Online Work-Flow For School Newspaper Defined

futuregethandsdirtyThe Challenge:
Our 4th and 5th grades (12 classrooms, 230+ some students and 17+ teachers and specialists) want to start a single school newspaper.  They are requesting an online work-flow allowing students to write but not publish, teachers to approve and publish.  The look and feel should be of a newspaper, not a blog.  They at first want to print the paper to distribute to students and families, rather than it being an online publication.

Draft Solution:
We can use the work flow process provided by the blogging software WordPress. Students would be given the role of “contributors” and 20 teachers and specialists “editors” or “administrators.” We could use a newspaper looking theme (14 different options can be perused here.) The newspaper could be viewed online or printed out and distributed.

To Publish Online or Not Online:
The 5th grade does a long-form research and publishing project each year which employs all sorts of social and publishing mediums such as blogs and wikis.

We have an Internet Security Protocol which has three components:

1)Don’t provide any personal details (name, school, county, state, country).
2)Don’t allow any incoming communication channels (no comments or text surveys) the only exception being radio button surveys.
3)And we tell students, “Never meet anyone in real life you only met online.”

Thus having students work in a “live” online environment is not a stretch.  Research two years ago found a majority of 4th grade students were actively publishing online (Facebook, MySpace) on their non-school time and equipment.

However, most of the teachers engaged in this project are viewing this as a traditional printed newspaper.  They seek to print the document and distribute a printed version.  This provides another layer of security because nothing will go out unless it is printed and copied multiple times.

Solution Pro/Con Considerations
Blackboard Pros Blackboard is relatively un-hackable from outside the school system, could be used to assemble newspaper for printing, available via home both for student editorial work and family viewing, it is completely backed up.
Blackboard Cons Blackboard provides no workflow for assembling such a large newspaper publishing venture, it is cumbersome and clunky to use, most families have a hard time navigating into blackboard, multimedia and publishing features limited.  Blogging and Wiki features disabled for family viewing.
WordPress Inside Firewall Pros WordPress provides solid online work-flow for supporting large newspaper publishing venture. Behind the firewall it would not be viewable to anyone allowing students to write freely using their names, school name and other identifying information.
WordPress Inside Firewall Cons WordPress behind the firewall, students could NOT access from home to add items, if in the future the requirements change this installation would never be able to be seen outside the firewall, backups would be dodgy.  Initial investment would include a high-end desktop and backup system.
WordPress Outside the Firewall Pros The service would be fully redundant and backed up on a nightly basis, it would provide robust work-flow and be accessible online for student editing and family viewing. Newspaper could be both printed and seen online.  No setup or ongoing maintenance costs.
WordPress Outside the Firewall Cons The online newspaper would be viewable to everyone requiring use of Internet Safety publishing protocol like the 5th grade uses for other publishing.

1)Blackboard is difficult to use and has none of the work-flow needed for this large-scale project.  Blackboard forces students to have their name or student id number on everything they publish (which in violation of our safety practices).  The blog and wiki elements of Blackboard are not viewable by families.

2)Wordpress is a solid solution from a work-flow standpoint and allows teacher and different groups of students to have different roles in the editorial process.

3)Installing WordPress inside the firewall will make it more secure in the short-term to make sure nothing is published without being scrutinized by a teacher.  It gives teachers, especially those with no blogging experience, more comfort to know nothing will go out that is not printed first.

4)However WordPress inside the firewall is not future proof.  It doesn’t allow for a change of heart which would allow for the paper to be published online.  This option of online publishing is one all real newspapers are now engaged.  The backup of data on an internally running installation of WordPress would be dodgy.

5)Wordpress outside the firewall has all the benefits of WordPress inside the firewall and allows for future proofing in several ways:

a)It allows students to access the newspaper’s editorial features from anywhere.

b)It allows the published items to be viewed by anyone anywhere.

c)It requires students adhere to online safety publishing guidelines listed above.  Students could use pen names and the school’s nickname could be used in lieu of the school name.  Everything else could be open.

We will be thinking on this over the next few weeks with the teams in question.

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18 thoughts on “Online Work-Flow For School Newspaper Defined”

  1. Kevin, it could indeed have an RSS feed. (RSS stands for Real Simple Syndication and allows all published updates to a site to be received into a single user’s webpage such as Google Reader [see for more details].)
    About comments, the reason we don’t allow any is online child predators and pedophiles are known to take months cultivating relationships with children (see for more about this). I know it is a wonderful motivator for anyone to see comments (me too!) but as a precaution to make sure a relationship doesn’t develop online with a stranger, it’s best to keep this option closed.
    Instead of comments, we could have an online feedback page, that generates an email to a central location which could then be vetted by a teacher before being passed along. That’s something we could grow into.

    Thanks for your thoughts!

  2. Thanks MK for taking time to comment. 2nd graders not giving any information at all about their school doing wikis about animals and geography is one thing. We will need to adjust a little for 4th and 5th graders writing news stories about their school. They could take unique pen names or use their initials (They could pick their favorite writer’s name). They could call the school by it’s mascot rather than the name. They would never need to say the city. Pictures could not show the school name (like on the wall of the cafeteria). But other than that they could cover the day to day news, along with comics, poetry and other sections they may have, unfettered by the confidentiality restriction.

  3. Will it be RSS’able (not really sure if that is a word or not)? And why no comments? I understand the security issues, but I feel the ability to leave comments and dialog about the piece is a powerful aspect of the whole blog idea. The author gets a different perspective through the comments and the readers can engage with the text. Could you do moderated comments or something similar?

  4. My 2nd grade class has created and used 2 wikis outside the firewall. They use nondescript logons–Student1,Student2, Student3, etc. and are able to log on from home. There have been no issues with them giving any personal information. As a matter of fact, they comment on it when other contributors do it.

    As a reader, I’d prefer an online version, too.

  5. What a great learning opportunity for everyone involved. But to print out the paper not only kills trees, it kills all the future learning which would happen online from your students learning to do a better job as they read one another’s stories and shared with school children in distant lands. You could have incoming communication if it was filtered through a teacher. That way your students get direct feedback from their readers. There is nothing more powerful as a motivational source than that.

  6. Mark is that you? Thanks for the thoughts. As it turns out you are right on the money. Our DIT will not support such a box, even though there are several running throughout the county, so your thought to put it on an outside hosting solution is a solid idea.

  7. This sounds like a great project. Go with the online solution. You have no idea how many more interesting things become available to teachers as soon as they allow their students online. One can control them, with little knowledge, so your teachers who are inexperienced with blogging need not worry.

  8. Your approach seems sound. I think going with a properly hosted server is a better solution than stringing up a workstation to your network. Who’s going to service the workstation? Will your IT department service a workstation running your own software? You will have to use Lenux and I don’t know of many IT departments that would take that on. Perhaps yours is big enough. I would suggest you go commercial and leave your home gown solutions to the blog setup and not hosting.

  9. I think wordpress is the way to go unless you are thinking about using a content management system like Moodle. That would allow for wiki pages and differentiated roles, but the editing is a bit harder if your 4th and 5th graders are not sophisticated online users. If they are used to blogs like blogger and wikispaces as you say, wordpress is the best option. I’m all for open options and letting the online side of the newspaper be seen, it opens possibilities you will not know until you venture upon them. Things like sharing long-distance learning with schools in other states or countries or continents. Sort of like what “Early Elementary Teacher” is saying, but long distance.

  10. Those are some good ideas and it is clear if there is a way for every grade to get access it could easily be used as a learning tool. This could be another argument for having it online so the kids in all grades could read it.

  11. Will you have a comics section? My students who are emerging readers will want to be able to follow along, too! My students with siblings will be bursting with pride to show/read their older brothers’ and sisters’ work. Maybe some number and word puzzles/riddles that students create, too. Or jokes! My students love telling and reading jokes. Oh and the weather is a good section for images that support the text. Did you want more feedback on the tools rather than the content? Great idea.

  12. Actually, #4 is incorrect. If you decide to take the newspaper outside the firewall, it is a relatively easy process to export the blog from the installation and import it to another. As to backup, it’s true you won’t be able to use the automatic system in WordPress but it’s not that tough to do backups other ways.

    While I’m a big advocate of students publishing to the whole wide world, sometimes you have to start the process in a relatively close environment while everyone gets comfortable with the concepts.

  13. Tim, I bow to your knowledge, and you are correct. However, the backup system costs money and needs to be implemented manually on a daily basis. If we lost a month’s work there would be a lot of upset students. Porting the entire operation from the inside to the outside solution also holds some risk.
    But I take your point, sometimes one has to start off slow. But all of the 5th grade teachers have used blogs with their students for several years. A couple of the 4th grade teachers blog, so they know how it works.

  14. Creating an outside of the firewall newspaper format blog will be so powerful for these kids. We are already cutting and pasting into a format – why not just have each student contribute directly to the page (with our supervision, of course) and remove the middle man – aka US! Also, this will be more up to date information that they will go back to check. Check from WHEREVER they want. We can still print it, just as we wanted, but now we add an element without doing all that extra work for it.

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