Webmaking with trainee teachers

Feb 19, 2013

Miles Berry

We’ve had some content on web-development on our primary teacher training programmes at Roehampton since before my time, but this is becoming a more significant part of our work, and increasingly a mode for assessed work these days. In the past, we used Google Sites for collaborative work on documenting planning using an embedded approach to ICT skills as part of the generalist third year assignment, as well as creating online courses for our second year undergraduates. This year’s programmes now include:

  • Plenty of blogging – we’ve a Drupal powered bespoke blog/portfolio system, so trainees quickly get used to adding links, uploading images and embedding media; we also showcase The 100 Word Challenge and a few sign up for the team.
  • Developing online courses (in Fronter, as we’re in London) and a shared wiki on online resources with second year undergraduates (computing specialists);
  • Populating a children’s literature wiki as part of 2nd year English lectures, using a framework set up by the specialists;
  • There’s the option to submit the big, third year summative reflection in the form of a website – we’ve had a fairly even split between Wix and Google Sites this year, although I’m not entirely happy with either
  • Computing specialists similarly can submit their final project work on creating an outline scheme of work and school IT policy in the form of a website. They also get a workshop on HTML by hand.
  • All our third years also are required to submit their final Teaching and Learning project, on either assessment or behaviour, in the form of a website. How we teach the techy bit of this, specifically the platform we demonstrate, is the focus of my thinking at the moment – see below.
  • We’re including some webmaking using the Mozilla webmaker tools for our KS2 PGCE trainees, playing with hackasaurus and thimble. I’m really excited about this.

I’ve been asked for advice about web design. This is hard, as much of this is down to personal aesthetics but my key points are probably the following:

  • less is more in this space, certainly at the moment – look for simplicity and consistency
  • Think of the structure of the site and let that determine navigation
  • Content is king; only use images/media when these add rather than distract
  • Hyperlinks are the soul of the web

So for this big T&L project, I’m inclined to move away from Google Sites as our suggested solution, which works, but very few trainees seem to get excited about: the sites look far from professional, and it’s all too tempting for some to adopt a ‘let’s throw everything in’ approach. As I say, many trainees have been using Wix, without any prompting from us, they’ve thus tended to produce polished, perhaps overly ‘designed’ sites with rather too many bangs and whistles for my own taste. Weebly is a similar platform, and I just discovered imcreator yesterday, although this seems to focus more on photography than text. It’s worth my emphasising that we strive not to specify particular tools or platforms, although we’ll tend to use just one or two in lectures, and refuse to guarantee support for other things.

Which leads me to thinking in terms of going with WordPress as the platform we’ll look at in lectures for T&L, especially as this seems more professionally relevant given the current enthusiasm for blogging in schools. I’ve a hosted multisite instance which it would be easy enough to provide access to, but WordPress.com itself is quite tempting; there’s big range of themes available, some of which are quite tasteful, and structure and navigation can be handled easily if they go with pages rather than posts as content holders. Education specific options like John McLear’s excellent Primary Blogger, and EduBlogs. I’d welcome thoughts from those reading this below…

Moving forward, I’m starting to wonder if we ought to move to encouraging our trainees to blog publicly using WordPress (etc), with a Planet Roehampton like aggregator bringing their posts together into our Drupal platform.

I’ve some inclination to run a couple of geeky workshops on the hard core HTML-by-hand approach, probably using Bootstrap as a framework, especially as I see this can be hosted for free on a Google Docs account now. There are some excellent resources on learning HTML and CSS from Alasdair Blackwell’s Decoded in association with O2 Learn.