Various experts on Web design and creation state that the Internet provides the most accessible and innovative medium for education and classroom teaching purposes. Some claim that the Web offers a platform and a "perfect medium" for teachers. (Lord, 2004, p. 20) This view is echoed in numerous studies about the impact and the possibilities of new technologies like the Internet for education and the enhancement of classroom activities.
However, at the same time, pundits issue a warning that the availability of this technology alone is not sufficient in itself for the creation of a perfect classroom Website. They note that an understanding of the medium and how best to use the technology as it relates to good teaching and educational methods is the most important factor in creating the "perfect" educational Webpage.
This sentiment is echoed in the growing trend of recent research in computer-assisted language learning (CALL), in which scholars are beginning to realize that the bells-and-whistles approach to technology will not work in our language classrooms. While each teacher must adopt the technological practices that work best with his/her own methodology and pedagogical beliefs, the field is coming to accept that we must have more motivation than the simple fact that the technology is available.
In terms of design and the do's and don'ts of building a good Website, creating a Website for the classroom is not any different to creating any other type of Website. The same principles of good design and understanding of the capabilities of the technology apply. The only difference is in the aims and intentions of the Website. As will be discussed, planning the Website is as important as knowing which fonts are best to use and how to manipulate images. This paper will focus on the creative and practical process of design with reference to the most common errors and the best ways to ensure that the classroom Website is user-friendly and well as being functional and attractively designed
Good Web design must also take cognizance if the latest technologies that are available to enhance the communicative aspects of the site. These include technologies such as Flash and other interactive components that can be added to a website. However, a perfect website is not necessarily one with the latest technological components. The basics of web design and text and image presentation always form the foundation of all good Websites. The following assessment and explanation of elements in the creation of a "perfect" classroom Website will take these factors into account.
2. Initial considerations: fundamental aspects of a classroom Website
Good Web design starts with simplicity and planning. While new technologies are extremely useful and can enhance the communication and teaching facilities, yet if the foundations have not being established none of the "bells and whittles" or advanced capabilities will be of much use.
As many experts attest, the first and most important step in creating the perfect Website is the planning phase. This is crucial to the entire development of the site. The planning phase involves asking oneself the following types of questions, e.g. what is the central purpose of the site that I wish to create; what do I wish to achieve with the site? In terms of a classroom site this may mean that one has to establish whether the site will be developed as an online learning facility or a communications centre that would, for example, include interactive input from students and parents etc. The choices and decisions that are made will have a profound bearing on the rest of the Website creation process.
Once the general framework of the site has been established, one then plans the site in terms of appearance and the possible interactive dynamics of the site. This also refers to the important aspect of navigation and access to the site and the way in which the students or users would enter the site. For example, will the site have a front page with links to the various areas or will it be more of a "portal" site and with an interactive "door." These are central aspects that will determine other design and practical decisions.
All of these aspects can be sketched on piece of paper and the central decisions outlined at this early stage. Experts all emphasize the importance of this preparatory phase before actually embarking on the physical creation of the Website. This stage also includes the following aspects.
1. Browse through other classroom Web sites for ideas and inspiration.
2. Decide on the primary aim or purpose of your classroom Web site (parent communication, homework announcements, etc.)
3. Sketch out a layout for your pages, keeping a consistent design on all pages of your site.
4. Start small and add to your site as time goes on.
(How to Make a Classroom Web Site)
Some initial tips that should be borne in mind are that the site should not be overly busy as this may distract for the central purpose and functionality of the site. An important tip is the copyright aspects of using images from other sources. It is extremely tempting to use images that one finds on the Web for your site. However, copyright law forbids this type of usage and permission from the owner of the site on which that image appears should be requested.
Another initial pointer is that many novice Web designers do not take into account the nature of the medium in which they are working. The internet is by its very nature interactive and continually changing. It should be remembered that, unlike other media, Websites are expected to alter and change - even on a daily basis. Therefore, when designing a Website the planning phase should include an understanding of this dynamic aspect and the practical implications related to it.
3. Wed editing tools
Web editing applications have become an essential component in creating an effective Web site. The central question that faces many new Web designers is deciding on which tool or application is best suited to their purposes. While the professional hardcore scripter and programmer may want to hand-code their Web pages in an application like Notepad, most Web designers and Webmasters will opt for one of the more sophisticated Web editing applications available today. While there is nothing wrong with hand-coding your site - in fact this is probably the best way to have complete control over the functioning of your Web pages - the range of tools and applications that are currently available make this an arduous and even unnecessary way of creating a Web site. The choice of a Web editing package will depend on what you intend to use it for and your level of Web design and coding expertise. The best Web editing application is one which provides all the capabilities with the least extreme learning curve
The range of Web editors and designers has expanded rapidly over the past few years. A number of new applications have also recently been introduced to the market, which succeed in combining high-end sophistication with user-friendliness, making the programs amenable to both the professional coding expert as well as the relative novice.
In previous years there were two main types of Web editor. These were divided into WYSIWYG (What You See is What You Get) applications and text-based HTML editors. The former category catered for the user who needed an easy and efficient way of producing Web pages without any of the effort and learning curve of understanding the underlying language or script. These editors are very similar to word processors and were easily recognizable to the user, with a visual interface that hides the complexity of coding beneath it. However new software has been introduced which provides all of these aspects. They are known as hybrid editors that cater for both the professional coder and those who are more design orientated.
One of these editors is Macromedia Dreamweaver which is targeted at the high end of the market, but easy enough to allow entry to the novice and also less technically inclined. Microsoft FrontPage is another worthwhile product that attempts to provide the best environment for the novice user who has little time to spare for learning a complex working environment. The best program on the market for the point-of-view of many designers is Macromedia Dreanweaver FrontPage however has a range of very user-friendly features. The program makes use of a large range if templates and "Wizards" that help in the process of creating a Web page. Another popular choice is Adobe GoLive, which is less expensive but has a full range of components to produce just about any type of Website. Another good editor is Namo WebEditor 5. All of these applications provide the tools one would need to create a well designed and interactive Website.
4. Writing for the Web: Text and fonts
Once the most appropriate Web editor for the purpose has been decided on, one can begin the actual…