Friday, April 18, 2014

Wikispaces and Class Websites: A Guide

When I first started teaching, I wanted to keep a record of what was going on in class for students who were absent.  The first month or so of my first year, I kept a binder in the back of my room.  The binder had a section for each class (all five that I was teaching at the time), with notes on the activities we did and the homework assignment that night.

At the time, I was also using paper to keep my own notes on what I planned to do each day with each class.  So basically, I was keeping two different sets of notes for what was almost the exact same information...  It was a lot of writing and didn't really seem worthwhile.  After that month or so, I decided I needed to come up with a new way to provide absent students with the information.

I don't remember how, but I stumbled upon Wikispaces.  I decided I'd try a class website to keep track of everything.  Six years later, and I still use the same Wikispaces page, though what's actually on the website has evolved over that time.

What I'd like to do is go over how I use this class website and why I think it's a great resource not only for students and parents, but also for me.  I'll start at the homepage and then move through the different links.  You can view what follows as a guide to setting up and running an effective class website for your students.

My Wikispace:

Home Page:
This was initially just a place to put a general description of the site and my contact info.  While that part is still there, I've started putting announcements at the bottom.  Announcements might include upcoming community events (World Language Fair or German National Honor Society Induction Ceremony) or other important information (due dates for applications for German NHS, final exam dates, etc.).  What I also like to do is put pictures up from German Club or class events.  This is a great way for parents and students to see what we're doing in class and at school.

Older layout, but same general idea
Class Pages:
Each class I teach gets their own page.  The same type of information is displayed on each page:
- Link to the class's Quizlet site (tailored for each individual class)
- Upcoming test/quiz/project due dates at the top
- The most current week's agenda (includes brief description of activities we did, page numbers in textbook or packets if relevant, and an indication if there was an accompanying video or Power Point; homework is at the bottom)
- All previous weeks are listed underneath (most recent on top)
- At the very bottom is a short "For Parents" guide to some of the abbreviations I use and German words that come up a lot

Here's an example of how Deutsch IV's page looked after the first week of school:

And here's an explanation of what it all means:

This page provides extra information for German AP students.  I have general practice tips and occasionally put up practice exercises that we've done in class.  I'm not very good at updating it with examples once we do them in class, but the General Sources and Suggested Books are always available for students.

I upload my syllabus for each class here.  This way parents and students can get another copy if theirs wanders off during the year.

German Honor Society:
General information about the Honor Society.  Includes due dates for applications and the application itself.  Most important part, I think, is the FAQ.

Exactly what it sounds like - a list of links, divided by class, to online practice material.  I don't update this as much as I should, but I leave up what's there and add to it when I remember to.

Why a class website?
It's a great resource for students who are out for any reason (field trips, sick, whatever).  They know they can go there to find out what they missed even before they get back to school.  I have students who admit that they don't bother writing down the homework when they're in class because they can just check it on the class website when they get home (not sure if this is a good thing...).

I also found this is helpful for parents, especially of younger students who are transitioning from Middle to High School.  During Back to School Night, I make sure to talk about the class website, what it's used for, and what it looks like.

I will say that a con to having a class website is that it takes time to update it.  I usually do it at the end of the day and it doesn't take more than five minutes, but if you're still getting used to it, it may take longer.

Another point you should be aware of - it's a great resource for students... but they have to know it exists AND how to use it.  During the first few weeks of school each year, I take my new students (usually just level one) to the computer lab.  We sign up for Quizlet, practice typing umlauts, maybe use or Beolingus to get practice with online dictionaries... But the FIRST thing we do is go to the class website and practice how to use it.  Here's the questions I have students answer:

Keeping track of classes like this can help you as the teacher as well.  Before I switched to completely digital lesson plans, I kept a copy of the previous year's lessons by printing out the class Wikispace page.  This gave me an idea of what a class had done the previous year and how to pace the same level the next year.

Why Wikispaces?
Admittedly, I've only used Wikispaces.  I'm sure there are a lot of great sites that provide the same service.  I'm just going to list the reasons I like Wikispaces specifically (and not had a reason to search for another site).

Pros of Wikispaces:
- The URL it provides is pretty easy to remember
- Friendly towards educators (once you create a page, you can let them know it's for educational purposes - it'll give you a free upgrade to their "plus" plan)
- It allows you to upload files and put them up.  This includes word documents (in case you want to put a project rubric up in case students lose their copy), audio files (great if you want to put up a listening activity as homework or classwork), and images (put up images of your most recent German Club meeting!).
- While I do know some HTML, you don't have to know any to be able to set up a page.  The commands are pretty basic and intuitive.
- Anyone can view, only you can edit.  You can change this setting a little, but I recommend you keep it this way.
- Discussion board feature.  Each page (and therefore, each class!) has one.  I use this occasionally with my AP or German 3 students.  It's a great feature - you pose a question, they provide an answer online, and then respond to other students.  Especially nice since you can assign it as a homework assignment.  Feel free to check out the utter nonsense my students have posted so far this year in the discussion sections.

- Another good part of the discussion board feature: you, as admin, can delete posts and lock them (stops more replies from being posted).

Do you use a class website?  What site do you use, Wikispaces or something else?  What type of material do you have up?

- Frau Leonard


  1. I've always thought a class webpage would be an awesome thing, but how in the world do you keep it updated?? I have 5 preps per day, and barely keep my head above water as it is without trying to maintain a website.

    1. I can definitely understand the concern about time - as someone who also has five preps, let me assure you it can be done!

      The hardest part will be learning to set up the website. I'd recommend doing this in the summer or before school starts, just so you have time to play around with it and get used to the formatting. Once you're used to it, it really takes me no more than five minutes a day (if that) to update it for each class.

      Though how much you plan to do with it may make it more time consuming. On the average day, I will put up the daily agenda and homework. I have trouble keeping the AP section updated because it does take more time. I try to make a point of updating the main page with slideshows from German Club, but even that has fallen behind recently.

      Really, it will depend on how much you plan on putting on your website and how frequently - if time's a huge concern, keep it simple!