e-help Seminar 35 How to design, create and maintain a departmental website
Stockholm 6-7 October 2006
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.
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
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
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.
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.