An Easy Way to Introduce Web Design to Students
By: Andy Seifert
Erin Johnson, a Lecturer in the Kinesiology department, wanted to incorporate more technology into her Elementary Physical Education class (KINS 327) and to introduce her students, most of them future physical education teachers, to a practical technology tool. “Pretend you are a teacher of a new school,” she explained to her students, “and you want to use a Web site as a tool for parents and students to come and see what your program is all about.” To accomplish this goal, Johnson’s KINS 327 students used Jimdo, an online site providing Web design tools, during the Fall 2009 semester. Their experiences show that free, online tools like Jimdo are innovative options for the fun and easy introduction of technological opportunities.
Johnson explained that one of the goals of KINS 327 is to introduce future physical education students to some of the best practices of teaching: “We’re trying to incorporate more technology into all of our courses and [making a Web site] is definitely a real world application that they could potentially be doing down the road as teachers.” Before introducing Jimdo, Johnson provided her students with a rubric that outlined the expectations of the assignment. The students were asked to create a Web site for a hypothetical school and to include content such as the school name, color, curriculum, mascot, and nutritional ideas. It was also important for Johnson to highlight the assignment as an opportunity to input creativity: “It gave them the freedom to put whatever they wanted on there.”
Johnson selected Jimdo from a list of four options provided by Building Information Technology Skills (BITS). After around four hours of independent preparation, including watching Jimdo’s online tutorial and making her own site, Johnson was able to present Jimdo to her students. She mentioned that Jimdo was ideal for her assignment goals as well as a good match for her level of technological experience: “I am not one to use a ton of technology,” she said, “I needed something that would be easy for me to explain to students. And so it was really easy for me to create my own [Web site] and take one class period where I demonstrated the tools.”
After introducing Jimdo, Johnson gave her students three, one hour-long sessions to experiment with their Web sites in the computer lab. The setting allowed the class to troubleshoot and work together. “I was there if they had questions and they were there for each other if they had questions,” Johnson said. She recommended this model of class collaboration and troubleshooting for any teachers who are introducing a similar assignment.
Jimdo versus Dreamweaver
Teachers who are considering a Web design assignment in their classes should know that Jimdo has some limitations. Jimdo does not provide the customizable options included within complex Web design programs like Dreamweaver. For example, there are a limited amount of layout templates, pages, and dropdown links. Also, Jimdo adds an advertisement flag in the lower left corner of the site that cannot be deleted without an upgrade.
The benefits of Jimdo outweighed the limitations for Johnson and her students. She noted that Jimdo’s positive features included “the ease of use” and the fact that “students didn’t have to design [the layouts] themselves.” She added that it was easy to register and that Jimdo featured a ninety second video clip as a user friendly tutorial. Editing the page was straightforward for Johnson’s class because it occurred directly online. This meant that no expense or additional software was necessary beyond a Web browser and an internet connection. There were no complex questions or negative comments from the KINS 327 students. Johnson had a link to tech support readily available at the click of a mouse. “Just in case,” she said.
- Adobe's online Web site provides video tutorials and support for Dreamweaver CS4
- Youtube has a few Dreamweaver tutorials such as Dreamweaver: Beginner's Introduction to Adobe Dreamweaver CS4
- Web standards set by the WorldWideWeb Consortium (W3C) have made many changes to Dreamweaver form and function such as the use of CSS
- The benefits of CSS can viewed at CSS ZenGarden
Johnson originally inquired about the possibility of a Dreamweaver workshop from BITS, but decided against it after learning that the time and training involved would be more extensive than what her students needed. Dreamweaver is the campus-supported Web editor; however, it is a professional tool used by Web designers and requires a significant amount of training and support. Dreamweaver CS4 software, deployed on campus during the summer of 2009, has been developed to better incorporate cascading style sheets (CSS) and other advanced technologies into the editing interface. While this upgrade promotes efficiency for advanced designers who understand HTML and CSS code, it adds a layer of confusion and complexity to users outside of the Web design field. BITS workshops on Dreamweaver now take two, one hour sessions for a basic introduction on customizing a pre-defined template and students often have to seek additional one-on-one help.
Many online services have developed as manageable alternatives to Dreamweaver. Jimdo is one example of a free Web design service that is more appropriate for individuals who are not studying to be Web developers or designers. Johnson explained, "If you have any knowledge of how to upload a document or post a picture … you'll have no problem using [Jimdo]. Jimdo provides services comparable to Dreamweaver that are much more manageable to use. Also, the site provides some freedom in creativity as well as a customized template option for experienced users.
Jimdo in the media: ReadWriteWeb says Jimdo is "one of the easiest tools we've seen for creating truly multimedia sites with photo galleries, audio players, slide shows, RSS feeds, and more..."
For Johnson, Jimdo provided an empowering resource for the introduction of Web design to Kinesiology students. “It is a site that allows some freedom for students to do different things” she said. At the conclusion of the assignment, the students presented their Web sites in class and discussed their experiences. They were able to not only expand their knowledge in technology, but also to experience the benefits of professional communication. After being asked if she would recommend Jimdo for others as an alternative to Web design software, Johnson said, “I would definitely … because of the ease of use, the options that it provides … it is definitely a site to just expose [students] to and get their thoughts going about what they could put on a Web site. That was the purpose of my assignment and it worked out great. I’ll definitely use it next fall again.”