5 Ways to Learn Without Taking over/Creating Your Students’ Site

Summer is almost upon us and it’s an exciting time – for many reasons. For me, it’s a time when I get a chance to learn a few new things I haven’t had the time for during the school year. The last few summers, I’ve spent much of the time learning about new things associated with the Web, and I’m sure this summer will be no different.

Many advisers are doing the same thing. While there have been a flood of schools move online recently, there are still many that need to head down that path. Even for those of us who have staffs online, we still have a lot to learn.

My one bit of advice for you all this summer is to take some time to learn about the Web (or more about it) to help your staffs with their move online – just don’t build or takeover their site in the process.

The site should be theirs, even if they aren’t working at it as quickly as we’d like. Yes, we should be there to help them find answers and teach them how to do things, but when it comes to designing the site or populating it with content, that’s student work.

There are plenty of options out there for you to get your own practical experience learning about the Web, practicing with it, and having a little fun in the process.

Here are 5 things you can do to learn more about the Web and not take over the ‘student’ publication.

1. Take a class or attend a workshop. This is a great starting point for most all of us and there are lots of options out there from HSBJ offerings to those in state press organizations throughout the country. Some are online. Some you need to be at in person. Find one that is right for you. If a formal class isn’t what you’re looking for, online tutorial sites such as Lynda.com can help you learn most anything you want to know. Archaic as they may seem, books such as Beginning Joomla: From Novice to Professional and Head First HTML.

2.    Create a Twitter and/or Facebook account for yourself. If you don’t have a personal Twitter or Facebok account that would be a great starting point. Remember, you control what you put out there. It’s not as scary of a place as many people make it out to be. Create your own profile, find some interesting people to follow and test out the waters. For me, Twitter has been my greatest resource to learn things and find teaching tools the past year and a half. Facebook has been a nice way to connect with friends and colleagues.

3.    Create a Twitter profile and/or Facebook fan page for something you’re interested in. Let’s say you already have a personal Twitter account or you don’t want to personally put yourself out there – but you’d still like to learn about social networking a bit more. Take some sort of interest you have and create a Twitter or Facebook fan page. As much as I want to believe Darth Vader is real, I have come to accept that he is not. However, that doesn’t keep him from having his own Twitter account: twitter.com/darthvader You see, someone (not Darth Vader) has created a Twitter profile for him and sends out tweets as the Dark Lord of the Sith actually might if he was on Twitter. Fictional characters have Twitter and Facebook presences.  Web sites have profiles and fan pages. Pet fish do. Churches do. Even sports teams do. Find something you enjoy and create a social networking presence for it. It will help you test the waters and give you some anonymity. I have a personal Twitter and Facebook account, but I also have control over three other Facebook fan pages and two other Twitter accounts – none of which have anything to do with me personally or my students’ FHNtoday.com site. They are simply interests I have that I’ve created profiles and pages for. They are my hobbies so to speak.[I know, I lead a pretty wild life.]

4.    Start a blog. A great way to break into the online realm is to start your own blog. This can be something hosted through wordpress.com or your own, self-hosted site through a domain/hosting provider like Godaddy. There are quite a few journalism teachers out there with their own blogs. A few: Jill Chittum has “The Chittum Files.” Jim Streisel has “Rambling Run-Ons.” Robert Courtemanche has “Teach J.” Bryan Farley has “More than Kids.” And Andrea Lorenz has “Journalism Class Notebook.” Each are great resources and each allow the advisers to practice what they are preaching in a setting that is separate from what is going on in the classroom. You should take a few minutes to check out what each is doing. I hope to have Q&As with each of the blog authors posted in the coming weeks to get some advice for us all on how they started, what keeps them going, and how this helps them in their classroom setting.

5.    Build a website. Finally, if you’re feeling really adventurous, build your own Web site. This is how I started years ago. To learn, I built myself a website for my classroom that had contact info, what we were doing in class and handouts. These things are pretty customary in many schools today, but most aren’t using Dreamweaver, WordPress or Joomla to build the sites. Try building a site for your class this summer using one of the three (I recommend Joomla or WordPress). If you don’t want to build a site for your class, build one for some other interest you have. Either way, it will be an invaluable experience.

All of these are great ways to learn about the Web and all are great ways to help your students online. The move and journey should be one about empowering your students and having them lead the charge, not follow you and what you’ve built.The first step that many of us need to take is to take the time to learn about things so we can be there for our staffs when they need it. We may not know all the answers, but we’ll be much better teachers if we have some working knowledge of things to help them.

Take the time.

Learn something new.

Have a little fun in the process.

Aaron Manfull

Aaron is in his 26th year of advising student media. He is currently the Director of Student Media at Francis Howell North High School in St. Charles, Missouri. He is the Journalism Education Association Digital Media Chair and co-Director of Media Now. He is the 2023 JEA Teacher Inspiration Award Winner and is a former Dow Jones News Fund National Journalism Teacher of the Year. He is one of the authors of the textbook "Student Journalism and Media Literacy." You can find him on X and Instagram @manfull. He's a proud father. A transplanted Iowan. And an avid Hawkeye Fan.

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