I have spent a long time thinking this summer about what I want for a class website and whether what is appropriate for one class will work for all of them. Here is my thinking so far. Every class and every website needs to meet the specific needs of the teacher and the students who are going to be using it. What works for one teacher may well not work for another; what is effective for one class may prove confusing for another. A few of the ones that I have been experimenting with are Google Sites, Edmodo, iWeb and Wikispaces. All of these, and many others, can meet a teacher’s needs. It is simply a matter of identifying what is the most important for the students and the teacher, and then matching those with the tool.
Questions to Consider in Choosing a Type of Site
What do you want from the website? Here are just a few goals that you might have:
- to introduce new units
- to provide information
- to store important links that you want the students using
- to share images with the students
- for students to work as editors, adding content
- for students to express their learning
- for student and teacher collaboration
These are just a few, but each goal you set will affect the kind of website that is needed. An important thing to remember, as you go through this process, is that you can always change the tool if it isn’t working out. It is a really important lesson for us to model for our students that in the 21st century, needs and strategies are changing all of the time. We need to be able to adapt to success and to challenges. If the tool you choose does not meet the needs of your students, then change it.
Here are some questions to ask yourself as you play around with some of the tools out there. Try the ones I mentioned, but definitely search for yourself.
Will this be an effective hub for the class? Will it be easy for students to find the important information? Think about what you want the students to get from the website. Will it provide what you want them to have in an efficient manner?
Can it hold all of the necessary links, documents, calendars and more that a student needs to succeed in the class? Most sites will hold all that you want, but be sure to investigate what it looks like after it has been loaded. Is it easy for them to understand? Some do not look like what a student would expect.
How is the website organized? Does the organization match the grade level that you are teaching? Does its organization work with the way you, as a teacher, think about the class? There are lots of tools, so take the time to experiment with which one works the best for your learning and teaching style.
Are there pages or is it a blog-style? Can your students find what they need on the pages or within the blog? For some classes, having the pages organized by units is very helpful; for others, an ongoing blog with the ability to tag is the most effective.
Is it easy to add pictures to your website? Picture are critical to making a website visually appealing. You need much more than text. Try adding photos to the site. Is it challenging to move them or manipulate them? Students love seeing their pictures on the website, so make sure that you can add them, even if it is just the backs of their heads.
What tools or widgets can be added? Can you add Google Maps, or YouTube videos, etc. Depending on the purpose of the site, these can enrich the students’ experience.
Can you have conversations and collaboration on your site, if you want it? If you decide during the year that you do, can it be added? Online collaboration is an important skill for students to develop. Is this a place where you could begin to teach it to them?
And last but not least: Will this site appeal to my students? Will they enjoy the experience of using this? This is really important, because we have very savvy students. They are familiar with all sorts of websites, and if the tool feels too dated, they will not be drawn to use it.
There are so many more questions that each teacher will have on what is the best tool to create a classroom website, but these are a starting place.