Saturday, 7 February 2009
Amber, the source of so many great ideas, showed me a site she's created for part of her A level Geography course using the web based service called Synthasite. This allows anyone to create a website, free of charge, in a matter of minutes (or hours in my case) using a range of templates which can then be modified. Your site can have multiple pages featuring, for example, a blog and picture gallery (which can link to your Flickr account). Management of your rapidly expanding site is really easy and the whole design experience is satisfyingly simple and quick. Previewing pages is easy, there's an integrated picture editor for your images and you can upload documents as part of the file storage feature.
Here's my Synthasite. It took about 3 hours to make and I'm so pleased with the results that I might actually maintain it (I really only made it to test the resource).
The ease with which sites like this can be made and maintained on the web for free means that all students could keep their own learning website, rather than just rely on the tools available within the school's VLE (Virtual Learning Environment). I'm not sure how many students in Year 7, for example, already have websites. I'm sure the number is higher than many teachers realise. What interests me about this is the way web site design encourages the creator to organise information in interesting and engaging ways that are simply not possible using paper and pen. Good websites are media rich and dynamic. The addition of a well-kept blog provides an ongoing, up-to-the-minute self-evaluation tool, encouraging reflection by the owner and peer-to-peer commentary. Some of the concerns expressed by teachers about the use of student websites revolve around issues of security, inappropriate content and assessment. How do you read and mark a set of websites? How do you protect young people from being approached by unsavoury characters online? These questons lie at the heart of a shift in the traditional power relationships between learners and teachers that have occurred partly as result of new technologies and the distribution of powerful self-publishing tools. Part of the answer lies in providing appropriate guidance for young people about looking after their online presence and trusting them to self-regulate their activities, something which Demos, in a recent study about young people's use of new technologies entitled Their Space, found to be largely happening anyway.
How many of you have a Flickr gallery, a MySpace page, a Facebook or other other kind of web presence? What do you use them for? Do you think keeping a learning web site about your experiences in school (and beyond) would be a good idea?
So, all you Year 10 students currently enjoying your work experience, why not create your own Synthasite about what you've learned? Create a gallery of images (taken on your phone if you don't have a camera), a blog reflecting on what you have enjoyed, been challenged by and what impact the experience has had on your attitude to education and employment and a set of links to useful web resources.
Don't forget to leave a comment with your website's new address so that we can all take a look.