Monday, August 31, 2009

Planning a Website

Mark Bell, in his text Build a Website for Free (1), notes that the central question you need to answer before you begin the process of developing a website is: Why do you want to build a website? While it may seem obvious to you that you wish to build a website to provide a means to share information with your students about the classes they take with you, it is not quite that simple. Knowing the answer to this question can help you with the design of your site, with the information you provide on it, and with its functionality.

Bell notes that there are several types of sites that you might build: business, personal, social or informational. Typically, we would consider an educational website as an informational site; that is, its purpose is to provide information to your students. Bell suggests you revisit the last few websites you have visited and ask yourself what type of site each is, and then consider why you feel that is the correct answer. As you do so, you should begin to see the differences in how each site is organized and what it is attempting to do.

Then, ask yourself what the overall goal of the website is. What do you want to accomplish? How would you structure your website to achieve those goals? What elements do you see in other websites that would help you do so?

Once you have the goals firmed up, you need to organize the site. You should consider how you will links elements of site to each other, and indeed what elements you feel you should place on your site. Keep mindful that all a website is is a series of pages linked to each other in various ways. You should sit down and sketch out your plan for your site. From the home page, what do you think should be the main secondary page links? From those links, what other links should be present? One example might be to place main links to the courses you teach on your home page, and then once each new page opens for a specific class, you can link to the main documents for that course, such as syllabus, policies, etc. You should also begin to consider how the design elements of your page may allow for ease of use.

Best practices for website development include the following: (1) Keep the website simple. Simple websites allow your message and goals to be easily understood. We have been to websites so busy and complex we cannot find the information we are looking for. (2) Keep the website consistent. Make it a unified whole. Your pages should all contain the same design elements, and the information should appear in the same location on each page. Keep the pages uncluttered. Make sure headers and footers always appear in the same location. (3) Keep your website easy to maintain. A website is a living document requiring constant monitoring and updating. Links to other pages can go dead, your course syllabus may change every term, you may find new information to share, etc. The better designed your website is, the easier it is to maintain.

This is a first step to creating websites that will be of great use to you in communication more effectively with your students. Consistency is important, as this enhances communication. If you have a website, look at it and ask if it is consistent in its presentation; if you do not, remember to work on this as you move forward in developing your new website.

1. Bell M. Build a Website for Free. Indianapolis, IN; Que Books, 2009

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