Building a Course Website, and Using Student Feedback to Improve it.

It was my goal at the start of the year to more robustly and regularly utilize some of the many digital resources available to really integrate them into the fabric of the courses I teach at my school.  I have generally focused on tools and apps available from Google, however, I have also been exploring the application of augmented and virtual reality to my classroom as well. (more of this in a future post soon).  

One of the digital tools that I have been using this year in my IB Chemistry classes is Google Sites.  One of my goals this academic year was to build a website for my IB Chemistry courses that would house material related to course content, such as course notes, presentations, links to videos and other helpful curated resources, and practice work/assignments.  My school uses Managebac for the hosting of our curriculum, and we also use it to manage the administrative end of the day-to-day at school (attendance, messages, managing calendars, etc), as well as a gradebook.  Teachers, parents, and students all have access to the information housed there. While I do think that Managebac is an excellent resource for all of the aforementioned things we use it for, it doesn’t lend itself so nicely as a place to manage content.  I was looking for a place where students can frequently and easily access documents and link to resources, with a minimum of clicking around. In the past I have used LMS platforms such as Moodle and Canvas to manage this, and I wanted to be able to emulate the feel of each of these platforms.  While there are numerous platforms in which I could have built my IB Chemistry website, I turned to Google Sites due to the ease of construction, and the seamless syncing with Drive, Docs, Sheets, etc.  

The Website

I have been building the site in my spare time this year, and have organized it by the syllabus topics in IB Chemistry, building pages for each of these.  In addition to these pages linked to the syllabus topics, I have a home page, and a page dedicated to laboratory skills and lab planning. There is one additional page for general chemistry resources.  Each page has several sections:  Learning Outcomes, Resources, Presentations, Labs, Assignments/Practice Work, and Answer Keys to the assignments.  An example of the current topic page (Bonding) that we are studying in one of my classes is shown below.

Website example

In the beginning of the school year, I sought feedback on the website from students by asking them questions in class, but I have now begun using Forms to solicit this feedback.  Earlier today, I asked my students via Google Classroom (another Google tool that I am making more use of this year – again, more on this later.) in one of my classes to fill out a quick survey regarding the website.  In the survey, I asked the following 5 questions:

  1. How many times a week do you access the course website?
  2. What features of the website do you find to be useful? (Check all that apply)
  3. Are there any features that I could add to the website that you would find helpful?
  4. Generally, how do you find the organization and layout of the site?
  5. How might I change the layout of the site (if at all) to make it easier to find what you need?

Questions 1 and 4 were multiple choice, while 3 and 5 were short answer.  Question 2 allowed students to check multiple boxes.

Feedback form 1

What did I learn from the survey answers?

I found the survey results to be very enlightening and useful.  What I am most happy about is that it seems my students really like the website, are using it fairly frequently, and find the resources that I post useful.  I also found that students really liked the layout of each topic page, and that they are generally able to find what they are looking for quite easily.  Some of the data are shown below:

Feedback data 1

However, I did get some good suggestions about ways that I could change the site to make it even better.  The suggestions were:

  1. Instead of embedding videos one by one on the topic page, it might be easier to make a Youtube playlist for each sub-topic.  This would “clean up” the look of pages for which I have posted many video links.  
  2. The second suggestion also concerned videos – several students suggested that these should be at the bottom of each page, instead of towards the top, where they currently are.  The rationale was that they use the presentations, notes, and assignments more frequently, so it makes more sense for these to be at the top. Videos at the bottom
  3. This third solution highlights something I have been meaning to address as well.  Currently, resources are linked to the general overall unit that we are studying. Some students suggested that it would be helpful to be more specific in identifying specific subsections of each unit that each resource links to.  (This is similar to the YouTube playlist suggestion.)

These are great suggestions, and I am going to implement them in the future areas of the site that I continue to develop.  I will also hopefully go back to earlier sections already built and change (improve) these as well. The takeaway for me: Using Google Forms to receive this feedback was quick (it took a few minutes to make the survey), efficient (students filled it out in a few minutes at the beginning class), and valuable.

I have also begun using Google Analytics to gather more data about how students are using the site.  While the analytics tool is more robust and detailed than what I really need, the data generated is still interesting.  For example, I am learning that while my students access the site frequently enough, the length of time spent in engagement with the site is actually quite low.  A few pictures of the data that is generated are shown below.

Analytics 2Analytics 1

Thanks for reading!  If you have any website-building tips regarding site organization, or if you have any thoughts on what I can add that might benefit my students, I would love to hear from you.  Please post your suggestion as a comment below.

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