Is a student-created school website a good idea? There are pros and cons to the idea, balanced between the need for a professional school presence online with the goal of student involvement and education.
Why Not Have a Student-Created School Website?
When the Internet exploded in popularity during the '90's, it took the educational system by surprise. Suddenly, administrators and teachers needed to produce content for an entirely new medium. It was a new language (Hypertext Markup Language or HTML) and the entire way that information was presented and linked together was different than the textbooks and newsletters that had been the standard for decades.
The answer came from an unexpected source: students. The children in many schools took to this new and exciting world of the web much more quickly than most adults, as epitomized in many movies such as WarGames and Hackers. As a result, a lot of schools combined what seemed to be a teaching opportunity with saving money, and asked students to design the websites for schools.
While these basic sites served the purpose of getting the schools to have an online presence, in terms of design they left something to be desired. While simple text-based sites are easy enough to code, many students tend to ignore textual design conventions like left-alignment in favor of centering all the text. At the same time, HTML gives flexibility that print doesn't in terms of background images, animated gifs, and more. Students tend to go a little overboard at first with all of these elements, and it can result in some very busy pages. The Thurston High School Biomes page is a good example of this kind of elementary design.
Another issue that comes up with the idea of a student-created school website is security. Often the same computer that is used for the site also holds confidential records. There is always the potential for school pranks and site hacking when the site is handed off, and the simple fact of graduation means that at a minimum there would need to be a new designer every four years.
Gradually, both the need for a professionally-designed website and the budget allocated for it became more in balance, and today almost all schools (including Thurston High School) use professional design firms for their sites, as well as often having information technology and web development specialists in their staff.
Getting Students Involved
There are other ways to keep students involved in designing websites. Whether it's coding from scratch or simply using a turnkey content management system, the odds are that they will need to use this skill at some point in their adult life.
Oracle has been encouraging students to collaborate in online projects since 1996 with their ThinkQuest program. The site actually encourages both collaboration and competition, with all the tools needed to create and communicate with their peers supplied by Oracle. Each site has an overview of the various elements used to create it as well as the people involved, which turns it into a useful teaching tool and also can be the first entry on an aspiring web designer's resume.
Gering High School also has a robust web design program, and their pages not only offer tutorials that share what the students are learning but also invite local businesses to give their students a chance to design new sites in a real-world context. As a kind of Web 2.0 version of DECA, this can lead to many professional opportunities for students who not only learn the techniques of working on the web but also how to interact with clients.
One of the best examples of a high school web design program is Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis. Under the direction of Mrs. Davidson, the township webmaster, the design team has an impressive list of credentials, a history of accomplishments, and even a roster listing the current designers.
While an entirely student-created school website may be a thing of the past, the Internet has proven to be a way to get kids more involved and invested in their school's identity.