OAKLEY -- Freedom High School teachers have a handy way to update their district-issue websites: students.

For the past two years, teens in John Sierra's digital arts classes have been helping other instructors on the Oakley campus improve upon the Internet sites that are meant to be a communication tool between them and their students.

"It's all there," said Sierra of the information he posts on his own, not the least of which is assignments.

"For me, having a website removes any excuses students might have for not doing their homework. They can't say they didn't know what (it) was."

One of those projects in the yearlong course Sierra designed involves pairing teens with teachers and having them incorporate whatever changes the instructors want to make to their websites.

Sierra designed the exercise to mirror a real-world job; students first draw up a business proposal describing what they can do for their "client."

And there is plenty, Sierra says, noting that teachers not only can use their websites to post a syllabus, lecture notes and homework assignments but also photos of class projects, educational videos, and links to other websites related to their subject.

Those who are coaches or advisers for campus clubs might want a website advertising the activities of their sports team or extracurricular group, he adds.

Once students find willing participants, the teachers give them written permission to access their website. In return, the teens are responsible for checking in regularly with their clients and keeping a log of their progress.


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But the free service still can be a hard sell.

Although an increasing number of teachers are taking advantage of the service, updating websites doesn't come naturally to most because they're focused on their subject, said Principal Erik Faulkner.

And some veteran educators prefer more traditional methods of communication, much like a company that's been around for a long time and isn't inclined to change its business practices, Sierra said.

Nick Fisher, 17, discovered that when he approached a math teacher who has only his photo and a bare minimum of information on his website but nonetheless declined the senior's offer of help.

Other teachers weren't opposed to the idea of an upgrade but didn't make it a priority, either, as 16-year-old Ray Macahilig found when he and a classmate tried scheduling a meeting with an elusive geometry instructor to find out what features she wanted.

And when they did catch up with her she didn't have any suggestions, he said.

"(Teachers) are more focused on in-class things," said Macahilig, who concluded that many don't use the Web to publicize assignments even though it could help students catch up on work when they've been out sick. "They expect the kids to know what they have to do."

Sierra acknowledges that quite a few of his colleagues haven't embraced the offer of a free upgrade -- mostly because they haven't tinkered with their website enough to experience the benefits, he thinks.

But even though their services aren't in demand now, the Web-design skills that Sierra's students are learning could serve them well in the future.

Fisher, a senior, is toying with the idea of becoming an electrician, in which case he says Adobe Photoshop, Dreamweaver and Fireworks could help him set up a website for a small business.

Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141.