Setting-up a website to aid your lessons

Posted by Greten on 05 Jan 2012 under Competent Online Instructions

Your class has once again ended. As expected, some students were able to understand it immediately, some are still in need of assistance to reinforce their understanding, some have complete notes, and some find it difficult to listen and to write at the same time. You want to help all your students having difficulties but the time alotment provided by the administrators is not enough.

The old way of helping your students is by allocating consultation time. It might not be enough for some of your students. Some are too shy to ask for consultation or tutorial sessions from you.

The new way? By setting-up a blog or a website. At the very least, write down your lessons so that your students can review them at their own pace. At most, you could record your lecture in video format, embed it to your site and ask those students who are having learning problems to watch the video first and ask you later for clarifications. It would reduce the time you allocate for consultation and allow you to entertain more students for consultation lessons.

A blog or a website? What's the difference? A website is anything made-up of several web pages, has its own URL (WWW.website-name-here.com) and accessed through a web browser. A blog is a specific type of website wherein a particular kind of web page, called "posts" are sorted in chronological order. A blog includes a content management system and a control panel that allows you to focus on writing and editing the posts. While certain websites and content management system are more efficient in educating students, blogs is the easiest for a non-programming teachers to work with, while making the management easier for teachers who are also programmers.

For the sake of our discussion, let us define the term "lecture blog" as a blog created and maintained by a teacher to help his/her students and to reinforce learning. This is in contrast to the learning management systems that are maintained by schools, textbook publishers, or some third party, with students and teachers only being given accounts to use it.

Lecture Blog further explained

As defined earlier, a lecture blog is a blog created and maintained by a teacher to help his or her students and to reinforce learning. The teacher may build it himself and subsequently encoded all its content. Another teacher may ask someone else to build it for her and then she updates the content herself regularly. Senior teachers who are typically (but not always) not tech-savvy may delegate the task of building and updating it to a younger relative or hired assistant while providing the content handwritten on papers. The teacher is in-charge of his/her lecture blog and responsible for its content.

If a teacher is handling more than one subject area or more than one grade level, she may decide that grade 1 math, grade 3 math and grade 3 science all have different lecture blogs. However, these might be difficult to maintain as that would mean more URLs, usernames and passwords to be memorized. I would personally suggests that a teacher should make only one lecture blog, with all the subjects and grade levels he is teaching as categories, and the lessons within those subjects as subcategories. Then, simply guide your students to that specific part or post(s) of the lecture blog that is concerned with their lesson.

Lecture blog requirements

There is usually no strict requirements or rule-of-thumb on what constitutes a lecture blog. The minimum requirements are text and image content, which practically all free blog providers support. Animations and videos are very much useful in certain subjects like science, mathematics and physical education. However, teachers who could not provide these media should not consider their lecture blog as something less-than-useful. Any form of their lessons that their students can access online anytime are definitely useful.

I would no longer cover the use of interactive learning objects that are usually Java or flash-based. Many teachers are not programmers and they should not be discouraged in making lecture blogs. Web programmers, on the other hand, probably would not need the this article, as they would know how to configure their blogs to suit their needs. However, if you are both a teacher and a web programmer reading this, you might still learn something from me.

Examining some of the free blog providers

Some teachers can be both tech savvy and have enough cash to spare to be able to afford and manage their own paid hosting and domain name. However, for teachers who are starting to consider the use of lecture blogs, I would advise the use of free blog providers. Based on your experience on managing your lecture blog, you can then decide whether you want to continue using the free blog provider, stop blogging, or move to paid hosting.

A sample of WordPress UI, which teachers can easily use in constructing their lecture blogsThere are so many free blog and website providers out there and I could not examine them all. Hence, I just picked four and examined them based on the following criteria:

  • can embed image
  • can embed and retain animated gif
  • can embed videos from youtube
  • can accept file attachments for students to download (for take-home quizzes, handouts, etc)

The four free blog providers are as follows:

I have to individually sign-up and try the features of these sites. It could be possible that what I wrote here as a feature that is not available is in fact available but I just wasn't able to find it due to difficult navigation menu, default configuration that can be modified, and other reasons that boils down to the fact that I could not take too much time examining how each of them works. If there is any error in my findings, please let me know.

My findings are summarized in the table below:

Free blog image animated GIF Youtube embed File attachment
Blogger.com YES NO 1 YES NO 2
WordPress.com YES YES 3 YES YES 4
Livejournal.com YES YES YES NO
Webs.com YES YES YES 5 YES 6

Notes:

  1. Becomes static image during uploading
  2. However, one may use Google docs to upload document files (pdf, doc, xls, ppt, odt, odp, zip, etc). Source: Google Docs Viewer
  3. Be sure to embed it as full size, not as thumbnail, medium or large
  4. Allows pdf, doc, ppt, odt, pps, and xls. Source: mentioned inside any WordPress.com blog dashboard under Media ยป Add New
  5. Must use Webs.com's embed video tool to search Youtube for videos; inserting Youtube embed code will not work
  6. No mention of what files are not allowed, but does not seem to accept zip files

The tests on the features of these free blog providers were done on December 28, 2011. I would no longer post links to the blogs I created to experiment these providers' features as they are only one-time experiments. I intend to delete them as it would not be fair to keep them around deprive free disk space from those who need it.

Precaution on copyrighted materials

Many teachers are used to copying books verbatim and using images in their discussions. These acts are not violations of copyright laws because the use of the said materials are internal to classroom setting.

The said practices, however, should not be transmitted in your lecture blog. Your lecture blog, as a publicly accessible material, is required to follow copyright laws. Ensure that you write most of the text in your own words, use quotes and use only a small portion for those copied from other sources verbatim, and use images/media that are either in public domain or you have the permission to use.

I'm not sure if the principles of copyright still applies if you set your lecture blog to be accessible only to your students by use of password or some log-in mechanism. Webs.com and WordPress.com seems to have these feature but I didn't explore it.

Conclusion

Overall, I would personally suggest the use of WordPress.com in creating lecture blogs. It passed all of the aforementioned criteria. Web.coms also passed all criteria but it serves advertisement on your blog and its website administrator's navigation can be very confusing. However, ultimately you as a teacher can determine your needs for your lecture blog and which of these free blogs can provide them. If you know of any great free blog provider that you've been using and think that they should be featured here, please let me know. Either I will edit this article or write an entirely new article for these new recommended free blog providers.

I would no longer go on specific details such as how to upload files in Google docs and link it to your Blogger.com blog, or how to embed Youtube videos on your Webs.com blog. Either My assumption is that they are very easy to figure out. However, if someone asked, I will answer it in the comment section or write a new article to address it.

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Free and open source software technology and internet usage guide for teachers and other professionals in the education sector