Tips for Teacher Websites #1: Know thine Audience
Today, I gave a workshop on creating teacher websites, so I thought I'd share a few of the tips I've picked up along my 10 year teaching career, nearly all of which featured a classroom web presence in some capacity. One of the most important revelations in how I was able to create and more importantly, maintain a working website, was by first understanding the audience for whom I was creating the website.
As shared with my ETHS colleagues, when I made the decision that my classroom website was first and foremost going to be a resource for me, I achieved a critical sense of purpose for my online work. Following this important understanding, I set a goal of getting as much of my curriculum materials uploaded online and organized in a matter that made sense to me. Once I found a simple table structure that best suited my materials, it was easier to follow through on my goal and within a year, I had my course fully online.
Although it would have been more noble for me to say that I did all of this for my students, I question whether I would have been as motivated to complete my website had I not seen the carrot at the end which was a visual organizer for all of my materials. For years, I had binders of materials (and there's still something to be said about hard copies of homework, labs, and tests), but with many of these materials available as attachments or links online, I could now get a better sense of the big picture and how my units fit together.
All of my efforts did not go unnoticed by my students. At the beginning of the year, I would make sure that my classes knew about my website and that it would be their first stop for information about my teaching, as well as for downloading handouts or labs if they were absent. Having the site ended up saving time for more instruction, as I was no longer frequently bombarded with questions about lost papers or assignment due dates. Today, I work with teachers who use their website as a landing page for their students whenever they go to the computer lab, placing projects on their site, documents for their units, or links to webquests and/or Quia quizzes.
Similarly, parents began to take notice and I received many compliments on the website during conferences. I would often have my site on display when we met, and I would focus on the transparency of my course. Parents would be able to know when any of the assignments were due, what major projects were coming, and how best to study for future quizzes and tests. They were also aware of classroom policies and retakes, all because this information was easily retrieved from my website.
Although I have "retired" from teaching Chemistry for the near future, my legacy remains online. All of my materials and links to many more are available for any teacher, and my organizational structure and sequencing serves as a potential model for our incoming teachers. I have received several emails from teachers throughout the world, and it's been a nice bonus to be able to help others indirectly through my website. Similarly, I hope this blog serves a similar purpose.