The science course that I currently teach was written last year with a web design project. When we taught it this year, I wanted to provide the teachers that worked with me a list of basic tips to follow when doing the project. Most of these teachers had never made a website themselves, but recognized it as an important skill for the students to learn. I was digging through some things on my desktop today and came across the list, so here it is!
#1: Do It Yourself
Before you’re able to teach your students anything, the general consensus is that you should do it yourself first. This couldn’t be more true with website construction. Taking the time to make an example website in the quality that you want out of your students will go a long way towards helping you get them where you want them to be. It will also help you figure out exactly how much time they will need and what kinds of questions they’ll ask about construction.
Building a website takes an enormous amount of time. There are tools out there such as Google Sites that allow for quick construction via a template, but their layouts are restrictive. Teaching students how to customize these layouts is one task, but having them actually go through the process always takes longer than we think. I gave my students a full week in the computer lab after four weeks of storyboard and layout instruction interspersed with content. I probably could have provided more than that.
It helps when students have an extremely clear purpose of building their website. The purpose should be simple, concise, and relatable. It shouldn’t be a challenge for the students to come up with the content as they’re also trying to make the website. Remember, building a website is hard. Let the students have the first crack at it with a small amount of content. I wasn’t happy with our purpose this year, since it was too overcomplicated. The idea was to provide a professional athlete a training website that could help them improve at their sport. In reality, none of our students are qualified to do this. Next year, I plan on changing the purpose to highlighting the specific polymers in various pieces of equipment in a sport, and highlighting which equipment is best for different scenarios.
#4: Focus on Specific Design Aspects
I called Brian when designing this project for his advice and his first words were that typography and color go a long way to making something look great. I made the students adopt a custom color scheme from Kuler and hard-code their font choice into the HTML editor. These two menial tasks were enough to get them excited about trying this on their Tumblr or other blog at home.
#5: Show Examples
In teaching any sort of design, and as any art teacher would tell you, showing examples is vital to the development of students’ ability to critique and identify strengths and weaknesses of work. By showing examples of poorly and well designed websites, you can foster student discussion and critical thinking. We went through about 40 minutes of website show-and-tell before diving into storyboards, and it was extremely valuable. Even a simple homework assignment along the lines of “Pick three of your favorite websites and list three strengths and weaknesses of each one” can go a long way towards gearing students towards analyzing things they see on the internet.
This project wound up successful but I am looking forward to doing it again next year. I actually felt that the web instruction for this project was great, but the content of the students’ websites could be altered to provide a more enriching experience.