use.

  2. Scott Charlson Avatar
    Scott Charlson

    If schools choose MOODLE as their CMS platform.  Students can authenticate to the environment without an email address.  Also, visible layers can be set which allow classroom level blogging, school level blogging, and district-wide blogging options.  It’s back to my opinion that a “safe-zone” is a good place to model and teach digital citizenship without fully exposing your students to the Wild Wild Web.  🙂

  3. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    Scott: I agree Moodle can be a useful platform, but I have big reservations about teachers and schools making it their “only” platform for publishing. Even though it’s possible to permit guest access for courses, Moodle is a walled garden. It does not provide accessibility and interactive publishing opportunities like open wikis and blogs do. By moderating both posts and comments on a blog, teachers can and do protect students (as well as schools) from the hazards present on the open web. Rather than encouraging all teachers and students to ‘hide their work’ behind the login of Moodle, we must help learners (including school administrators) understand both the value of open web publishing and sharing as well as the “how to” of this.

    Conversations about digital citizenship on the closed web (like in a Moodle course) are a lot like a football coach who just talks to players in the locker room on a chalkboard and never lets them go out onto the reall ball field. The open web is the environment students are in TODAY, most of the time, when they are away from school. I consider it a tragedy and a huge missed opportunity that all the online interaction which took place last year for our Oklahoma Title I ARRA 1:1 schools was on a closed Ning. We’ve got to help teachers, administrators and parents safely work on, publish, and interact on the open web.

    Moodle isn’t the open web, and as a platform for curriculum sharing as well as interactive publishing of student work it’s not good enough. If we want to see technologies leveraged in transformative ways today, we HAVE to step out with students onto the open web. If we fail to do that as educational leaders, I think we’re failing in our obligations to prepare learners with the knowledge and skills they need today and will need tomorrow.

  4. Scott Charlson Avatar
    Scott Charlson

    I disagree.  It’s a misconception that Moodle cannot be used as an open path to open web publishing.  Moodle can actually serve as an organized launch pad to send students anywhere on the open web.  It’s a great tool for linking students to those open resources and open publishing.  And, please note that I am not suggesting that anybody hide their work. Also, I’m not suggesting that anyone or any school would fail to enjoy the creativity, collaboration and benefits of the open web.

    Also, I love the point you make about Moodle and the Football Coach.  I think that’s a perfect example of the numerous benefits of teaching digital citizenship within a safe environment.   I don’t know of a single football coach on the planet that would develop a STRATEGY in which he did all of his coaching from the sideline on game day.  I think that could be a formula for disaster.  I would pull my son from that team that put him with a coach that mentors and coaches my kid in away from the battle.

    As for the closed NING and the 1:1, although I see your point it’s unrelated to where I am suggesting our schools explore with Moodle as a platform.

    Finally, I would disagree that Moodle is not a “good enough” platform for curriculum sharing and interactive publishing.  If you have a chance spend some time reviewing where Martin Dougiamas is taking Moodle with the 2.0 Release.

    cheers ! 🙂

  5. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    Scott: Thanks so much for your reply and engaging in this discussion. I’m hopeful this will help clarify my own thoughts on this issue because I definitely acknowledge I don’t have the normal/centrist position.. and I’d like to change that!

    I’m not arguing Moodle can’t house hotlists of links for kids to explore websites other people have posted. Of course it can do that. I’m trying to make a case for interactive publishing on the open web. Educational leaders absolutely rob most of the power of web publishing when we make kids work ‘only’ on the closed web of a site like Moodle. Publishing work online is, to a large extent, about audience. Part of that audience should be people students already know: peers and family members, for example. But another audience should be those “out there” on the web who can find the posts of students through Google searches or blog commenting efforts like #commentsforkids on Twitter.Michael Wendler told a great story about this and his kids in Ottowa, Canada, yesterday at the Creativity Institute in Norman. His 4th and 5th grade students wrote about some fossils they found in some slate rock that a community group had given them for a class project, and they started getting comments from others– even scientists! This really energized the students! There is no way this would have happened if they were just posting and sharing on the closed web on site like Moodle.

    I definitely hear and understand the argument that “We need to ease teachers into the digital age by providing a private, “safe” environment like a closed Moodle for them to share ideas on. I have multiple issues with this, however. This directly relates to the Oklahoma ARRA 1:1 Ning too, because it both cases they are platforms endorsed/provided by “the authority” onto which teachers are told to share digital content.

    1. If “the authorities” in schools (this can be the principal or outside entities like the SDE or groups administering grants like K20) don’t support and encourage teachers to publish and share their work AND student work on the open web, guess what? Most wont’ do it! The answer is FEAR. It is a myth that setting up a blog on the open web leads to a nightmare of cyberbullying and predators kidnapping kids who post on the site. Yet those kind of overblown fears are exactly what many teachers perceive as reality, in large part because the educational leaders in their lives are not telling them any different. A big reason I setup is to amplify examples of constructive, powerful sharing on the open web… and encourage more teachers to step out and follow suit. I agree with Scott McLeod’s point about the leaders having to “get it.” Most of our educational leaders today DON’T understand or “get” the power and importance of the open web. Kids are out on the open web as soon as they go home if they have connectivity and Internet-capable devices at hand. We’re living in a fantasy world at school if we think we’re doing our jobs by keeping kids locked in a virtual prison when they’re on campus…. draconian content filters are one part of this situation, but another are the sites where we encourage teachers as well as students to post and share.

    2. In terms of Moodle not being “good enough” for interactive publishing, this comes down to what we are defining as “interactive publishing.” Show me an example and/or tell me a story about a student publishing in a Moodle environment who had an “a-ha moment” about audience which impacted his/her writing like either of these examples: 1 personal and 1 not:

    I’ve never heard one. The reason is that people outside the narrow confines of the classroom, with logins to the Moodle environment, RARELY EVER stumble upon student work there AND comment on it. LMS platforms aren’t setup for that. They are setup to keep things closed, private, and therefore impotent in terms of transformative digital learning. I define transformative digital  learning as interactions which wouldn’t be possible otherwise without technology. Certainly a LMS can make things more efficient, save time, streamline processes, permit asynchronous interactions, etc. An argument can be made about those qualifying as “transformative.” The transformative learning I’m really wanting to support and champion involves AUDIENCE and publishing. The LMS can’t help with those goals… at least I’ve never heard of a single instance where it can like those examples I cited above.

    3. Let’s talk about OER or open educational resources. This is a huge issue. As teachers we rob our colleagues of the opportunity to use our work and build on our work when we lock up our curriculum inside an LMS like Moodle. Again I know fear plays a large part in this. When I worked at TTU and proposed simply putting all our course syllabi online for students to see in advance when they were selecting courses (esp online courses) you’d have think I’d suggested a human sacrifice at lunch. Many profs wanted to keep their syllabi and methods a secret. There are multiple reasons for this. I’m of the opinion that as educators, we’re here to not only educate the students in our classrooms but also contribute to the education of our communities, states, and nations. I’m very aligned with David Wiley on this.

    My point is that OER goals are ignored and defeated if we champion the LMS as the single platform for sharing curriculum. The LMS should be used for limited sharing of largely confidential, student-specific information. I believe curriculum should be shared on the open web for others to use, borrow, remix, and repurpose respecting a Creative Commons license which the author should use. Jim Askew in Crescent doesn’t use a CC license, but his high school chemistry curriculum on the web web is a great, local example:

    It would be great to have a public debate about this at ILI or another venue.

  6. Keonshajohnson Avatar

    When parents say “no” to an student email account, students should be able to react upon what he or she should or should not do. In other words, student’s should take responsibility of which they feel more comfortable doing. Depending on the student’s grade level should be able to accomplish what parents should do about the students email. I recommend student’s to have an email account. Basically, because students will be able to stay in contact with other students and instuctors dealing with work.