Jessica Rapisarda

Teaching Tools

Why Should I Try It? (For Teachers)

  • Faculty collaboration: If all students at a learning institution were to create websites, that body of websites could become a single touchpoint across curricula. Students in English, for example, could be asked to upload their essays, which could then be used in history or art or psychology classes as a jumping-off point for historical research projects.
  • Student collaboration: Can websites still be useful if used in only one class? Yes! Students in biology, for example, could be assigned to write a blog, in which they summarize and share a link to their favorite biology-related news of the week. Classmates could then read and comment on another classmate’s blog entry. At the end of the semester, the student could write a research essay about their blog’s theme—a subject about which he/she has already become quite knowledgeable.
  • Student motivation: It is true that collaboration can be achieved on Blackboard, but Blackboard exists for students only while they are in school. The website, however, lives on. And because the students can use the website to market themselves to universities and/or employers, they are more invested in creating interesting, polished content.
  • Small time commitment: Student-created websites are created by the students. There has been a push to “gamify” learning and to incorporate new technology into the classroom. Teaching concepts such as gamification seem designed almost solely with student engagement in mind. We know that engaged students make for educated students, but does engagement come at the cost of redesigning an entire syllabus or mastering a host of new tech tools or with making teachers less enthusiastic about teaching? With the student website, the upfront work for teachers is minimal. These websites can be created by the students in 30 minutes or less.
  • Free: Using a free web-building platform, such as WordPress, Wix, or Weebly, a website can be built for free.

Why Should I Try It? (For Students)

  • Dynamic marketing tool: Unlike a traditional portfolio (either in hard copy or as a collection of computer files), a website is dynamic. You need only add a new page or menu option to your website if you would like to segregate classes or subjects. Moreover, you can add, remove, and revise content over time, crafting a site that showcases examples of your best work and that communicates your interests and areas of expertise. Thus, the website becomes a dynamic self-marketing tool.
  • Market differentiator: We have all heard stories about, or have lived through, applying for a job that requires experience. Yet, to gain the necessary experience, the applicant needs to get that job. It’s a classic catch-22. Whether you apply to a university or apply to a job, you will be asked to provide evidence or examples of your work. Transcripts are typically not enough to differentiate one applicant from another. But a website can allow universities and employers to put a literal face to your name, to get a sense of your personality. And, most importantly, the work products that a you choose to feature on your site, whether those products are essays, artwork, business proposals, or research, show experience that can set you apart from other job or college applicants. Moreover, a website shows initiative and creativity.
  • Small time commitment: With a little prep work, a website can be set up in 30 minutes or less. Once the basic website is built, you can simply add text, links, files, etc. to maintain the site. Such maintenance activities can typically be completed within minutes.
  • Free: Using a free web-building platform, such as WordPress, Wix, or Weebly, a website can be built for free.

How Do I Start?

  1. Instruct your students to keep their files (of essays, research, reports, images, etc.) in the cloud. The students’ websites can then link to these files. Cloud storage also provides insurance in case a laptop or website crashes.
    • Note that the cloud service students choose should be one available to them after they graduation. If they only have access to OneDrive while at NVCC, then they should consider using options such as Google Drive, DropBox, YouTube (for video), Flickr (for images), etc.
  2. Preplanning can help move the website-building process along. Students should determine which pages or sections they want to include on their site. The following pages are a good starting point: About Me, Experience, Classes, and Contact Me. I also recommend that students write their “About Me” section ahead of time (this is a great assignment in and of itself). You may also direct students to choose a few essays or other school products, as well as photo or collection of photos.
    • Note that you don’t want students to run afoul of copywrite laws. See the last page for links to free high-definition photo websites.
  3. There are many free web-building platforms, but I recommend using either WordPress or Wix. For those a little more comfortable with technology or the web, I recommend WordPress. For the truly uninitiated, I recommend Wix.
    • WordPress is the most popular web-building platform, and that has its benefits: tutorials, help sites, and quick fixes abound for WordPress.
    • Wix is newer, but it has a very good reputation, in part because it offers a large number of free, customized themes, including themes designed specifically for those creating an online portfolio or CV. Moreover, Wix’s visual platform is extremely friendly to those users who are new to web design. This site will do it all for you.
  4. I recommend that those new to web building view a tutorial. A quick search of YouTube will yield hundreds of videos that will walk students through the web-building process on their chosen web-building platform. It is important, however, that students select tutorials that are current. Web-building platforms change from year to year; a tutorial from 2018 is unlikely to be helpful to a student in 2021.
    • I’ve found quick and helpful tutorials online for both WordPress and Wix. These tutorials clock in at under 20 minutes. The Wix tutorial even allows students to build while they watch. Links can found on the last page.
  5. Many web-building platforms (including WordPress and Wix) allow users to set up a site for FREE. You and your students may watch or read tutorials that indicate one must pay for website web hosting, but that is not typically necessary for students. WordPress and Wix will host a website up to a certain size. Most of students will not exceed that size. Students tend to write blog posts, link to files, add pictures, etc. They won’t be running a business out of their website (at least not yet). A web host isn’t necessary for a site with a low data profile.
    • Almost every web-building platform allows users to customize menus. If a student does use one website for multiple classes, he can simple create new menus or sub-menus to separate one class from another.
    • Privacy settings should also be considered. If a student doesn’t want her site to be public just yet, then she can password protect the site, allowing access only to those with the password (such as a teacher or classmates).

What Can I Do With This?

It’s common knowledge that students learn by doing. The use of websites allows students to put what is taught in the classroom into practice.

Assignment Example #1

This is a two-part assignment, described as it might be used in three different subjects. The assignment, in brief, requires that students “trade” websites.

  1. In the first part of the assignment, each student should be asked to provide a specific critique of something about his partner’s website.
    • For a course in college composition, that critique might be of an essay posted to the site.
    • For a course in information technology, that critique might be of the functionality or security of the site.
    • For a course in business management, that critique might be of the marketing style of the site.
    • Students could be graded on the accuracy, specificity, and professionalism of their critiques.
  2. In the second part of the assignment, students whose websites have been critiqued must respond to the criticism by making revisions, updates, corrections, etc. Those students should also be required to write a brief explanation of what changes were made and why (and/or what changes were not made and why). Final grades may be based on, for example, the effectiveness of the new essay, product, etc. and on the thoughtfulness with which students responded to the critique.
    • Ultimately, the students’ understanding of their subject will deepen, their website will improve, and they will strengthen their ability to give and receive feedback, which is critical to university and workplace success.
Assignment Example #2

Assign weekly or bi-weekly blog entries. Allow the student to “become an expert” by writing about something related to the subject that you teach. If, for example, you teach political science, you might ask each student to pick a current political newsmaker—a politician, a referendum, a movement—and link to articles about that topic in the news. Students should also write a summary and/or a reaction to each article.

At the end of the semester, direct the students to write an argument essay about that very same topic. This is a win-win assignment because the student will already feel knowledgeable about the subject and will have a wealth of research from which to draw evidence and examples. Moreover, the student will have established a niche for him/herself with the blog, a niche that can work in their favor in college/job applications. As the instructor, you will get a more insightful and polished essay.

As a bonus, where students’ chosen topics overlap, those students may end up reading and commenting on each other’s websites/blogs in the search for more information or insight. In other words, the conversation in the classroom can organically spill into students’ online lives.

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