Tips for Teacher Websites #2: Form and Function

Last week we discussed how important it was determine the initial audience for your teacher website. In summary, I have to say that it really helped me to stay motivated in creating my site when I viewed it as an organizational tool for my curriculum as opposed to just a flashy page to attract my students' attention. Today, I reflect on my experience and offer a few more suggestions in getting your teacher website up and running.

First, a look at the past.

Here's what my original site looked like (see above, as the server that it was on no longer exists). Did I have a thing for animated GIF's or what? I would like to note that the basic structure reminds me (imagine with me for a second) of the iPhone's "revolutionary" interface. Icons neatly arranged in a matrix, clickable to open programs or websites. Mr. Chan's Homepage debuted in 2002, the iPhone in 2007. Hmm...

Introducing the table

I'm no web designer. Check out my friends' company, GD Squared if you're looking for something professional. No, I just wanted something simple and easy for my non-design oriented mind to grasp. So, I organized my second website attempt with a simple table. In each of five columns, I made headers that would be useful for my teaching. At the time, I was a Chemistry teacher, so I grouped my notes, handouts, labs, demos, links as columns and each unit had its own separate table. I then entered text that was either a reference, a link, or an attachment.

Folders are where it's at

With Microsoft SharePoint and Google Sites, you can organize documents into folders with ease. With SharePoint, it's very easy to group your documents especially if you use the Windows Explorer feature (not surprisingly, this works only with Internet Explorer). With Google Sites, file management is not quite as simple or elegant, but a system does exist (file cabinet pages). Since our transition to SharePoint occurred towards the end of my tenure as a classroom teacher, I didn't put too much into my third site. I do appreciate the ability to organize files with the document libraries.

Google me one more time.

Although I feel comfortable recommending MS SharePoint for our teachers' webpages, there has been some understandable push back concerning the user friendliness of the program. For a simple task such as editing text on a webpage, there are a minimum of 5 clicks before you get into the content editor web part. This may be resolved in future versions of SharePoint, but as an alternative, I recommend using Google Sites. Tied into our Google Apps for Education accounts, teachers have access to a quick WYSIWYG editor in Sites. So, why mess with SharePoint in the first place? Permissions and a better file organization system are two major reasons. I discussed the co-existence of both programs back in January.

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