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Thursday, February 17, 2011

10 Ways for Teachers & Students to Build Websites

The lines between blogging platforms, website platforms, and wiki platforms are not always clear. I have a somewhat simplistic explanation that I give to teachers who don't have a web presence yet, but want to create one for their professional work. Here's the explanation: websites are good for providing a static resource of information, blogs are good for frequent updates and communication, and a wiki is great for collaborating on the creation of a reference site. For the teacher who wants to create a website, here are ten good platforms to try.

If you already have a Google Account, Google Sites is already available to you. Just select it from the menu of services that you're not using. Google offers a wide variety of templates that you can use and customize on your site. Should you decide at a later date that you want to add other contributors to your site, you can do so with just a couple of clicks in the sharing menu. Learn more about Google Sites in this video.

Weebly was one of the first website building tools that I played around with when I got started on my technology integration journey. It's a very intuitive and feature rich platform for creating a free website. For those reasons, it's always on my list of recommendations to teachers who want to build a classroom website.

If you're looking for a tool for students to use to create websites of their own, Weebly for Education is a good resource. Weebly for Education includes all of the intuitive website-building and blogging tools found on Weebly plus features built specifically for education. Weebly for Education offers bulk creation of student accounts which teachers can manage and moderate. Students can create their own websites and blogs using the accounts that you create for them.

School Rack offers a free service for teachers to build and host their own classroom websites. Unlike other free website solutions that are targeted toward a general audience, School Rack has features designed specifically for teachers. For example, on your School Rack website you can post assignments with full descriptions, expectations, and deadlines. This is an integrated feature, not an add-on page that you have to create yourself. School Rack offers students and parents free accounts to communicate with teachers. Once your students and parents have activated their accounts, you can directly message individuals or send messages to groups that you have created.

Kafafa offers a wide array of ad-free templates that you can use to build your free website. Once you've selected a template, editing the content of your website is easy to do. To edit the text appearing on your site's pages simply select the text box and start typing. To add or edit other elements of your site's pages just click edit and add images, videos, and hyperlinked text using the simple editor. If you can send an email, you can create a website with Kafafa.

Yola is the tool that I formerly used to build websites for my department at school. An outstanding aspect of Yola is that not only is your website free, it remains free regardless of how much content you add to it. This is a good thing if you plan to post a lot of audio or video content as some website builders and hosts begin to charge once you reach a certain volume content. Yola provides good tutorials and forums for first time users. I also learned first-hand that their responses to help requests are very quick.

Lifeyo is a free service for creating great-looking websites and blogs. It takes less than a minute to create your new website with Lifeyo. To get started just enter a title for your site, pick a design template, and create an account by entering your email address. All of Lifeyo's clean, simple, and good-looking templates allow you to include a blog element within your website. Integrating a blog within the site is a great option for those people who are just getting started online and aren't yet sure how they're going to use their blogs or websites. Lifeyo supports adding multiple authors to your site.

Webs is another service that I have first-hand experience with in a school setting because a couple of my colleagues have used it for their classes. Webs has all of the characteristics that you would expect to find in a free website platform. Websites built using Webs can include videos, calendars, polls, and a wide variety of third party widgets. Webs offers a wide variety templates and layouts to select from. For people with a higher level of comfort with technology, Webs might be a little too basic for your needs. In that case you may want to consider Snap Pages.

Snap Pages provides a free service as well as a premium service for creating your custom website. The free service has more than enough features for a teacher to set up and maintain a class website. The editing and customizing options of Snap Pages allow users to create pages that are little more clean and professional looking than some of the other companies in this market. The image resizing tool reminds me of the one found in Apple's Keynote presentation software. In fact, TechCrunch said that it's “a basic webpage designer that Apple should envy...”

Web Node is a simple way to build a website. The easy to use, drag and drop, interface makes it easy to change the look and feel of your website. For two reasons Web Node is a good tool for students to use to present and share their work with a wider audience. First, Web Node does not put any advertising on your website. And second, the user interface is intuitive enough for first-time users to navigate on their own. 

What makes Jimdo such a good option is the wide array of templates, layouts, background options, and editing options. On many free website builders once you pick a template or design you're locked into all of the pre-defined parameters of that template unless you know HTML and CSS. Jimdo is different because it allows you to tweak the predefined templates and designs. Aside from the design options, Jimdo has some other integrated elements worth mentioning. Jimdo offers you the option to create a blog as an element of your website. You can also take advantage of email management options within Jimdo. Learn more about Jimdo in this video.

Everloop - A Monitored Social Network for Tweens

Everloop is a social networking site designed for use by tweens and their parents. Everloop provides tweens with a closed network in which they can interact with their chosen friends. Everloop gives parents the ability to monitor the interactions of their children with other children in their networks. Tweens cannot expand their networks without their parents' knowledge.

Much like the social networks designed for teens and adults, Everloop offers tweens the option to play games, design profile pages, chat, and talk about school-related events.

Applications for Education
Everloop could be a good, safe environment in which children can learn responsible social networking behaviors. In that regard, I see Everloop being the training wheels of social networking before tweens become teens and join Facebook or other social networks.

Find Sites Like Your Favorites with Similar Site Search

We all have our favorite websites and web-based services that we refer people to. Sometimes our favorite sites don't provide quite what our friends and colleagues need. In those cases, Similar Site Search can help you find websites and web-based services that are similar to your favorites. It's easy to use Similar Site Search, just enter your favorite site's url and go. I tested Similar Site Search this afternoon to find alternatives to Animoto, Memoov, and Aviary. In each case Similar Site Search worked well.

Thanks to Ana Maria Menezes for the link to Similar Site Search

Applications for Education
Similar Site Search could be useful for technology integration specialists or media specialists who are trying to help teachers find web-based tools that teachers can use in their classrooms. Similar Site Search could also be helpful to students who have found some good reference sites and would like to find more like them.

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