Wanted: Website Designer (must work well as part of a team)
A website design project that blends real-life learning, entrepreneurship, competition and collaboration.
Website Design 1.0
Last year, I planned a project for the students in Year 5 to design a class website. The platform that they used for this was Google sites. Often overlooked as it sits just outside of the core Google Drive apps, sites is a relatively simplistic website design tool but, much like the other Google apps, provides the ability for groups of students to collaborate in real time on the same project. In 2014, the project went well and each student designed their own page before we brainstormed ideas for sections on the site and they began populating it with content. I also peeled off the more confident students and taught them some of the more advanced controls, such as customising the menus, themes and layouts. After a couple of sessions, I handed the reigns over to their class teachers and they continued to use the site as a platform to share work and resources throughout the year.
It went well but the idea could be refined to push it to another level. I wanted to incorporate better Assessment for Learning (AFL), make it even more student-led and contextualise the process of web design. If you can provide real world context for learning, then the experience will always be more meaningful for students. They will identify the relevance of the content and be more engaged in tasks that they are set. By framing the project with an entrepreneurial slant, students could develop the feeling of working as a part of an actual news website or newspaper team. An element of competition was then added, which elevated things even further.
Session 1: assessment for learning
The first session worked much like the previous incarnation of the project except that the personal “About Me” page that each student created was used as AFL. This informed the role that they would play throughout the rest of the project. I provided annotated diagrams of the interface to reduce their need for assistance from me. After a brief introduction to the platform, they worked independently. It helped that I had worked on a Google slides presentation with this cohort in Year 4 as the familiarity with this similar interface bred confidence.
I didn’t explain the full extent of the project just yet (suspense can be a powerful thing). I did explain that they would each be assigned specific roles within the team and that their performance in this session would determine the role they were given.
Session 2: Welcome to the team
The second lesson began with two major hooks:
Firstly, they found out that the website project was in fact a competition between the classes. The winner would be determined by tracking the number of hits that the site got. Free Stat Counter widget was used to track this data. It should be highlighted that it was made very clear to the students that esafety principles needed to be tightly adhered to. Links to the class sites were not to be shared beyond the school community itself on social media platforms.
Secondly, they were assigned their jobs. This idea worked extremely well. There was a buzz of interactivity around the room that was palpable. One student remarked excitedly, “it’s like working in a real office!” to maintain the student-led approach, they were provided with “job spec” sheets that detailed the purpose of each role, the site areas that they were responsible for and, where necessary, some examples of potential content. They were also paired up, so that they had a built-in support system.
The roles were streamed, so that the less confident students became class or school reporters. The great thing about this was that that the glamourous title of reporter was actually quite coveted. They felt empowered to receive it. Their task, to add fresh content to blogs within the site, allowed them to practise and develop their skills with Google sites comfortably.
More able students had a wider range of roles ready for them. By coordinating with class teachers, we identified those that we felt would be best suited to each task. These diverse roles included feature article writers, the marketing department (whose job it was to promote the site), resource management (collating files and weblinks using the File Cabinet feature) and esafety officers, who checked the site for esafety breaches, as well as creating their own content.
The most confident students took the three final, more complicated roles and had their site access level increased. The I.T. department was taught how to edit the site layouts. the graphic design team was taught how to edit the theme and style of the basic template site they had started with. Luckily, there was one final team who took the most pivotal role of all – the site editors. They became conductors, orchestrating the project and allowing for work with specific groups to be done in more depth. They buzzed from team to team, providing peer support and suggesting edits and improvements. The rules were set from the start that any new content on the site needed clearance from one of the editors and editorial release forms were provided for ‘staff’ to complete and submit to the editor’s in-tray for review.
Session 3: Performance management
This was to be the final session before the project was handed over to class teachers. We started with a ‘staff mixer’ – a sharing exercise wherein they got to meet and greet their classmates and learn a little about the work being done in other departments. one thing that was clear was that many of them had opted to work on their section in their own time. After a quick update on the current competition standings, I explained that since this was the final session dedicated directly to the project, they would undergo performance management. We discussed what this meant and then whilst they continued working on their sections of the site, the class teacher and I conducted appraisals on the two editors. We played up the formality of the proceedings (shaking hands at the start, requiring signatures at the end), which the students actually enjoyed immensely. Having been through the process, the editors then joined us in conducting appraisals for the other teams. This unique approach blended peer and self-assessment in a realistic way and meant that they put some well-considered thought into their responses.
By Steve Bambury