Friday, May 20, 2016

Building a Classroom Website?

Many educators have decided to take the plunge to create their own websites. These websites serve as a central place to compile educational resources for students, communicate expectations, etc. We can think of them almost as interactive "green sheets". Parents can be directed to the class webpage to look at calendars, news from the classroom and upcoming events, while students can look in them to find links to content they may have missed, homework assignments, and even gain access to specific educational resources or web tools recommended by the teacher.

Some districts host teacher websites in their own servers and provide specific tools to be used (Adobe's Dreamweaver for example). However, most often teachers are left to their own devices and their website become a matter of personal preference. With little guidance, teachers choose a particular web creation tool simply because someone they know uses it. However, with the many options out there it is really up to the individual teacher to decide just how they would like their website to represent their classroom.

Google Sites

This is probably the most accessible web page creation tool, especially if you are a GaFE school. It works well simply because it integrates all other GaFE tools. It has the added benefit of allowing you to restrict views to only the individuals within your school or district domain, which for some institutions is a must. However the main disadvantage is that you are very restricted in the look and feel of what is your personal webpage. Google Sites all appear extremely similar. Customizing your navigation or adding anything non-GaFE requires a major investment of time finding tutorials, and the answer is either "It cannot be done" or working with code that, unless you know what you are doing, only makes matters worse. 
If you decide to go Google Sites, visit Mr. Amsler, who kindly published a "Working with Google Sites" web page that serves as a great guide of how and what to do.

Weebly for Education
Weebly for Education is what a former colleague of mine decided to use for our school website, which means that, as the webpage manager, I now have the "joy" of using it on a consistent basis. Its drag and drop simplicity is a favorite with educators interested in creating a more personal look for their websites. In Weebly the website layout and design are all done for you. If you later decide to change the template, you simply click on the new template and everything is transferred to "where it should be". This seems ideal, right? It can be, but it becomes incredibly limiting when you want to get creative because Weebly only allows you to insert elements into pre-defined areas. Unless you are really handy with code, which Weebly does allow you to modify, you are kind of stuck with their templates. This is the main reason I personally dislike it.

Weebly offers other cool stuff, like the ability to add an assignment form to your site allowing students the ability to upload their assignments and submit them to you via your website. You also have the option to create student accounts so that your students can create their own Weebly websites, all moderated by you.
If you decide to go Weebly, make sure that you create an account using Weebly for Education, as opposed to just Weebly, to gain access to the educator tools. You may also wish to visit to find some good tutorials to help you get started.

This is my personal favorite due to its maximum flexibility of design. WIX is a true drag and drop web page creation tool, offering complete customization without any HTML or coding knowledge.  All you have to do is just pick a design that works for you, and swap in your own pictures, text and information. If you are feeling particularly creative, or you do not find something you like, you can choose to start with a blank template add backgrounds, images, text and embed anything anywhere. You literally design your own page with minimal effort. It is worth noting that with WIX you cannot change templates. If you decide that you want to change your look, you will need to change the individual items. 

WIX also has an incredibly comprehensive help center. There are help buttons everywhere, so that if there is ever any doubt on what or how to do something, help is just a click away. You will not need to go a-searching for anything. They have even gone the extra mile and created WixEd a free online education program that teaches Wix users everything they need to know about web page creation.

WIX does not have a dedicated "educator" side, so in some districts you may need to call your IT department before using it in order to have it white-listed. If they need convincing, feel free to show them any of the many sites I have created using the platform. They can be found by clicking on the PBL tab.

I know there are many others. Which one do you use?

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