Teachers have been creating classroom websites for the past 15 years, however many of these sites were created with tools that extremely basic and came with a hosting provider, the results were websites that looked like an elementary student had created them. They had bright eye-hurting colors and poor layouts at best. The information on them was typically pretty good if the course/class instructor took the time to maintain the site, but more often than not, this was not the case. In the past decade, content-management systems like WordPress, Drupal and Joomla have become the standard for many websites. While Drupal and Joomla are more and advanced and often used for district and/or building websites WordPress has become a standard for classroom websites due to its easy nature of use and clickable design changes via skinning (the process of change a website’s look by changing the color and layout scheme through predefined templates). Many if not most districts have a WordPress blogging system in place that teachers can utilize to create a simple classroom blog quickly and easily, which leaves the question; what do I put in my classroom blog?
Content, Content, Content
A classroom will be whatever you make it! Most classroom blogs can be used as a communication and marketing tool by the teacher. If you have class announcements, a classroom calendar and a weekly class outline it can be an excellent tool to communicate to parents with. If you add examples of student work, classroom pictures or digital tools it can be an excellent marketing tool. However if you are going to have any type of student work or pictures you will need to check your district policies to make sure you are not violating student confidentiality, most times simply leaving off the students name or abbreviating it will work (but once again check your district’s policy).
When building a classroom website for communication, the main task will be keeping the information updated and relevant; this means that you will need to update your site weekly or at the very least bi-weekly. Often teachers will do this when they are writing their lesson plans for the week and schedule information to be released during the week or all at one time depending on their personal preferences. On the classroom sites that I maintain, I simply add calendar events as they come up, adding them from either my phone or desktop computer. Updating my sites in this “gorilla” fashion keeps the process from getting overwhelming. The biggest challenge is of remembering to post this information is faced when teachers start to begin blogging like this, but once they are in the groove of blogging it becomes second nature to them.
When building a classroom website for marketing purposes, you will need to focus creating a good-looking website that shows off what you do in your classroom. Leading up to this you will want to take pictures of students in action working on projects and take pictures or scan student work. Once you post this information to your website, make sure that it can be found with as few clicks as possible and that it looks excellent. If you are not sure what your district’s policy is on identify students in pictures or student work, simply don’t identify students. It would also be a good idea to send home a permission slip to parents informing them you will be using a student’s image for your classroom website and giving them the chance to opt-out of this. Many districts already send home this type of permission slip so your district may already have it on file.
If you are a teacher that already has some type of digital classroom in a system such as Moodle or Blackboard, then a WordPress site can be a great accompaniment to your online course. Keep in mind that keeping up your classroom websites is just as important as maintaining your regular classroom and can be have a big impact on you as a teacher, both positive and negatively.