Dec 14, 2014

Teaching with Digital Tools: Website Design Reflection

I am wrapping up a post-graduate class, Teaching with Digital Tools. Throughout the course we were asked to evaluate the efficacy and usability of various digital tools within the classroom. As someone who is confident in her understanding of educational technology, I learned a lot from this experience and have made immediate use of many lessons. The final assignment is to create a blog and publish a post reflecting a recent website development experience. We were asked to create an educational website that allows students to interact with and respond the shared information. I created Topics in Media.

About Topics in Media
Topics in Media was designed to help middle school teachers engage students in discussion of current technology, information, and media topics.  The goal of this site is to help students see the larger issues involved with technology use, such as privacy, security, and ownership of data.  For controversial topics, opposing viewpoints are essential. Discussion prompts are included to help teachers and students engage in meaningful discussion, and perhaps debate, on the profiled issues.  Students will be able to discuss current issues involving technology, evaluate resources for reliability and bias, and make more informed choices about their personal use of technology tools. I hope to add topics to the site (already gathering information on the recent Sony hack).

Pros/Cons Google Sites
I have been developing websites since the late 1990s. While I still enjoy handcoding HTML and CSS, it is hard to argue against the speed of creating a website with Google Sites or other similar tools.  Sites makes the process of creating a website almost as simple as creating a document.

  • Favorite features:
  • Unfortunate features:
    • I don't like that each page automatically allows comments and shows attachments. I don't want comments on most pages, and I prefer attachments to be embedded into the page design (not a link at the bottom of the page). It is an extra step to hide comments and attachments for every single page.
    • I wish it were possible to easily temporarily hide pages from view. For example, a teacher could create a website for a class, including all lessons and activities for the entire year. It would be useful for a teacher to easily toggle the visibility of pages while moving through units. Currently, site owners must use page level permissions, a feature that some find cumbersome and confusing.

Advice for Creating a Website
A website is simply a presentation tool. All of the rules that relate to presentations apply.

  • Purpose: Have a clearly defined purpose. This will determine the content, media, structure, and even the style of the site. Everything should support the purpose of the site, extraneous elements will only distract.
  • Audience: Know your audience. Think about how they will access information, what media format they prefer,
  • Content: Focus on the content, "pretty" design can come later. Check your spelling, teachers!
  • Organization: Create an outline. Sketch out the structure of the site, consider subpages to keep the navigation simple.
  • Visual aids:  All media should be high quality and have a direct connection to the page content. Ensure that you have permission to use images, videos, audio, and other elements; always cite your sources.
  • Appearance: Design elements should complement the content. A common style throughout will indicate a coherence of content and be less jarring to the visitor.

Before publishing a site, invite others to preview and provide feedback. Even after a site is published, it is easy to correct errors, make additions, and remove outdated content. Consider adding an "updated on" note to pages. Even if your site includes a recent site activity page, most users will not take the time to locate or view such a page.

GTSD staff interested in learning more about Google Sites are invited to contact Mrs. Bond. Looking for inspiration? View the Staff Intranet, Ms. Hardiman's Stone Stories, 6th grade's Book Trailer Project, and 8th Grade Media Literacy.