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Chris Higgins

How to design, create and maintain a departmental website

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Developing your own departmental website

Although the Invicta History website www.ighistorysonline.co.uk has been online for little over a year, it has rapidly grown to become an essential part of the teaching and learning that goes on within the History department at the school. So much so that if the internet is ever unavailable, or if the site were ever to be taken down, I am sure many teachers and students would immediately feel its absence.

Planning

The site was constructed after a significant period of planning and consultation. Above all, it was designed to serve the students at Invicta. We are privileged at the school to be part of an e-learning foundation which has enabled all students in Year 7-9 to acquire a laptop for use in school and at home. This means that many more lessons than is normally the case in schools can be delivered through electronic resources either emailed to students or accessed on line or via the wireless school network.

Students were consulted over the appearance and scetions they would like to see on the site and their ideas used in the final design. As well as having easy access to resources students said that they would also like to have a section where they could find games and interactive tasks that they could do to supplement the more traditional activities that took place in class. With this in mind a special interactive zone was built into the site with games and links to multi-media activities that students could use for extension tasks or revision purposes.

Teachers within the department particularly saw the website as a place where they could access resources; a sort of one stop shop for Word and PowerPoint files that would lessen their planning burden, enable them to share good practice and build more consistency into lessons throughout the department. Because the site is freely available online, teachers outside Invicta are also able to download resources that they deem to be useful, and I frequently receive emails from teachers around the world who find the site a useful source for teaching resources and ideas. Indeed, some of the best ideas for sections of the website came from visiting other departmental websites and seeing which best fitted the context of our school.

Since so many of our students work on laptops rather than in exercise books, one problem that quickly emerged at Invicta was one of access to students’ work. I found that parents as much as teachers were anxious to see the work students had produced, so another area of the site emerged in which we show case the best student work. The beauty of hosting student work online is that it can support pieces of work recorded in a wide range of media, including Photo Stories, Windows Media Files, audio clips as well as more conventional Word and PowerPoint documents. Students often speak about how they have enjoyed showing their parents work that has been posted online, and no matter what the age of the student, the thrill of seeing one’s work published to the web is clearly evident.

Training & development

As a non-ICT specialist, a crucial part of the creation of the departmental website was training in the use of web software. Invicta purchased a school licence to use the Dreamweaver web design software, and as part of the package a technician from the company came in to school and delivered an all-day session on how to create a basic homepage with links. This initial training was further supported by hands-on help from the IT department and by participation in on line forums such as Andrew Field’s excellent ICT Help forum. Although I was initially a little overawed by the apparent complexity of the Dreamweaver interface, within relatively little time I had realised that creating a web site was little more complicated than word processing. If you can insert hyperlinks into a Word document you have more or less mastered the essence of web design.

How is Igshistoryonline is used by students?

To give a better sense how students and teachers use Igshistoryonline, it might be interesting to see how a particular unit of work is delivered in practice through the site. Last year, students conducted a depth study into the age of Elizabeth, examining the different social and political problems she faced. Students were introduced to the range of issues through a short film clip, created by the teacher and posted in the resources section of the website. They were then given a task sheet which set out the activity in greater detail, with assessment criteria and links to useful resources. Students were required to produce a documentary using Photo Story which answered the question, ‘Was the age of Elizabeth a truly ‘golden’ one?’. Students planned their documentary in small groups, using a storyboard template from the resources section and gather relevant information from the Year 7 ‘Going further’ section which has links to sites of specific relevance to this topic. Students then used a link on their task sheet to download the free Photo Story software from the Microsoft downloads site and began to piece together their final film. The finished films were then emailed to me and presented to the class on the interactive whiteboard. Students peer assessed each other’s work using a specially created template again in the templates section and emailed their work back to me. Finally, the film clips were published to the web, in the Students’ work section as evidence of the excellent work they had done and as a model for future students to follow.

Evaluation

Now that the Invicta website has been running for over a year, it is time evaluate its progress. The next step will be to conduct a survey with students to see which sections they use most/least and how they would like to see the website change. Already I have added sections to the site to respond to new needs or changes in our use of ICT. For example, I have included a password protected staffroom area where teachers can post documents relating to students’ progress or clips from films or audio recordings that could not be shared publicly on the web. I am currently experimenting with the use of discussion forums to plan essays, hold online debates and conduct polls and surveys, and so a link has now gone to a new forum from our home page. Finally, in order to give each member of staff more ownership of the appearance and content on the site I shall be setting up ‘virtual classrooms’ where staff can either run micro sites within the history department site or have their own virtual learning environments, for example using Moodle, to post units of work or collate students work at the end of an assignment.

The creation and development of a departmental website is an extremely organic process, which needs to respond to the changing needs of its users in order for it to flourish. As a non-ICT specialist I make no claims to have created the most complex or technically advanced educational website on the net, but what I do feel is the Igshistoryonline site meets the needs of its users the staff, students and parents of students at the school very closely.

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Students were consulted over the appearance and sections they would like to see on the site and their ideas used in the final design. As well as having easy access to resources students said that they would also like to have a section where they could find games and interactive tasks that they could do to supplement the more traditional activities that took place in class. With this in mind a special interactive zone was built into the site with games and links to multi-media activities that students could use for extension tasks or revision purposes.

This is the approach I like!

Edited by Nico Zijlstra

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I am glad you agree, Nico. If the website doesn't focus on its main target audience's needs to simply won't be used. The next stage of development, the evaluation, will involve interviewing students about how they use the site: how often, any problems with navigability, features they would like added etc.

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I am glad you agree, Nico. If the website doesn't focus on its main target audience's needs to simply won't be used. The next stage of development, the evaluation, will involve interviewing students about how they use the site: how often, any problems with navigability, features they would like added etc.

I think it would also be helpful to assess how using your website has influenced pupil learning. A lot of the "games and quizzes" stuff one sees online at the various history sites hasn't really been subjected to this sort of analysis as far as I am aware

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I am glad you agree, Nico. If the website doesn't focus on its main target audience's needs to simply won't be used. The next stage of development, the evaluation, will involve interviewing students about how they use the site: how often, any problems with navigability, features they would like added etc.

At the moment I'm involved in a project of the Dutch Open University in assessing the way pupils (age 15) use the internet as a source.

Although it is about using the internet and not a particular website, the outcome (March 2007) might be of general interest.

We're thinking of producing a 'mind map' of variables to assess a website.

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I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your excellent presentation as well as your company in Stockholm.

Now that the Invicta website has been running for over a year, it is time evaluate its progress. The next step will be to conduct a survey with students to see which sections they use most/least and how they would like to see the website change.

I would be very interested in hearing about the results of your survey.

I am currently experimenting with the use of discussion forums to plan essays, hold online debates and conduct polls and surveys, and so a link has now gone to a new forum from our home page.

There is tremendous scope for the use of forums in history teaching. Have you seen this section of the forum?

http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?showforum=179

Could you see ways of integrating this into your teaching?

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I have only just begun using forums as an additional part of the website and think they'll provide some exciting new learning opportunities in the future. Currently I am using them to hold poles on discussions conducted in class, to plan essays together and also to use for peer assessment. My colleague is about to start using them as a sort of blog, charting the day to day experiences of individuals caught up in the changes of industrial revolution.

I will also evaluate the website - possibly using the forum - in the future and let you know of my findings.

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