Tips from Pros: Easy Website Building Options

We seem to have advanced from the traditional web page to an “appified” world where we use a specific app to reach what we want on the web rather than a web browser, whether we are checking the weather, posting on Facebook, or sending a Tweet. The same is true of teaching, where systems such as Nearpod, Voicethread, and Kahoot are our go-to methods for engaging students with technology.

Does this mean that the traditional web page is dead? Not quite. While I am as big a fan of apps as anybody, I still find a need for the good old-fashioned website. For instance, a faculty web page is a good way to host class information so that students can learn about their courses before signing up, helping them to avoid scheduling mistakes. A department might want a website to host information about an activity, such as a club or speaking series. A faculty member might also want to use a website to host course resources, especially those for use across courses, and to link students to the central website instead of reposting and updating such resources in each course within the LMS.  

While institutions normally have department websites with faculty space, these are often no more than digital CVs and do not allow for teaching content such as videos, podcasts, links, faculty posts, and so on. A faculty member may need to go outside the institution to build a webpage. 

The good news is that a variety of free or inexpensive systems are now available for building and hosting websites that require no coding knowledge at all. These systems are menu-driven, meaning that you choose the type of item you wish to add from a menu—be it a video, blog, Twitter feed, and so on—and drag and drop that item onto a canvas.

But what is especially nice about these systems is that they often offer hundreds of templates to use as starting points. These templates are essentially fully functional, attractive web pages that you can customize to your own needs by swapping out the given elements for your own. You might like a template with a background photo of a mountain that you would rather swap out for a lake because of the class content, or of the institution’s theatre for a drama club. You might want to drag the blog from the left to the right side or replace it with a discussion widget. You can also change the font and color and, of course, customize the text. The templates will generate many ideas for the design of your page that you had not considered and can provide coherence and a theme that makes the site inviting and easy to navigate.

Here are some of the best options for building a faculty website for your content.

Weebly (https://www.weebly.com) is probably the best-known name in website building and for good reason. It has numerous striking themes to serve as the starting point for your website design and a fairly intuitive drop-and-drag editing platform. The features to choose from include image and video backgrounds, different types of navigation and header type, a mobile app, and social sharing icons that allow users to share your page with others in Twitter and other social media apps with a single click. The only limitation is that the themes lean toward business pages, and so a teacher might find it limited for incorporating class functions and material.

PortfolioGen (http://www.portfoliogen.com) is designed for hosting portfolios, but it is pitched to students and teachers, and thus the templates would work well for nearly any educational purpose. See this template as an example: http://www.portfoliogen.com/mbishop/?cssid=158. One nice feature is that you can insert contact forms that allow users to send in information to respond to items on the page. This can be used to organize groups for class projects or sign up for department activities.

Canva (https://www.canva.com) is designed as a cloud-based graphic design app that allows you to create striking layouts for any type of publication, such as posters, infographics, and newsletters. But it can also work as a very easy website design app if you are looking to create a website for a specific purpose, such as providing information about a travel-learning opportunity. There is a wide range of templates and styles within templates from which to choose, as well as features for creating eye-catching graphics that will motivate the viewer.

Striking.ly (https://www.strikingly.com) is similar to Weebly in purpose and design but has quite a few more templates from which to choose. It also has a very large selection of functions that you can add to pages, including sign-up and contact forms, blogs, and feedback. One nice feature is that it automatically sets an analytics page so that you can see how much use your website is getting.

Google Sites (https://sites.google.com) is Google’s website hosting app. Like all things Google, it is free, and one of its most powerful benefits is integration with other Google apps such as Docs, Slides, Forms, YouTube, and Maps, making it especially suited for collaboration. A faculty member can post a widget with a Google Doc that all students can edit, or allow all students in a course to upload content to the page, like a wiki. Like the other system, it comes with a variety of user-generated themes, one of which, created by a teacher, I used to set up the teacher support website at a former job. See it at https://sites.google.com/site/ncufacultyresourcecenter.

One disadvantage of Google Sites is that it lacks the drag-and-drop style editor of other systems, and so some might find it a bit harder to edit pages than other systems. Another is that there is no Google Sites company homepage like the other applications that consolidates all of the information about the system in one spot to guide you. Users enable the Google Sites app from their Google accounts to get started and then need to search for helpful tutorials on how to develop their sites.

One alternative to Google Sites is Blogger (https://www.blogger.com), also a Google app. While Blogger is a blogging app, Google has been steadily adding features to it such that many people now use it as a general purpose website to host a variety of content, including videos, links, and documents. The benefit is that the blog becomes the focal point of the website, which, for faculty, makes it fundamentally about communicating with students on an ongoing basis, rather than just hosting static content. This makes Blogger ideal for a flipped classroom where you want to post content at the beginning of each week and comment on it in your blog post. If you are more technically sophisticated, WordPress (https://wordpress.org) is a popular blogging platform that comes with nearly an infinite number of templates and capacity for customization.

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We seem to have advanced from the traditional web page to an “appified” world where we use a specific app to reach what we want on the web rather than a web browser, whether we are checking the weather, posting on Facebook, or sending a Tweet. The same is true of teaching, where systems such as Nearpod, Voicethread, and Kahoot are our go-to methods for engaging students with technology.

Does this mean that the traditional web page is dead? Not quite. While I am as big a fan of apps as anybody, I still find a need for the good old-fashioned website. For instance, a faculty web page is a good way to host class information so that students can learn about their courses before signing up, helping them to avoid scheduling mistakes. A department might want a website to host information about an activity, such as a club or speaking series. A faculty member might also want to use a website to host course resources, especially those for use across courses, and to link students to the central website instead of reposting and updating such resources in each course within the LMS.  

While institutions normally have department websites with faculty space, these are often no more than digital CVs and do not allow for teaching content such as videos, podcasts, links, faculty posts, and so on. A faculty member may need to go outside the institution to build a webpage. 

The good news is that a variety of free or inexpensive systems are now available for building and hosting websites that require no coding knowledge at all. These systems are menu-driven, meaning that you choose the type of item you wish to add from a menu—be it a video, blog, Twitter feed, and so on—and drag and drop that item onto a canvas.

But what is especially nice about these systems is that they often offer hundreds of templates to use as starting points. These templates are essentially fully functional, attractive web pages that you can customize to your own needs by swapping out the given elements for your own. You might like a template with a background photo of a mountain that you would rather swap out for a lake because of the class content, or of the institution's theatre for a drama club. You might want to drag the blog from the left to the right side or replace it with a discussion widget. You can also change the font and color and, of course, customize the text. The templates will generate many ideas for the design of your page that you had not considered and can provide coherence and a theme that makes the site inviting and easy to navigate.

Here are some of the best options for building a faculty website for your content.

Weebly (https://www.weebly.com) is probably the best-known name in website building and for good reason. It has numerous striking themes to serve as the starting point for your website design and a fairly intuitive drop-and-drag editing platform. The features to choose from include image and video backgrounds, different types of navigation and header type, a mobile app, and social sharing icons that allow users to share your page with others in Twitter and other social media apps with a single click. The only limitation is that the themes lean toward business pages, and so a teacher might find it limited for incorporating class functions and material.

PortfolioGen (http://www.portfoliogen.com) is designed for hosting portfolios, but it is pitched to students and teachers, and thus the templates would work well for nearly any educational purpose. See this template as an example: http://www.portfoliogen.com/mbishop/?cssid=158. One nice feature is that you can insert contact forms that allow users to send in information to respond to items on the page. This can be used to organize groups for class projects or sign up for department activities.

Canva (https://www.canva.com) is designed as a cloud-based graphic design app that allows you to create striking layouts for any type of publication, such as posters, infographics, and newsletters. But it can also work as a very easy website design app if you are looking to create a website for a specific purpose, such as providing information about a travel-learning opportunity. There is a wide range of templates and styles within templates from which to choose, as well as features for creating eye-catching graphics that will motivate the viewer.

Striking.ly (https://www.strikingly.com) is similar to Weebly in purpose and design but has quite a few more templates from which to choose. It also has a very large selection of functions that you can add to pages, including sign-up and contact forms, blogs, and feedback. One nice feature is that it automatically sets an analytics page so that you can see how much use your website is getting.

Google Sites (https://sites.google.com) is Google's website hosting app. Like all things Google, it is free, and one of its most powerful benefits is integration with other Google apps such as Docs, Slides, Forms, YouTube, and Maps, making it especially suited for collaboration. A faculty member can post a widget with a Google Doc that all students can edit, or allow all students in a course to upload content to the page, like a wiki. Like the other system, it comes with a variety of user-generated themes, one of which, created by a teacher, I used to set up the teacher support website at a former job. See it at https://sites.google.com/site/ncufacultyresourcecenter.

One disadvantage of Google Sites is that it lacks the drag-and-drop style editor of other systems, and so some might find it a bit harder to edit pages than other systems. Another is that there is no Google Sites company homepage like the other applications that consolidates all of the information about the system in one spot to guide you. Users enable the Google Sites app from their Google accounts to get started and then need to search for helpful tutorials on how to develop their sites.

One alternative to Google Sites is Blogger (https://www.blogger.com), also a Google app. While Blogger is a blogging app, Google has been steadily adding features to it such that many people now use it as a general purpose website to host a variety of content, including videos, links, and documents. The benefit is that the blog becomes the focal point of the website, which, for faculty, makes it fundamentally about communicating with students on an ongoing basis, rather than just hosting static content. This makes Blogger ideal for a flipped classroom where you want to post content at the beginning of each week and comment on it in your blog post. If you are more technically sophisticated, WordPress (https://wordpress.org) is a popular blogging platform that comes with nearly an infinite number of templates and capacity for customization.