Website design in teaching

As well as the writing of scientific reports and the giving of presentations, it is useful for students to have experience of communicating in a variety of digital media.  Websites represent one option for the creation of content in a format that is often consumed by students but to which they rarely contribute.  However, modern tools for website design make the creation of web resources extremely easy.  Below I highlight a few of these options (note that there is considerable overlap with the platforms that can be used for blogging which I describe elsewhere).


PictureWeebly is perhaps the easiest web design platform that I have come across.  The founders of Weebly designed the package so that undergraduate students would be able to create a simple, online presence to help them gain jobs after graduation.  There are lots of simple themes that provide attractive, customisable colour schemes and layouts, and everything is controlled through an intuitive GUI.  You don’t even have to look at the code behind it if you don’t want to.  You can also manage particular editing permissions for particular websites so that students can contribute to different projects.  This website is built in Weebly, and having used Drupal (which I wouldn’t recommend for most purposes), Google Sites (see below), and WordPress (see below) I have to say that this offers the best return for the level of knowledge and effort.


Picture

WordPress, while more complex than Weebly, offers greater functionality.  The interface is still intuitive, with WYSIWYG editing and customisable themes, but there are a wide range of additional “plug-ins” that you can download to perform particular tasks.  Wordpress tends to be used primarily for blogging but is also a perfectly workable website platform.

Picture

I have to say that I have always found Google’s website package to be rather too basic for my needs.  The pages can look quite old-fashioned and basic, and it is difficult to make them anything other than plain.  However, the advantage is that the Google Sites tend to be reasonably clear, and if you are asking your students to sign up for services, you can use Google Sites on the same account as Google Docs.

An Example of Use

One approach that I am planning to trial (and I will update this page if/when I manage to get it going) is to ask students to create a website in the classroom.  The idea would be that I would “flip the classroom”, by giving them a recorded lecture to watch from the previous year and asking them to view it prior to the class.  In the class itself I then have the opportunity to engage with the students in a much more interactive way and the students can revisit the lecture material as much as they like.  Beforehand, I would ask the students to bring laptops, tablets or mobile devices.  I am expecting around 80 students in this particular class and I will divide them into 10 groups of 8.  Each group of eight students would be given an endangered species (or taxon) and asked to describe the following:

  1. The biology of the species
  2. The current threats to the species
  3. What we can do to help
  4. Their opinion on the future of the species

Those four categories of information allow the students to break up into pairs to accomplish the task, which they can do using internet resources accessed through their web-enabled devices.  The idea would be that over the two hour session the students would be able to build a comprehensive, referenced web resource that could be used by interested members of the public.  I would also emphasise that the same basic web design techniques can be used for a variety of applications, including to build an online CV for future career searches.

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