Do you ever get lost trying to sort through the millions of educational websites coming your way? Curious about which sites are best to use with your students? Trying to figure out how to integrate technology without overwhelming your students by using too many websites?

I’ve been there. I regularly use several websites with students. Some focus on receiving information where students simply go to a site to read. Others focus more on creation and interaction. I use at least five sites for student composition on a regular basis. I’m often asked, “Are you sure your students can keep track of all those websites?” The answer: Yes.

These five simple tips help me think about which websites to use and how to manage those spaces with my students.

1. Purpose

Every website has a different function. When selecting a website to use with students, consider learning opportunities the site provides. What value is added to student learning when using this site? What can learners do through use of this site? What can they create? How can learning objectives for students be met and exceeded with use of a specific website? How can this website engage students and help them take ownership of their learning?

I also think about the affordances and limitations for using this digital tool. What can students do in this specific space that they cannot do elsewhere? What learning experiences are not supported through use of this website? In what ways does the site support or not support authentic digital learning and writing?

2. Audience

I also think carefully about audiences for student compositions. Many teachers have students publish only final polished writing. Publishing final pieces is valuable, however, learning is also about conversation. There are other potential purposes and audiences for student composition in online spaces. Many websites have learning and audience goals focused on conversation and process. For instance, students can engage in a conversation around ideas they are researching or they could work on peer response of their writing.

Consider exploring websites that support different audiences and purposes, such as online discussion forums, blogs or even sites that work on refining writing ideas and quality. Using websites for conversation around ideas offers an authentic writing opportunity for students. News sources, for instance, are often a space for publication and dialogue through commenting.

Some spaces where I like to engage student in discussion include the following:

  • Youth Voices: A space for students to engage in conversation. Students can have their own discussion page and easily find others for commenting. Collaborative curriculum options are also a part of this site through work with playlists.
  • KQED Do Now: A place for conversation around current events, sciences and the arts. Students engage in discussion on big questions related to common news topics.

3. Connections to various sites

When selecting websites where students are engaging in participatory culture, I often consider not only how the sites I use work together, but also how they work differently. I explore the complementary content, purposes and audiences of each website I share with my students. Youth Voices, for instance, is a great venue for students to share their writing and extend conversation related to any of the KQED Do Now news discussions.

I also have students compose in Google Drive and share their work with me in Google Classroom. They also sometimes share work with one another before going public through Google Drive. For a focused peer response opportunity, we are fortunate to use Eli Review. And for keeping track of research work, we use Citelighter which can connect to Google Drive to keep writing in one place.

Additionally, some Web tools are able to offer a plug-in to connect the features of that specific website into your browser or specifically to connect with Google apps. This option eliminates one more website and integrates features into everyday use with the browser. Scrible for research notations or hypothes.is for digital reading annotations are two services that compliment other learning options and use plug-ins, easily connecting to browser settings.

4. Ease of Use

We all know that time in the classroom is limited. Websites need to be easy for students to use with little or no instruction. I want to spend time teaching content and exploring why a website might be useful for our work. I realize that as a high school teacher, I can send my students out to explore more than teachers of younger students may feel comfortable. I believe that some play and exploration time is not only good for every learner, it helps develop self-learning skills.

What do I do when something doesn’t go as planned? I pause and think about the learning with my students. We discuss habits of mind for learning as highlighted in the Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing. Being flexible and curious are skills we always use when engaging with technology and our everyday lives.

Easy-to-use sites that I use for content creation include the following:

  • Google for Education: A place for collaborative writing and presentations.
  • Google Classroom: A space for collecting students’ work and having class discussions.
  • Wikispaces: An easy way to develop a website for multiple purposes and audiences, including for parents/guardians and the community. Permissions for other users, including students, is an option with a wiki so that students can add to the site or a discussion thread. Check out my classroom website using wikispaces.

5. Transferable skills

Let’s face it, technology is always changing, and any given website will not be around forever. Consider how a digital tool teaches self-learning skills, and explore skills that will apply in other places. And remember, you don’t have to know every detail of how to use each website, but you need to know the reason why you are using it.

When my students manage the spaces we use in class, they know to think about their purpose, such as writing and collaborating in Google Docs, keeping track of research sources in Citelighter or peer response in Eli Review. Students also think about audiences for all of these composition spaces. They have to consider if their work will be a public post, such as when they join a conversation via KQED Do Now or share their own discussion posts in Youth Voices. Or they might be sharing their work with a closed group, such as with classmates in Google Docsor Eli Review. Knowing the audience and purpose of a website allows my students to more easily navigate digital spaces (whether in my classroom or not) for authentic learning and composition.

5 Tips for Selecting Websites for Student Use 8 March,2017Dawn Reed

Author

Dawn Reed

Dawn Reed is an English teacher at Okemos High School in Okemos, Michigan, and is currently in her 12th year of teaching. She is a co-director of Red Cedar Writing Project at Michigan State University, a site of the National Writing Project. Dawn earned her master’s degree in Writing and Rhetoric with a specialization in Critical Studies in Literacy and Pedagogy from Michigan State University. She conducts professional development for teachers focused on technology integration and the teaching of writing. She is co-author of Research Writing Rewired: Lessons that Ground Students’ Digital Learning (Corwin Literacy 2015) and Real Writing: Modernizing the Old School Essay (Rowman and Littlefield 2016), and has published in various journals, books, and websites. Follow Dawn on Twitter at @dawnreed.

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