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How Teachers can Build their own Classroom Websites
By Rob Klindt
So, you’ve been thinking of building a website for your classroom for a while, but you’re intimidated by the technology involved.
You don’t have to know HTML and CSS or worry about difference between a GIF, JPEG or any other ingredient in a Web designer’s alphabet soup of tools. Instead, check out some of the dozens of sources on the Internet that offer simple, Web-based tools where almost anyone can build a free custom and professional-looking website in minutes.
But not all do-it-yourself website builders are the same. Some are limited in their designs, functions and server space. However, if you look around you can find others that offer loads of goodies from prebuilt templates and interactive widgets to robust editing tools and online support.
With that in mind, we visited several sites to check out their options and find the one that would best meet our needs for creating a sample website that we could customize for K-12 classroom use.
With Webs.com, you can choose the theme you like best, and change it again later if the mood strikes.
Our favorite was Webs.com, which offered everything we needed to create a basic working site with custom photos, interactive widgets and seven links to academic subjects. While other sites target the specific needs of teachers (see below), Webs.com seemed easier to use and felt like a better choice for beginners. We had a site up and running in about 45 minutes, but realistically you should probably set aside a couple hours to get your site just the way you want it.
Setup is Very Simple
Create an account at Webs.com by inputting your email address and choosing a password. Then select the type of website you want (Business, Group/Organization or Personal). We chose Group/Organization, then clicked the Get Started button.
On the next screen, simply follow the prompts to name your site then browse through a collection of prebuilt templates and select one. Next, create pages for your site by selecting from a set of recommendations. Then, click the “Create My Website” button.
The final step is to choose a subdomain address on the Webs.com server. That’s the address computer browsers will use to find and display your webpage. Choose something short and descriptive, perhaps with your name and your school’s name. Then click the “Create My Website” button again, which prompts the software to generate the site’s web address.
Powerful Web-Building Tools
The next screen shows a blank page template with a text field for a title and content box for your main text. You’ll also see the name of your website prominently displayed just above the title bar.
At the top of the page is a powerful suite of Web editing tools. With a click of your mouse you can insert photos, videos, hyperlinks and even add-on interactive widgets like opinion polls, word games or a countdown calendar into your content box. You also can add a custom photo to the header and new text to the page footer by clicking the “Header & Footer” link.
The process for setting the font style, size, color and special characters is similar to most word processing programs. When you’re finished adding content to your introductory home page, click the checkmark to save the changes. To add more pages, simply click the “New Page” link in the toolbar.
Each new page should have a new title because it will appear in your site’s navigation bar, which allows visitors to quickly jump between pages. When you’re ready to view your pages, click the “Publish” button, then the “View” button on the toolbar. You can always return to the toolbar page to make changes to your pages.
When you’re finished with everything, click the “Publish All” link on the toolbar. Your website will immediately go live on the Internet. Look at the site in multiple browsers like Google Chrome, Internet Explorer and Firefox. If something doesn’t look quite right you may need to log in again and make minor changes.
Make a note of your website’s URL from your browser’s address bar, then share it with your colleagues, your students and their parents.
5 Things to Look For When Considering a Website Builder
- Simplicity. Verify that the tools used to build the website are intuitive and that you can make changes and correct mistakes quickly and easily.
- Versatility. Most platforms offer a large collection of pre-built templates users can choose from. The best ones allow you to customize the templates with your own photos, colors, backgrounds and sizes. Make sure you’re able to add, change and delete pages whenever you need.
- Support. Even the simplest Web-building tools occasionally have functions that are not clearly described. Check to see if the company offers online support, a video guide or a frequently-asked-questions list.
- Hosting. Once your website is built, make sure there’s a place to post it. Most platforms that offer free websites also will host it on their servers. Be aware that many of them place small advertisements on your pages.
- Security. Make sure that editing access to your site is password protected and that you can control who can make changes. Also, since your site is designed primarily for classroom use, check to see if your hosting company can prevent the site from being indexed by Internet search engines like Google or Bing.
Other Website Builders
Besides Webs.com, many other companies offer free web-building and hosting tools. In addition, most of them also offer premium paid accounts that offer additional services such as custom domain names, live technical support and enhanced content management tools.
Among our favorites:
- Weebly For Education
In addition to its easy click-and-build tools, Weebly offers a rich collection of plug-in features targeted specifically at educators including the ability to accept homework assignments online.
This robust suite of tools allows teachers to build a website or blog that includes the ability share documents and files, report grades online to students or parents, and send private messages to registered users.
- Google Sites
If you already have a Google account, you can start building your website immediately using the Google Sites tool. It offers dozens of prebuilt templates and the ability to control who can see and edit content online.
One of the best features of this tool is its easy click-and-drag interface, which allows users to change the look of their website and pages instantly. It also does not place advertising on user pages.
If you have built a website for your classroom, what content did you include and how often do you update it? How many of your students access the class website on a regular basis? Log on to this site’s comment area and share your experiences.