Friday, May 29, 2009

Good Bye Web Pages, Hello Web 2.0!

I've been caught in the typical blogger's irony; we only have time to write when there is nothing to say. That clearly has NOT been the case for the past few months. My superintendent called for an IT Summit so we spent two very educational days looking at all things tech in our school. My students are at their capable, end-of-year best as they work on final projects. My teachers have outdone themselves with great tech integration, and we are looking at a new, and hopefully more effective professional development model for next year.

However, I'm not going to write about any of those topics. Instead, I want to look at our move away from mandatory teacher websites.

Currently, in the primary and intermediate schools, teachers were required to have a web page. In years gone by, this took a ridiculous amount of their time considering its minimal impact on student learning. A few teachers really excelled and it because a hub for the classroom. For most, it was a true burden; something that weighed them down.

A few year ago, the tech coordinator worked with the web manager to create a basic template. Other than needing the class photo inserted, everything that was required was on that page. Teachers never needed to touch it unless they had a desire to do so.

At the same time, we switched from Microsoft FrontPage for hosting teacher web pages, to Contribute. A further change was using JAlbum to generate web photo galleries. Teachers drop a folder of photos into the correct place on the server and Voila! In an hour or two they appeared in the online photo galleries.

Teachers loved the ease of this and the size of our photo galleries soared. At first the quality level was low and the volume was high. That has evened out a bit with time. Now those photo galleries also host student-created movies and podcasts. It has worked well and the photo galleries receive far more visitors than the teacher web pages.

Now we are going to make the next step and do away with teacher web pages. Other than grandfathering in one teacher who has an extensive website tied closely to his curriculum, the rest of the teacher websites will go away at the end of this year. There will no longer be a requirement that teachers have any web presence besides their photo gallery.

For those teachers who do want more of a web presence, I will work with them to find a platform that best meets their needs. For some it will be a blog. One of our art teachers has already made that leap and is making good use of a Wordpress blog. For others it will be a wiki such as those being used so effectively down in our primary school. Still others may create a Ning. In any case, we are moving away from static web sites to more dynamic, interactive tools.

We will have one blog platform and one wiki platform that we support. Teachers are welcome to use any blogging or wiki platform, but we will only support those two to for practical reasons. In the primary they have gone with Wetpaint as their wiki platform. The COPA laws have not been a hindrance for them because students are either working as a whole group with the teacher on his/her account, or they are working at home with their parent using the parent's account.

For our division, the decision is trickier since our students are able to work autonomously and are more likely to edit maliciously. We would prefer to use Wetpaint since our staff is familiar with it from our conference sign up wiki. We also prefer its looks and its features. However, the inability to create accounts for students under 13 years of age is a big stumbling block. It may drive us to Wikispaces with their very student-friendly accounts and good customer service.

Wisely, my principal is not mandating that teachers have any web presence. Teachers are very busy and for some, none of those tools fit their teaching style and needs. I suspect others will end up using many different web tools with a blog for communication, a wiki for student projects, and other tools, such as Voicethreads pulled in where appropriate.

I'm excited to see these changes roll out. I hope teachers are relieved to be released from web sites. I think it will lead to more thoughtful and powerful uses of online platforms. These platforms invite student and parent participation. I'm glad to see us officially joining the Read-Write web.

Where is your school in this process? Have you chosen an outside host for blogs or wikis? Which did you choose? Why?