Jessica Rapisarda

Student Websites: Why and How

Students learn by doing. By creating and maintaining personal websites, students can put what is taught in the classroom into practice. Moreover, the website moves any lesson into the world beyond the classroom.

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, Canvas, or other learning management systems, but those systems exist 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 web-building platform such as WordPress, Wix, or Squarespace, 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.
  • Using a web-building platform such as WordPress, Wix, or Squarespace, 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 graduate. If they only have access to OneDrive while enrolled, 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. Remind them to use their own images or images from a site such as Unsplash, which does not charge royalty fees or hold copyrights.
  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.
  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 web hosting, but that is not typically necessary for students. WordPress and Wix will host a website up to a certain size. Most 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 uses one website for multiple classes, that student can create new menus or sub-menus to separate one class from another.
    • Privacy settings should also be considered. If a student doesn’t want the site to be public just yet, then they can password protect the site, allowing access only to those with the password (such as a teacher or classmates).

Make the Leap

Will using websites in the classroom take a leap of faith? Probably. Teachers often feel as though they are shaking a stick at the sea of online distractions. At first, students may struggle to connect the website to biology or history or English. Be bold. Make that leap. A website is easier to build than you think and has more applications than you can imagine.