I am so pleased to have found this site. I wish I'd stumbled across it a long time ago.
I hope I might have something ready in the next couple of months that might interest those of you who are interested in creating web spaces for your students. I'm aware that there are some people offering hosting for schools (such as edutechhosting), but mine is based around a custom hosting management system rather than the free provision of a hosted domain.
I am a FE ICT teacher (although my background is secondary) and I'm also studying for an MSc in Internet Apps Development. After recent issues related to web hosting for students at my college I have decided to create a free hosting service for schools for my major MSc project.
The idea is to create a web-based service where teachers can sign up their school and add class lists (in a format like xls) and the system creates separate folders on the server for each class->student. Usernames and password would be created for each student on-the-fly that allow students to log in and upload folders/files in an ftp-like interface (without the need for a local ftp client). Then each student would have their own website address (the following links don't work) Note that no domain purchase is required:
Teachers are able to administer students accounts, and certain security measures can be put in place to prevent access from outside the school (if required- by IP) and password protect sites from public view (if required- by htaccess) and also locking accounts to prevent late submission, modification and deletion of coursework (if required). Also the idea is to have a facility to allow teachers to download a local copy of the class' work to a CD for exams board/ moderator submission, etc (or the exam board could view the sites live).
Essentially it will be a streamlined, highly manageable system for teachers, providing only basic hosting, but providing additional security/privacy and download options customised for schools. Incidentally, my intention is to provide only simple file hosting, so no databases or server side scripts- but I know there are people getting their students playing with Joomla et al, so if your students need php/mysql/etc then I could look into implementing these things later.
It's an ambitious project but I'm already well underway with the development (I'll place a link when I have something ready to show off). At this stage I'd be interested in hearing from school staff who might be interested in such a service or those with concerns or suggestions. I have an arrangement to trial the system at my current college, but I'd be interested in hearing from people for the following things:
General indications of interest, especially in trialling and providing feedback on its use.
Anyone with security/privacy/DPA/technical concerns to such a thing (This is a biggy as far as I'm concerned, and your input would be valuable)
As well as teachers, I'd love to hear from network managers, as it will take some effort to get such a system working consistently in the minefield that are LA/School firewalls. I want network managers to be happy with the integrity of the system.
Also, exam board representatives about their requirements and initiatives as far as online coursework goes. As a teacher I think I can fulfill their criteria, but it'd be nice to have some dialog
For absolutely any comments or more details please don't hesistate to reply to this post or email me on andy at websitesfast dot co dot uk
I will be ready to release the beta to 3-5 schools for testing mid-October and if you'd be interested in trying it out I'd absolutely love to hear from you. Ultimately I'm after teachers/schools who would allow me to conduct an in-depth study of how the system is being used and its implications on teaching and learning.
Last edited by andypooz; 3rd September 2011 at 04:20 PM.
Thanks Steve, these were always big concerns for me and I'd be very interested to get the specifics of your concerns.
Data protection: As far as teachers registering students, I don't need any personal details of them. Each student will have a username and password for the site so that they can log in, but i have no interest in gathering demographic or personally identifiable information on any of the users. Any information uploaded in their area in the form of web pages is really up to them. As an ICT teacher, I know that dpa, privacy and safety on-line are part of the curriculum, and as the provider of this service I have no intention of being a gatekeeper. When signing up, schoolmasters will have to accept that they will take responsibility for monitoring the content of students. As long as this is agreed, I'm certainly able to confirm that no data placed on the server will be shared with third parties or used for commercial purposes. As far as i can tell it would be impossible to adopt any other approach. BUT...
I will have many security measures that will allow schoolmasters and teachers to adopt the level of privacy and security they want:
Password protection: This means that to be able to view webpages uploaded by students, visitors will have to enter a password. The school/teacher can switch this on or off as required, and it can be done at a schoolwide, classwide or individual student level. Schoolmaster may also make webpages completely un-viewable (although of course this negates the point of web hosting), again, at any level, or deactivate accounts as required.
IP-based edit locking: This can prevent students from editing their webpage outside the school IP.
I imagine the level of privacy and security depends on the nature of the content and the age/level of the students. Year 8 students notorious for posting photos of themselves and their contact details on their websites can have their sites password protected or not viewable outside the school, while A-Level coursework might be shown off to the world.
These mechanisms will enable teachers to have far more granular control and far greater security than any existing web hosting options on offer. I'm not sure I can offer more than that. Teachers are far better placed to know how private their content meeds to be.
When you say 'sort anything in terms of privacy laws' is all of the above the kind of thing you had in mind, or have I missed the point?
I see you are an IT technician! I don't suppose I could pick your brains re security and FTP. I know security measures are individual to schools, but I am aware that the default ftp port 21/ ssh port 22 is often blocked by network managers. What I have in mind is using an in-page java ftp/ssh applet to allow students to upload their files to their folders. Is this going to work or do you think this might be blocked by many school? It has been suggested that I just use a non-default port, but as I'm sure you can appreciate, I'm not interested in sneaking around school security, but rather adopt an approach that school network managers are happy with. SSH is my preference, as it is very secure compared to FTP. Any thoughts?
Thanks very much for your input any further thoughts will be warmly received.
With regards to your java applet idea - we use using called SSL explorer which is a little applet run from a webpage which can launch various programs (rdp, putty etc) over ssl (i.e port 443) which can get through rather then use the standard ports.
I have a couple of schools who use my Hosting Services for Sixth Form Students to upload there websites to, as well as the usual Hosted Websites for Schools etc. I am not sure why they needed this level of service but it has worked well for the past couple of years.