Now that many schools are creating their own Web sites, it's important that teachers and school administrators understand the importance of protecting students' online privacy. At present, though, it's not uncommon for school Web sites to include directions to the school, information about the community, and photographs, names and grades of individual students.
Before creating a Web site for your school, find out if your board has any policies on school-based sites, in terms of images, content, advertising, site maintenance, links, and so on. If there isn't yet an established policy, these guidelines will help you to create a site that doesn't compromise the students' privacy.
- Let your students select "nom de plumes" for any work posted on the Web.
- Use drawings in lieu of photos. For instance, some schools ran a popular program called "Connecting Seniors and Youth," in which students interviewed senior citizens about their lives, and featured the projects on their school Web sites - along with photos of the seniors and the students. Another way to share these projects might have been for the students to draw pictures of themselves and the seniors they interviewed.
- If photos are posted on a school site, avoid shots of individual students. Instead us group photographs, in which students are not individually identified. For example, a photo of a neighbourhood cleanup project might have as caption: "Englewood students hard at work on Earth Day" - with parents' permission.
- Frequently, how you handle your school's site comes down to comfort levels within your school, board and community. In some school boards, a permission form is sent to parents every September regarding the use of students' images for publication or broadcasting. If your board has a similar policy, a section should be contained that specifically relates to school-based Web sites. Before they grant their permission, parents should understand that, unless the school uses an intranet, any images and personally identifiable information about their children that is put online is globally accessible.
- Setting up a school Intranet that is not accessible to the outside world is an excellent alternative to posting student work on Web-based sites. Because it's a closed network, an intranet offers students the opportunity to share work and create Web pages in a safe, controlled environment that won't jeopardize their personal privacy.
Schools that wish to create Intranets may be able to do so through their school board. Instructions for creating an intranet in your school can also be found on this Web site for Chipman Elementary School.
- If you're looking for ideas to create a school-based Web site, visit Web66 (see right sidebar), an international school Web site registry that features links to Web sites from schools across Canada and around the world.
According to the 2005 MediaSMarts survey Young Canadians in a Wired World – Phase II, 30% of secondary students have their own personal Web pages. Teaching students to create Web pages in a school setting provides an excellent opportunity to guide them in safe and responsible Internet use - and it's also fun!
- Generally, if students are posting Web pages online, place them on a school-based Intranet and not the World Wide Web.
- Have students storyboard their pages and navigation. Make sure they clearly understand the purpose of their sites. Are they meant to inform? To entertain? To sell? To communicate to friends? (Having students create a wide range of Web sites is a helpful tool in helping them deconstruct and understand the Web environments they encounter online.)
- Talk to students about the importance of protecting their personal privacy. Discuss the pros and cons of posting the following personal details on their pages: email address, IM number or nickname, hobbies and activities, city in which they live, name of school, photograph, home address, telephone number. (Advise students that on any Web page they create, "less is best" when it comes to sharing personal information!)
- Ensure that students are respecting copyright for images and information that they post on their pages. Direct them to Web sites that provide free clip art, or encourage them to create their own cartoons and illustrations. Ensure that material is properly cited.
Canada's SchoolNet Grassroots Program (see right sidebar)includes a Teacher Toolkit to help educators design and implementInternet projects. It also includes samples and ideas forstudent-based Internet projects from across the country. If yourstudents are ambitious, the award-winning organization Thinkquest(see right sidebar) features an international Web site competitionand excellent samples of Web sites that have been created by students.