Creating a Classroom Website

Some teachers would love to have their own website for their classroom.

The advantages of having your own classroom website include:

  • You can post all assignments and rubrics, helping to keep kids and their families on track, even if they weren’t in school that day.
  • You can make handouts available as digital downloads, so for those kids who constantly lose things, they can print out a copy and get it done at home- No more “I lost it” excuses!
  • Provide supplemental material, including links to videos, articles and more, where kids can explore and learn more about what you cover in class, allowing kids at all levels to extend or further understand material covered in class.
  • Provide rubrics for projects/assignments- if you have the expectations for assignments posted, everyone will know what they are.  You can even post information for parents so they know what you expect and what kind of guidance they can offer to their kids when asked, keeping everyone on the same page.
  • Provide links to Homework Helpers, like purplemath or Kahn Academy, helping kids review subjects or work on areas they may not understand independently.
  • Provide study guides or tips if needed, answering common questions.
  • Provide list of classroom rules, expectations
  • Provide syllabus or other guide as to instructional goals for the marking period, semester, and year
  • Provide  place where you can begin or extend classroom discussions beyond the class period.  Consider creating a blog that allows you to have students comment on an article or post stories and solicit feedback from their peers, or simply discuss a question posed during class for thought and further discussion.
  • Consider allowing kids to submit homework electronically.  When appropriate, most email programs and even Google docs timestamp submissions, letting you know exactly where and when students have completed assignments, and preventing lost paperwork from dragging you or a student down.
  • Different websites will also let you begin to create an e-portfolio of a student’s work over the course of the year, giving you, the student and their family and any other instructors a better sense of the student’s academic growth over time.

Some teachers in the District already have their own websites, and some have been using iWeb, which unfortunately, may no longer be supported after June 2012.

You can read articles about the transition of iWeb with the new iCloud introduction here.

You can click here for directions on moving your iWeb site to a “dedicated host”. It looks a little scary, but it’s not too bad, and if you need help, feel free to email Whitney and she’ll help walk you through it.

For those considering a new website option, there are a couple of free and low cost solutions available.
Keep in mind that anything that is not on the District’s server or website will not be supported by the District and will be publicly accessible.
This means you will be responsible for maintaining your own website, paying any associated fees for non-free sites, monitoring and moderating comments on your site, and this District will not be able to help you with your website- you are on your own.


Weebly 

Weebly for Education is a website that allows you to create your own website for your classroom. It uses templates that are very similar in look to WordPress sites (below) and uses a simple drag and drop method to add content to the website, meaning it’s very easy to learn how to use.

Weebly for education has some great features, including the ability to set up e-portfolios for students, student accounts, and make them password protected.
It looks like a great website creator, and the company itself just received a large amount of venture capital finding this Spring, meaning that they are likely to be around for a while.

Weebly reviews- pros and cons

Weebly review- pros and cons
Website tester review
Customer reviews- mostly say they have not had great customer service as of late, even for folks paying for the “Pro” account which costs $39.99 a year. I would say that if you feel you can manage the site on your own, you’ll be fine, but do not expect outstanding customer service if you have problems.

Comparisons between Weebly/Wordpress and Tumblr (video)

“Open Source” solutions

PBwiki, Wetpaint , Wikispaces, and other Wiki based solutions:


Wikis, as we have all learned, can be great web-solutions allowing multiple editors. Wikis have pros and cons, including some problems with navigation from time to time, and the temptation to nest information within itself to a point where it can become unwieldy. Wikis do have a way to easily go back to previous versions of the site and track changes made my other users, which is a great option if you want to have open participation and comments. There are plenty of free wiki sites, and the District has its own wikis, set up behind the security firewall. I would generally recommend using the District’s wikis if you decide the wiki-based option works best for you.

Blogger  

 This is Google’s blogging platform. All domain names will be XYZ.blogger.com and will exist outside of the District’s firewall, meaning it will also be accessible by the general public. It’s got a pretty basic interface, but it is incredibly easy to use along with Google’s feedburner site to create an RSS feed for the content- meaning that people can subscribe to your site like a magazine,and receive updates whenever you make any changes by email. Another benefit of blogger is that it is easilydownloadable and moved over to a wordpress-based website at some point in the future, without losing your content. Blogger sites are searchable and open to the general public, which means a wider audience for the content you and your students may be creating, but the responsibility factor for posting content increases as well.

WordPress  

WordPress started out as another blogging platform, but has turned out to be a great content management system that’s widely being adopted by businesses of all sizes as the backbone of their website.

WordPress comes in two varieties.

At wordpress.org, you can download the wordpress software and upload it to a domain and hosting account of your choice, often called “self-hosting”. While the wordpress software is free, maintain your own domain name and hosting account will cost money- probably around $50- $100 a year.

WordPress.com lets you create a free wordpress blog with the name xyz.wordpress.com. If the domain name without “wordpress” is available, they offer an option to secure the name for around $17 dollars. There are plenty of interesting templates, allowing you to customize the look of the site, and even some premium choices that may run $50-$75 dollars if you are in love with that design.

Using it without Coaching

Either wordpress format is easy to manage and post content to- it works very similar to creating a document in Microsoft Word or Google Docs. While it takes a little while to find your way around wordpress and figure out where to put your content (front page versus widgets versus other pages), there’s plenty of support available online to make this easier.

The web technologies survey states that out of all of the websites whose content management system is known, 54% are using wordpress, making it 14.9% of all websites on the web, far more than blogger or other platforms like Drupal or Joomla. Because of it’s popularity, it’s a good platform to know for both you and your students.

WordPress websites will be open to the public for viewing, and like Blogger sites, will be searchable.

This means the content on there can be accessed by the public, not just those with passwords, and while this allows open sharing of your content, (think friends, families, other teachers outside the District, etc.) it increases the responsibility required when letting students post on the site as well.

Some neat wordpress features:

  • WordPress websites allow you to create user names and passwords, so if you choose to let students post articles to the website themselves, you can do so securely, and allow for editorial review before posting.
  • You can schedule posts on an editorial calendar, allowing you to prepare content in advance and then have it post automatically when you choose.
  • You can incorporate Google Analytics into the site and see information about who is visiting your website, the most popular content, and more.
  • You can change the theme and the look of your website without losing any content.
  • You can “tag” posts and items making it easy to search the content on your site.  This could let you build up a classroom specific virtual textbook over time- material customized to your students and your teaching, easily accessible on the web from anywhere.
<h3>Final Analysis</h3>
If you decide that hosting your own website for your classroom is a good option, think about what you want to do with the website and what features are most important to you.  Do you want to host video?  Do you want the site to be password controlled or more open?  How much, if anything, do you want to pay for creating the website?  Do you want it to be “yours” if you ever decide to take another position?  All of these things are important considerations in choosing a platform for your website, and to make sure the work you put into it doesn’t have to be repeated again.
Weebly has a very easy interface and allows easy integration of things like forums, which may be more difficult to do in other formats.  It has more password protection options, which may be a plus.  You should remember to use their backup feature once a month or so, to keep a version of your website “safe” in case there is ever a problem, you can easily restore it.  Its pro option tuns around $40 a year.  It will srve up a mobile version of your site to people accessing it from phones or tablets.
WordPress is extremely popular on the web and is becoming widely used in business, making developing wordpress skills a plus for anyone.  It’s easy to use and flexible, but it is more a blogging platform by nature than a static website.  Wordpress also has an editorial calendar function which i=does not seem to be available on the other sites.  Wordpress also serves up a mobile friendly version of its site on iPads, and there are both iphone and iPad apps allowing you to update your site on the go as well as from your desktop.
Blogger is a little more clunky to use than wordpress, but it is also an  easy to use blogging interface that can be adapted for classroom use.  The ability to manage multiple users and password protect things is not as easy as with WordPress.  This, along with non-district hosted wikis would be less favorable options, and ones posing more difficulty with getting help when you need it.
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