It’s back-to-school time in the US, and classrooms are getting spruced up for business. As we brush out the cobwebs and get things in order, let’s not forget to spend some time dusting off our classroom website, too.
Here are 10 tips to help you refresh your online site for the upcoming school year.
- Have a clear purpose.
This is probably the most often overlooked step when developing, updating, or rebuilding a classroom website. Before you dive into work on your site, ask yourself a few important questions:
Who is my audience?
What do I want them to know?
How will I know if I’m achieving my purpose?
Thinking about these questions and writing down your answers will go a long way towards helping you maintain your focus and make your website much more useful to your audience. Once you focus on who is important and what you will communicate to them, it becomes really easy to evaluate your content and measure your success. It also helps you stay focused on your site without making it difficult to navigate or maintain. With a defined audience and a clear purpose for your site, your visitors will definitely find its content more useful.
- Bring it up to date (and keep it there).
Almost as important as having a clear purpose is taking the time to keep your website current. If you are still showing a ‘Welcome Back to School’ message in October, your visitors will not come back. It is also very frustrating to visit a website and find link rot. If your content is broken or out of date, there’s no incentive for people to visit. Build time into your schedule to make necessary updates to your site.
If your website’s purpose is to communicate with families about what is happening in your classroom, post something at least once a week. If your purpose is to provide resources for parents and students to extend their learning outside of school hours, check your links at least monthly to make sure they all work. Your website is only as valuable as the content that’s on it.
Make sure your content is relevant to the purpose of the site and to your audience. When you give people the information that they are looking for, you will see an increase in the number of visitors to your website, and that equals time well spent.
- Use copyright-friendly images and clipart.
Copyright is serious business. Posting graphics without obtaining permission can get you in big trouble. Even if you are never served with a lawsuit or a DMCA takedown notice, you still have a responsibility to demonstrate appropriate and ethical use of digital content for your students. Fortunately, there are TONS of resources for copyright-friendly images and clipart. My favorite site for images is http://pixabay.com where you can access thousands of high-quality, public-domain photographs that can be used in whatever manner you want. My favorite clipart site is https://openclipart.org, which has thousands of files with no copyright restrictions. There’s also https://thenounproject.com, where you have the option to use an image with a citation built in at no charge, or for $1 you can support the site and the contributor and remove the citation.
Of course, any pictures you take yourself are your own – to do with what you will!
- Don’t be afraid to show your personal style.
Your website is your public face to the world. Don’t be afraid to let it reflect your personality. Share things about your personal life, if you’re comfortable with that. Let your visitors see that you are a real person with interests outside of teaching. It just might help you find some common ground with parents and your students.
- But don’t forget to be professional!
It probably goes without saying that, while you should not hide your personality or what you are like outside of school, you should keep your website professional. The pictures, language, and interests you express should all be in good taste and should serve to enhance your reputation and standing with your audience. And be sure to proofread EVERYTHING for accuracy, grammar, and spelling.
- Make sure you adhere to the wishes of parents/guardians.
Student privacy can be a very tricky issue. Pay attention to state and federal regulations, and be careful about the information you share about students, including how they are identified. Never post students’ names and pictures without securing permission from students’ caretakers. When you communicate the purpose of your website, indicate whether you intend to post pictures of students participating in classroom activities. If there are any objections from parents or guardians, you need to respect their wishes and refrain from posting anything about those students.
- Scale your graphics appropriately.
Most modern websites are designed to be “responsive” – they adjust the page layout to suit the size of the screen they are displayed on. This is a great feature, but it doesn’t always work the way it’s supposed to. By resizing your images, you will ensure the page loads more quickly and that it looks better in the end. For example, most Web pages are designed to be 800-1000 pixels wide. It is not uncommon for today’s point-and-shoot cameras to have a 12-megapixel resolution. These pictures are 4 to 5 times wider than the page, which makes it that much more difficult to read. A simple website like http://www.picresize.com allows you to take that large image and make it into a more usable format.
- Focus on readability.
Your content is the most important aspect of your website. Fun extras like pictures and different layouts are nice, but if they get in the way of your content, your visitors will be frustrated. It’s very important to use standard fonts and high-contrast color schemes for body text. Yellow text on a red background is very difficult to read, for example. If you have any users with impaired vision, any scheme other than black on white might be difficult for them to read. Be cognizant of the end user, and let that help guide design decisions.
- Simplify navigation.
When there are too many pages on a site, content can sometimes get buried and be difficult to find. (If you doubt that statement, take a look at a government website!) As much as possible, simplify your website’s navigation so that anyone visiting your site knows exactly what to look for and how to find it. It’s often helpful to develop a wireframe or flowchart to plan out the structure of the site before you even begin. A general rule of thumb is to make all of your content accessible within three clicks of any location within the site. Use navigation menus to help!
- Don’t work too hard!
The easier it is for you to work on your site, the more likely it is that you’ll keep it current. There are many great online tools that help you make great websites for little or no money. Two of the most popular are http://www.wix.com and https://www.weebly.com. Weebly has a little bit of an edge over Wix for ease of use, but Wix allows for much more customization. Another very simple tool is Google Sites (and particularly the new Google Sites).
Keep the window open.
If you don’t already have a website, consider creating one this year. Keeping a classroom website is a great way to open a window into your classroom. Use your website as a tool to build relationships with the students and families you serve. With a little time and attention on a regular basis, you can keep that window spotless and clean all year long!