Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Teacher Web Pages

Education Wonks, a fellow Bear Flag League blogger, has a post up about teacher maintained web pages in Arizona.

Starting this school year, district officials will push for better parent-teacher communication via individual teacher Web sites.

"One thing we heard . . . far and away, many parents want information on e-mail or Web site," said Dianne Bowers, district spokeswoman, referring to a parent survey conducted each fall.

As the webmaster for my childrens school I'm all for this practice. However I took a slightly different approach to the issue. Each classroom (teacher) has a static web page(s) for their class that I maintain for them. This page or set of pages contains things like their daily schedule, supplies lists and general classroom policies. These are usually things that only change once or twice a year. Which is good because I have to make all those changes manually.

Some teachers are pretty good about getting me a lot of information for their websites. Some have even designed themes for their pages. I especially like the busy bee theme that our first grade teacher came up with. Other teachers have pretty much ignored these pages. They just aren't that interested. I keep hoping that peer preasure will eventually get them all on board.

We have never had a good online news reporting process. Most teachers send home a paper newsletter every Monday. These newsletters have class announcements, assignments and upcoming events in them. For the last two years I have entered the Principal's Notes and the Middle School Newsletter manually into the website every week. The rest of the teachers newsletters have been ignored.

But when this school year started I had a blog of my own. That got me thinking that there has to be a good way to get all the teacher's weekly newsletters out onto the web.

Since the school uses a web host for their webpages and e-mail I was able to set up a SQL database and install Wordpress on our site. Since I'm not experienced in PHP it took me a couple weeks of trial and error to get a multiuser blog set up as a news publishing site. I disabled all comments and trackbacks for the site. Our news site is intended to send news out. It is not intneded to be a communication tool for the parents and students. The school has documented proceedures for communicating with teachers and the administration. The WWW is not one of the methods we have decided to utilize.

Reaction to this site among the teachers has been mixed. One or two of them climbed on board and have really put it to good use. A couple others are taking it slow and careful. I have one who still sends me her weekly letter by email for me to post it for her. She has promised to start using the system eventually, learning an online news reporting process is just not a priority for her right now.

The schools website has not been used much by the parents the last few years. But things are changing this year. I've had several parents tell me how handy it has been to have an online reoord of the weekly newsletters. They have used them to look up homework assignments after their child left their assignment book at school or they had mislaid or disposed of the paper newsletter.

Our fourth grade teacher has used our new site to post extra credit homework assignments, reading assignments and links for special class online projects. If she keeps up at the pace she is going, I'm going to start sending teachers to her to have questions answered about the system. She will soon know more about it than I do.

I am all for teachers using the web to communicate with parents and students but it has to be done intelligently. Many teachers are not fully computerized in their thinking or teaching methods. For some teachers MS Word and occasional E-mail is about the extent of their computer use. So expecting them to start publishing to the WWW on a weekly basis is, for some, asking a lot. The teachers I deal with are very resiliant. But you have to make the process straightforward and easy to use. Teachers shouldn't have to be webpage programmers to communicate with their students and teachers. They just need a simple system and well defined guidelines. Our teachers main focus is teaching our children. So if the news reporting system is difficult or confusing they probably won't use it.

Our school has an acceptable use policy that each teacher signs that determines what they do on the internet. Fortunately it doesn't seem to be as restrictive as the one the Education Wonks are dealing with:

At the present, our "acceptable use policy" is written in such a way as to heavily discourage teachers' use of the internet as either a medium for instruction or communication.

In fact, the district's web filter is so narrowly-set that it prohibits viewing the blog that you are now reading, or any site that has the term "blog" on its page or in its URL.

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