Set up a campaign

How about getting your students to create a web site based around a topic that they feel strongly about? This page will give some advice about how to set up an online campaign.

The unfair trade logo story...

 

Introduction:

I set up UnfairTrade.co.uk (archived version) in 2001. Whilst no longer online, since the costs aren't recuperable from my current school, a new version offering a selection of the original content can be found by following this link. Please note that the original design by Matt Shearer was much more detailed, with clever menus and interactivity. It hasn't been possible to preserve these features since transferring the site to the juicy geography server, and the original domain name will no doubt be resold eventually, because I haven't paid the registration fees.

 

Aims:

The aim of Unfair Trade was to encourage students to explore their own feelings about issues raised in lessons on development. A professional designer, Matt Shearer, was employed from Technology College funds to create the site design. My hope was that students would be motivated by the prospect of a web site that would allow them to publish their own work, and over which they could feel a sense of ownership.

 

Content:

Articles were published from students of different ages, representing a complete range of ability. Inspiration came from lessons, homeworks, visits, demonstations, correspondence, televsion programmes and particularly from a Channel 4 production of the Mark Thomas Product which featured a number of the students involved with the Unfair Trade project. Students provided me with material and I uploaded it to the site. A small group of Year 9 students acted as editors, approving the site design and content. Their feelings about the project can be found on the BBC Get Involved site.

 

Outcomes:

The site generated a huge amount of correspondence, mostly very positive. Of course, there were many remarks that the material appeared to be extremely biased, yet the students work was entirely self-edited, the site never set out to be a teaching resource! One might argue that the project was more about citizenship than Geography, (indeed the BBC Get Involved site is all about active citizenship.)
It's increasingly clear that students can be ambitious and sophisticated when it comes to e-communication. The Stop the War protests brought this home to headteachers who had failed to appreciate the degree to which young people communicate through text calls, web chatrooms and forums! A year after Unfair Trade, the Messengers site, brainchild of Rowenna Davis was created, and in 2003 this project developed into the Hands Up campaign. A glance at these sites will reveal the degree to which young people are able to organise themselves!

 

Considerations for doing it yourself:

Who's site? Crucially, the first step is to decide who will own the site itself. Some students will be quite confident to set up their own online campaign with little or no input from teachers. There are clear advantages and disadvantages of this model! An alternative approach is to form a working group of interested students and provide them with ICTsupport, allowing them to focus on the content. In this model the teacher is likely to have set up the website and therefore students may not have direct access to the web space itself. This was how Unfair Trade was organised, and while the site was somewhat subversive, there was a degree of adult moderation! Design and content was however the responsibility of the students themselves.

Web-authoring: If you are creating the site, you'll need to aquire web authoring software. For those into extending their skills, E learning credits could be used to buy an education version of a state of the art package like Macromedia Studio, (my favourite program.) Microsoft Frontpage is widely available to teachers. However, both these packages have an extended learning curve and there are many simpler template-driven programs that require no prior knowledge at all. If children are actually authoring the site then a template-type program will definitely be an advantage. The web hosting company One and One, who host this site, will sell a domain name package with hosting, and easy to use content creation software for around £1.95 per month.

Web hosting: Next you'll need to find a comapany to sell you a domain name, although some will offer one free with a hosting package. Unfair Trade was hosted completely free for the first two years, (including the domain name) by the ISP NDO who are highly recommended. It's worth remembering that you don't actually own the domain name with this type of arrangement, and it will cost a fair bit of money to transfer a name that has been registered free of charge. An alternative is to use a free ISP like NDO for your own internet access, and use a hosting company like One and One to register and host the site.

Other considerations: Safety: Be very careful to avoid identifying individual students. This simple rule is ignored by many schools; copious advice on this, and almost everything else can be sought from the BECTa site.
Interactivity such as polls forums and guestbooks are all available by typing in the word "free" into google followed by the desired service. However some of these companies will spam you to death so choose carefully.Bravenet are reputable. Forums can be a liability. They need constant monitoring and moderating so approach with caution.
Advertising the site: There's little point in publishing online unless people know about your site. You can try submitting your site to search engines, although I don't bother beacuse everyone uses Google now, and Google will come along and visit your site anyway! Your ranking in Google searches will be partly determined by how many other sites link to yours.

 

Conclusions:

My experiences of this type of work are overwhelmingly positive. I was very proud of Unfair Trade and although the project never became self-sustaining (as I had hoped) it generated some amazing work and some fascinating dialogue. The highlight was probably the correspondence with survivors and campaigners from Bhopal. There are endless topics to persue, not necessarily from the protest standpoint either. How about www.newhomesfor-------.co.uk or www.geographypoems.com?

 

Links:

Messengers Rowenna's original campaign site
Hands Up A totally student-owned campaign site
Get Involved Highly recommended Active Citizenship promoted by the BBC

This article is dedicated to Matt Shearer, Gillian Bassett, Rowenna, Holly, Neela, Emma, Ella, Steve, Jamie, Sarah, Mesel and all the other students who contributed to, or inspired Unfair trade!

NJ