Creating and maintaining the best website for your digital classroom

Schools need to make sure that safety, accessibility, and engagement are key. Here are some ways to do that.
Hristo Pandjarov is Product Manager at SiteGround.
Hristo Pandjarov is Product Manager at SiteGround.

Online learning is having a moment. Even prior to the COVID-19 crisis, there was an uptick of interest in providing students of all ages with digital materials to supplement their online learning. Teachers are overwhelmed with digital resources, and it can often seem like a daunting task to create an online classroom from scratch.

Even teachers who’ve already invested time into creating a digital site are looking for ways to make the site more secure, more accessible, and provide an engaging experience for students as online learning continues to be the norm for most schools.

Safety above all

When asking students to join a digital community and share their work, teachers need to ensure that their website is as secure as possible.

  • Choose a reliable hosting provider that offers maximum security protection for your website, including free backups in case of a hacker attack.
  • Set up a strong password and password-protected pages where applicable.
  • Do not post pictures or videos of the students to protect their privacy.
  • Be sure to distinguish between personal and private information.
    • Personal information covers things your students might like or projects they’ve done (such as baking or a 3D model of the solar system)
    • Private information is anything that might identify those students, such as their full name, demographics, or photos
  • Consider setting up an online safety page for students and parents that highlights tips for staying safe online now that kids need to be online more. The page can highlight phishing scams to avoid such as requests for money or corrupt file downloads.

Private information ideally should be encrypted, this is done by installing an SSL certificate and should be never shared with third parties. To note, a quality web hosting company should offer SSL certificates for free.

Read: In-person or remote learning? Let each family decide

Make sure it’s accessible

Now more than ever, it is particularly important to focus on the accessibility of technology, which is powering all our online interactions.

Specifically, the services available on websites must be accessible to everyone and compliant with guidelines such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), now that online platforms are our primary method of communication and commerce.

  • Having a digital learning experience that works for all students is of paramount importance.
  • Some basics to consider include the ability to navigate the menu bar with keyboard arrows, open dropdown functions with the enter key, and move to different screen elements with the tab key.
  • Educators should consider working within their web hosting platform to add additional features to increase accessibility from a web management standpoint, including high contrast themes, keyboard handling, and screen reader support for their students as well as the parents and mentors who may be helping them.

Read: Hundreds of free classroom resources during coronavirus

Engagement is key

Once you’ve taken the time and care to create a safe and accessible website for your digital classroom you’ll want to make sure your students are actually engaged with the content you’re sharing.

  • Consider creating a website newsletter to highlight new postings on the site from recordings of lessons to student blogs. Providing frequent updates can help encourage students to check the site more often.
  • Providing a creative outlet for students can be helpful as well. Creating a blog or forum for students to communicate with each other and share their thoughts about online learning can be beneficial for keeping students engaged in a world of distractions.
  • For the benefit of parents and administrators, consider adding plugins, such as WPSchoolPress to the class site.
    • These plugins allow users (like school admin, students, parents, and teachers) to easily login and access their respective user-friendly dashboards. Parents can keep track of grades, teachers can track attendance, and so on.
    • Having all of that information in one place can save teachers a lot of time and effort, something that cannot be underestimated during these times of adjustment.

As online learning continues to be an asset, teachers will need to ensure their sites are safe, secure, interactive, and scholastic. Creating a digital classroom can seem intimidating, but with the right support, teachers can foster a vibrant online environment that will benefit students for years to come.

Hristo Pandjarov is managing all WordPress products and initiatives at SiteGround. Hristo is enthusiastic about all kinds of Open Source applications. Add a pinch of love for web design, new technologies, search engine optimization and you get a pretty good description of all he’s land his hands on in his 15+ experience in building website technology.

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