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Web Projects: Models of Development

Models of Development

I learned that the best way to keep students involved and motivated was to give them a structure to work in. We tried to do a collaborative project once before that was not completed. I took more of a leadership role this time and defined the deadlines, the major parts of the project, etc. Students helped me put this into practice. Before, I had asked the students to define the project, the deadlines, everything.

­ Eric Appleton, Computer and Literacy Teacher at the Fortune Society in New York City

There isn't a single best model for developing a Web site with your class. Here are a few examples:

Students as Contributors. The reality is that in some cases, a large chunk of the Web site development may fall to the teacher, other staff, or outside volunteers, while the students focus on one or more discrete tasks, such as writing the stories or taking photos for the site. The advantage of this kind of model is that it is the easiest to manage; the disadvantage is that there is a danger that the teacher will take on all of the decision-making tasks and the resulting site will not adequately reflect the students' views and interests. (Another disadvantage is that the teacher might feel overwhelmed by having so much work to do!)

"Modular" Sites. Another model that is frequently employed is something we have come to call "modular" development. Modular sites are those sites in which individual students are primarily responsible for their own (usually single) pages, which are not particularly interdependent on each other. The pages often have their own look, and often their only connection to the rest of the pages on the site is via the home page. Students may collaborate together on just a small portion of the site, such as the home page.

Imagine, for example, a project in which each student produces a single Web page describing something about his or her personal histories. The class as a whole might contribute ideas to the design of a home page, from which there are links to all of the individual stories. There is some teamwork involved, but there is more of a focus on individual work. The diagram below illustrates this kind of a structure.

Home page linking to separate pages

Modular sites can be an effective way to manage a project in an adult education setting, where class attendance can be sporadic and student turnover can be high. The advantage is that if one student is unable to finish his or her particular page, progress on building the rest of the site continues unabated. (If a project is more reliant on interdependence among the students, and, for example, a student who was responsible for taking all of the photos for the site leaves the class, progress on the site may grind to a halt.)

Many of these projects are able to take advantage of free Web-based applications that assist people in creating and publishing very simple Web pages. (We keep a reasonably up-to-date list of these.) With these tools, you can actually write and publish your site using nothing more than your Web browser.

One thing I have done to work with lower-level classes is to create a template for a Web page with a number of questions included as prompts to help the writing happen. The student can then save the file and you can put it into a Web page. That would be the type of project where the teacher does most of the technical work and the student just does the writing.

­ Eric Appleton, Computer and Literacy Teacher at the Fortune Society in New York City

"Real-Life" Models. These are the really ambitious projects, which may attempt to model the "real-life" Web site development process as closely as possible. In these projects, the site development and design is much more uniform and depends on the work of an interdependent team of people with one or more specific roles, such as content creator, editor, or graphic designer. Any project that more closely models real-life development has the advantage of providing students with more opportunities to gain technical and workplace skills that they can apply outside the classroom.

The important thing is to use a model that makes sense not only for your students, but also in terms of the time and effort you are able to put into managing the process. Class sites do not have to be hugely ambitious in scope to be valuable. Even publishing just one piece of student writing on the Web can be a powerful experience for many students.

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Last Updated October 23, 2003