Classroom Website for 21st Century Learning
This page originally authored by Adrienne Longworth (March 2012)
Revised By Greg Campbell and Emma Sarbit (March 2013)
The Internet and other information and communication technologies are redefining the nature of learning and the concept of literacy (Holcomb et al. (nd)) One of the ways educators are responding to this shift is through interactive classroom websites, used to address 21st century learning goals, bring together students parents and teachers, and integrate technology into the classroom.
21st Century Learning
A Classroom Website designed for 21st Century Learning:  is one that is designed for and utilized as a learning tool. According to Cook and Dupras (2011), in order for a classroom website to reach its full potential, a teacher should “encourage active learning—self-assessment, reflection, self-directed learning, problem-based learning, learner interaction, and feedback.”  As teachers strive to better understand the ways in which students learn best using technology, the expectations for classroom websites are also changing. Teachers continue to push the boundaries of technology and education and are finding themselves amidst a shifting culture. The expectations of teaching and learning are changing as are the needs of parents and students. The expectation of a classroom website has up until recently tended to manifest itself as a splash page made up of contact information and homework for the day, however today, the classroom website is moving beyond this simple and basic form in order to realize its potential as a powerful tool for learning.
The net abounds with postings of classroom websites. They range in quality and structure from the simple mom and pop variety to those that are complex in structure and interactivity. The sheer number and variety gives rise to the question, what is a good classroom website? Mr. Coley's website is one example that has been deemed a “good Classroom Website”. Although Mr. Coley no longer works as a teacher, his website remains active and serves as a model for other educators wishing to create interactive classroom websites. Mr. Coley’s website takes into consideration the shifted expectations of classroom websites by being dynamic and interactive.
Designing Classroom Websites for 21st Century Learning
The following steps are based on Cook and Dupras' (2011) implementation of the Dick and Carey Design Model .
The content of each section has been adapted to suit the design process of developing a Classroom Website for 21st Century Learning.
Needs Analysis (Goals & Objectives)
To begin, teachers need to define the goals and objectives of their website. When the website is launched these goals and objectives need to be communicated to the students so they are aware of the expectations being set out for them. Teachers may choose to involve student input in the completion this step. Students' needs can be analysed based on the Prescribed Learning Outcomes for his/her particular year. Parental needs can be determined through conversations and/or surveys or through engaging in discussion with other teachers in order to determine the needs of the general parent population at your particular school or in your specific classroom.
Technical Resource Assessment
Available technology and resources for website development varies by district. For example, some districts provide server space specifically for teachers wishing to develop classroom websites. Additionally, there may be technical constraints (physical location of technology within the classroom, restricted access to specific web domains etc.) that need to be addressed. This information can be accessed by contacting the district technology specialist. Consultation with other teachers in the school or district who have already designed classroom websites also make excellent references. . Individual teachers' comfort level and technical knowledge also needs to be considered. Proper planning prior to development will make the process much less taxing.
There is a host of software available for educators to utilize for website development. It is preferable to choose a host that doesn’t come embedded with banner ads because it is difficult to ensure the ads are appropriate for minors.
Teachers also need to consider the pro’s and con’s of freeware freeware vs. software that must be purchased.
Examples of Available Software:
Google Sites Tutorial
The following is a lesson in how to create an educational site using Google Sites. Webinar for Educational Website Using Google Sites
Promoting Ownership & Identifying Barriers
Including all participants (students and parents) in the development and design of the website fosters a sense of ownership and commitment, while promoting participation and the formation of a community of learners. Parents can become contributors to the website through surveys and subscribed updates. Gradebook options can also be added to inform parents/guardians of student progress and include them in celebrating student achievements and supporting student improvement. Potential barriers to implementation need to be considered before launch, including student and parent access to the site. Ways around access difficulties include: school computer labs, computer equipped libraries that are open for student use, local libraries with free computer and internet (An example of this in Vancouver is the Vancouver Community Network.) Additionally, privacy and internet safety need to be addressed when promoting online interactions for youth. The following links provide suggested regulations for minors using websites:
Additionally, a lesson in on-line netiquette may be appropriate prior to the students engaging in online discussion forums.
Content Development (Consistent with Effective Website Design)
Holcomb et al. (n.d.)  assert that the key features common to well-developed classroom websites include teacher contact information (email address, office hours etc.), curriculum resources, suggested extension/remedial activities(such as games and skill activities), student work-products, communication tools, and collaborative teaching and learning tools.
Effective websites provide contact information for the teacher. E-mail is a useful tool to connect with parents that have schedules that make it difficult to meet in person, keep running records of conversations, as well as gives each party time to reflect on and plan his/her response. According to Cook and Dupras (2011) Asynchronous providing electronic communication opportunities also enables students to participate on their own time frame. It has been argued that this improves learning due to students' ability to reflect while they craft their responses.
Interactivity: Active and Collaborative Learning:
Design concepts to consider for Classroom Websites should include 'self-assessment, reflection, self-directed learning, problem-based learning, learner interaction, and feedback'. According to the BCPSEA  (British Columbia Public Schools Employers’ Association) most websites that teachers are creating are not affording student engagement in problem solving skills or information and communication skills. In order to resolve this issue, it is recommended that teachers make use of Web 2.0 tools that promote student interactions and collaborative learning.
Examples of collaborative tools for inclusion:
- Google Documents (Create collaborative documents)
- Wallwisher (A collaborative brainstorming tool)
- PrimaryWall (A web-based sticky note tool designed for schools that allows pupils and teachers to work together in real-time)
- Wikispaces (Create simple web pages that groups, friends, and families can edit together.)
- Edublogs (Blogging for teachers and students, made easy)
- Edmodo (private microblogging platform that teachers and students can use to send notes, links, files, alerts, assignments, and events to each other. )
- Twiducate (Social Networking for schools - twitter for your class)
- epals (Connect with students worldwide in a project-based learning environment)
- AnswerGarden (Feedback tool - embedded polls and more)
Elements that promote student ownership of the website may also be added. Strategies for student inclusion can include but are not limited to:
- A homework section that students update daily.
- A review of material covered in class that a student updates daily.
- A wiki section of the site for class discussions / debates
- Podcasts created by the students that connect to classroom learning
Bednar, Cunningham, Duffy, & Jonassen (1992)  indicate that learning is expedited by completing authentic tasks mediated by social interactions. Effective classroom websites can facilitate this and become portals for students to actively construct their own knowledge by utilizing the tools listed above. However, there is an abundance of multimedia resources available for utilization and it is important that educators stay focused on the websites' objectives and ensure that all content added supports the learning goals. Good instructional design is stronger than an abundance of ineffective or redundant multimedia.
The effectiveness of the classroom website should be assessed regularly. Both formative assessment or assessment for learning (defined by Cowie and Bell as "the process used by teachers and students to recognize and respond to student learning in order to enhance that learning") and summative assessment or assessment of learning (the use of criteria to determine the level of performance) are useful tools to implement when students and parents are using the website. These assessments can then be used as an opportunity to look at what's working in the website and what may need to be further developed or altered in order to best facilitate the websites goals.
Classroom websites require frequent monitoring after implementation. Routine maintenance should include: testing aspects of the site on a variety of computers, operating systems, and mobile devices, observing use of the site for clues as to what information may not be obvious to parents or students, regularly checking and responding to online communication, resolving technical issues, periodically verifying hyperlinks, and regularly uploading and updating content. Teachers also need to ensure they are moderating discussion forums in order to maintain an appropriate level of dialogue among students.
Advantages to Classroom Website Implementation
A classroom website based on sound educational and design principles that incorporates 21st century educational technologies and Web 2.0 tools has the potential to positively impact students, teachers and parents on many levels.
Holcomb et al. (n.d.) describe five important advantages of classroom websites:
- provides a location to publish student work, instilling immeasurable student pride as their learning is shared with others
- facilitates the organization of a bank of resources enabling students to easily access resources related to curriculum units and topics of study
- promotes the sharing and exchanging of ideas among teachers and students (educators' resources are available to be shared with other teachers to advance professional learning opportunities as well)
- forges a link between home and school
- projects professionalism to the public, sending a message that teachers are preparing students in ways that integrate ICT’s and classroom learning
Additionally, the YouTube video titled - "Top 10 Reasons to Use Technology in Education: iPad, Tablet, Computer, Listening Centers" highlights how using technologies (that can be included in classroom website design) can:
- Promote active student engagement through students' love of technology
- Increase class collaborative participation
- Provide a means for frequent teacher feedback
- Promote professional development of real world job skills
- Makes life easier for teachers through the use of online assessments, assignments and homework
- Allows students to work at their own pace
Specific Advantages to Students
Classroom websites provide numerous opportunities for students to work together and build knowledge collaboratively. Not only can students in the same classroom work together through this online environment, however they can also engage in learning with peers around the world (Leu et al. (1999)
Websites provide consistency for students when they or their teacher are absent from school. Students can utilize the class webpage to connect to the classroom from home in order to view what happened while they were away (Brown,(n.d.)
Students are more inclined to complete work to a higher standard when they know it will be seen by a wider online audience (Karchmer, 2001)
Bringing the web into the classroom will make learning relevant for students. As outlined by Rotem and Oster-Levinz (2007) the Netgen is most comfortable online, therefore by incorporating online learning into the classroom; attendance, assignment and retention of classroom material improves. Since students already spend so much of their non-school time on the Internet, failing to establish a classroom web component can minimize the perceived importance of school.
Specific Advantages to Teachers
Classroom websites allow educators to be more environmentally friendly and reduce their ecological footprint! Notes, diagrams, assignments, criteria etc. may be uploaded to the website. Therefore, if a student misplaces a handout, an electronic copy will always be available to them. Additionally, students may submit electronic assignments through e-mail or an "assignment dropbox" on the website.
Using classroom calendars or homework boards to post important information and dates makes students more accountable. Due dates, expectations, assignment criteria, and assessment tools can be posted on the site so they are always available to students. Students who are sick or miss school will be able to access this information, making it easier for them to catch up on what they have missed.
Teachers can tier activities and assessments posted on the website in order to differentiate instruction for students with special needs and students requiring enrichment.
Organization and Management
Classroom websites assist teachers with their organization of class materials by affording a place to post announcements, syllabi and course calendars, and assignments and answer keys for ease of administration, reflection, assessment and management. Additionally, these sites can provide useful information for substitute teachers who are entering the classroom when a teacher is absent.
Classroom websites offer a replacement to parent newsletters and notices as they provide a place to post contact information (teacher e-mail, phone extension etc.) as well as important school phone number extensions and information about special events.
Classroom websites are also a way for teachers to collaborate together. They are a way for educators to share resources and discuss ideas with colleagues as well as establish a professional online learning community with teachers worldwide.
Utilizing a classroom website can help teachers gain back valuable teaching time. Students will be able to access information and links quickly as they will become familiar with getting to and navigating the classroom page. This eliminates the need for students to follow instructions to get to particular sites or type in complicated webpage addresses.
Specific Advantages to Parents and Family Members
Today many families have two working parents and children attend before and after school care. Parents are extremely busy and teachers often find it difficult to contact parents by phone to discuss their child’s positive and negative progress in the classroom. Parent teacher evening is usually once or possibly twice per year, where parents and teachers have the opportunity to sit down and discuss the child’s academic achievements, struggles, social skills etc. This time is usually limited to about 15 minutes and often is not enough time for a meaningful discussion.
A school website can help alleviate the lack of communication that often occurs between parents and teachers. A website can be used to communicate daily activities, homework, upcoming field trips etc
As outlined by Brown in her article Using a classroom webpage to communicate with parents, there was a positive response from families immediately when Kathleen Eveleigh implemented the use of a daily classroom website with her first grade students. “ Working parents tell Kathleen that they check the site each day before going home or picking up their child from school. Before, a typical conversation between parent and student might have consisted of the parent asking, “What did you do in school today?” and the child responding, “Nothing” or “Played.” With the classroom website, a parent or caretaker can build on the information conveyed in the daily summary and ask more specific questions such as, “I read that Mrs. Eveleigh is reading Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. What happened to Charlie today?” or “Tell me about the Irish dancing you learned in PE.”
Transparency and Accessibility
The utilization of a classroom website not only allows parents to “see” inside the classroom, but also provides insight as to what their child is learning about as well as access to classroom materials and tools for supporting students at home.
Due to the increased transparency and accessibility to information, the use of a classroom website encourages parent participation and improves their support of their child's learning (Dermady, Gormley & McDermott, 2011)
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