Sunday, August 17, 2008

Increasing Teacher-Parent Communication. Part II: Websites and Wikis

In part one of this series about increasing and improving teacher-parent communication we looked at using blogs to communicate with parents. Blogs are great tools for communicating with parents, but sometimes they're not quite flexible enough for what you may be trying to do. This is where creating a classroom website or classroom wiki comes in.

With free website building platforms even novice computer users can create a website containing a variety of pages to meet your needs. For example if a teacher could build a website targeted toward helping parents help their students with assignments at home. That teacher could build a page within a the classroom website dedicated to showing and explaining sample math problems or how to distinguish parts of speech. While you could post that information could be posted in a blog entry it's probably easier for parents to find it if by just clicking on a tab or link on the classroom website. On a classroom website a teacher may want to post a calendar of events or copy of classroom and school policies.

Building a classroom wiki is in many ways similar to building a classroom website with the primary difference being that a wiki can have multiple contributors and editors. Creating a classroom wiki that students can contribute to and edit is a great way to get them involved in communicating with their parents about school. Much like building a website, a wiki can have tabbed or categorized browsing to help visitors find information quicker than they would by searching through a blog's archive.

Here is a short video from Common Craft explaining the wiki concept.

Website Builders and Wikis for Education
Weebly is a completely free website building and hosting platform. Getting started is very easy (I personally got two "older" reluctant technophobes started in less than 10 minutes) and the directions are very straightforward. The support/ help team at Weebly is very responsive and will answer any question if you email them. There is a wide variety of templates and color schemes that users can pick from. Finally, unlike some free services your visitors won't be exposed to advertising unless you allow it.

Webnode is another 100% free website building and hosting platform. Like Weebly getting started is quite easy. Webnode gives users a lot of layout flexibility. One of the great things about Webnode is that the sites you build and host on Webnode are compatible with every web browser.

Google Sites
is kind of a hybrid between a website building and hosting platform and a wiki platform. On Google Sites the standard layout options are more like those you would see on a regular website, but unlike some website building and hosting services multiple users can contribute and edit content. Below is a short video introduction to using Google Sites.

Wikispaces is a free wiki service for educators. In an informal comparison with other wiki services my high school students preferred Wikispaces over two other free wiki providers. Initially I was not impressed by Wikispaces because their standard free package would place advertising on the wiki that I had no control over. Then I discovered that Wikispaces has a free option especially for educators that doesn't place questionable advertising on your wiki. Click here to visit the educator page.

PBWiki is the free wiki service that I convinced my district's curriculum coordinator to use with the district's Social Studies teachers to share and collaborate on lesson plans and ideas. PBWiki's free version doesn't place any advertising on your wiki and in my opinion is actually easier for those born before the digital generation to learn and use. PBWiki also, from time to time, hosts great webinars for teachers and parents about online learning and online safety.

WetPaint is another free wiki service that is popular among educators. Like PBWiki and Wikispaces, WetPaint provides a wiki platform for educators that is completely advertising free. WetPaint also provides help to teachers through their education ambassadors. Click here to see the WetPaint education page.

I've only mentioned a few wiki and website builders. There are many others that are free and good for education. If you have a wiki or website builder that you use and would recommend to others please leave a comment.