One of my biggest stumbling blocks as I’ve switched gears from middle to elementary school is individual e-mail accounts for the students. Back in middle school, I could always count on every student having their own e-mail account. Even if, for some strange reason, one or two students didn’t have one, I could just ask them to sign up for one before the next class and it would be done. Alas, nothing is quite that easy at the elementary level….
In our case, for lower elementary students, we really only need each student to have an individual, permanent, e-mail address to sign up for other services (not to actually send and receive e-mail). So, in order to get our second grade class up and running with Ning accounts for our Global Village project (which, of course, require a consistent e-mail address for log in purposes – no mailenator for us), and in preparation for all of our Global Communication Center projects, I spent less than an hour today solving my problem, thanks to Gmail.
Basically, Gmail allows you to create subsidiary accounts linked to an individual Gmail account. Check out this great screencast demonstrating how to create linked Gmail accounts that Alec Courosa made with Jing earlier today (I need to start getting the kids to make screencasts with Jing next – what a great way to create tutorials!).
Basically, this means that one teacher can have 20 permanent e-mail accounts that are all delivered into one teacher e-mail account. Therefore, if the teacher account is firstname.lastname@example.org, all you have to do is add a “+studentname” before the @ symbol to make a linked account. Therefore mail sent to email@example.com will go straight to firstname.lastname@example.org. Of course, given that Gmail terms and conditions require users to be over 18, we did send out a permission slip to all parents to get their formal approval that we create these linked accounts.
This means that all students will have to learn is “their” e-mail address so that they can log into the Ning (or wiki, or whatever) independently, but they never have to actually see their e-mail, check an in-box, or deal with any spam. This also allows us to be consistent in the classroom, with all students essentially having the same e-mail address to remember – only needing to input their name after the “+” sign.
Also, thanks to the filtering and labeling feature in Gmail, the teacher can filter all incoming mail into specific labels for each student, thereby saving passwords and user account info for future reference, just in case. And, with the (basically) unlimited storage that Gmail provides, this should be the perfect place to keep those kinds of records – accessible from anywhere, by anyone with the teacher password (in this case, both myself and the classroom teacher).
As far as I’m concerned this is the perfect solution for our younger students. It took me less than an hour to set up the initial e-mail account, invite all 18 students to our Ning, accept all 18 invitations, and approve all 18 membership requests. Certainly, it’s not ideal to have the teacher doing all this (especially when I’m used to the students being able to handle sign-ups on their own) but it’s far better than actually having individual accounts and worrying about students maintaining them on their own when they’re 7 & 8 years old.
Bring on the global collaborations! We’re ready!