The site that we’re going to create will be both simple and flexible. We’ll start with some basic goals – giving students and parents access to information about the course – and you can build on that concept later.
As an example, take a look at the class website that I’m using for my US History course this year – Rockin’ American History. I created the site with a few goals in mind:
- Provide a record of past assignments, for students that are absent or need to make up work.
- Provide access to useful materials (test review, power point notes, assignment sheets, etc).
- Provide an easy launching pad for computer-based activities, like webquests.
- Provide parents with an alternate way to contact me and “check up” on their children.
The easiest system that allows me to achieve these goals quickly and efficiently is a blog. You can create and host a free blog at WordPress.com – that’s the home of my class site.
If you’re feeling brave, you can hop over to WordPress and just play around with the site. If not, let’s take a closer look at how my site works. Then we’ll get into how you can easily build your own.
What Is a Blog?
If you’re new to the Web 2.0 scene, you might be thinking, “What is a blog?”
The simplest definition is that a blog is a collection of posts or articles that are displayed sequentially – according to the date that they are published. If the basic goal for our class website is to keep a record of past assignments – and allow students to easily access those records – this is perfect.
Think of a blog as an “Assignment Log” or “Assignment Notebook” on the Internet. And on steroids.
When you look around the sample site you’ll notice three main sections: the main content area, a sidebar, and a header.
Main Content Area
The main content area is simply a list of all the posts that I’ve made to the site – displayed in reverse chronological order. The post that appears first is the post that I added last. More often than not, the first post on the list is therefore the most recent day of class.
Within these posts, you can include basic information as well as electronic documents. Do you have a pdf file or a slideshow you want to share with your students? You can upload that and include it in your daily post. Your students can then download the file later on.
This is more or less the backbone of the site. You type up information for the students, it’s published in this list, and the students can access it.
We could stop right here and achieve all four of our goals outlined above. Everything else (the sidebar and header) is just there to help you navigate this content.
The sidebar includes a bunch of links and resources to help students navigate the site and find the information that they’re looking for.
The first item in the sidebar is a search box. If the student types in some information (like an assignment number), the search box will usually be able to bring up the information he or she is looking for.
The second item is probably the most useful item in the sidebar. It’s a custom list that I’ve created with links to a summary for each chapter. The link takes the student to a page that lists, succinctly, every assignment that should have been completed.
One of my colleagues asked me why I do this if all of the assignments are already in the Main Content Area. Because it makes things easier to find! The entire point of the class site is to make information more accessible to the students, so it only makes sense to take a few extra steps to make that information accessible with as few clicks as possible.
Other things in the sidebar include my contact information, a list of the most recent posts, a calendar so that students can find posts by a specific date, and a list of categories to help students sort through the information.
In case you didn’t pick up on that slight variation, a “page” is different from a “post.” Not a huge difference, but an important one nonetheless.
For the moment, we’ll explain the difference as this: a post appears in the list in the main content area, while a page does not. Instead, pages are usually listed somewhere near the top of the site. When you create a new page, the website automatically creates a new link and adds it to that list.
Pages are great for sharing information that isn’t tied to a specific point in time. For example, you might include a general page about writing research papers – links to academic sources, information about MLA citations, and tips for editing.
Let’s Start Building!
With that, we conclude our guided tour of the Rockin’ American History website. I hope it’s been informative.
All this techno-babble is probably boring you anyway, so let’s get to the good stuff. In the next step, we’ll create your very own website.
I promise it’ll be quick, easy, and painless.
» How to Create a Classroom Website: An Illustrated Guide
January 12, 2009
» Creating a Site: Using Wordpress to Build Your Class Website
January 19, 2009