This blog post can be found with links on this page.
One of the burning questions that needs to be addressed right at the start of this process is why Weebly and aren't there better alternatives out there?
The answer to this question is rather simplified and whilst I'll go into more detail below, it basically is 'right product at the right time.' Yes there are plenty of alternatives out there, I'm not sure if I want to say they are better or not, this is often a very difficult statement when it comes to comparing different applications. Often that decision is subjective, based on a perceived value or a list of features, dependent on needs, a person's current knowledge and skill set of a system and sometimes because everyone else says it is. The purpose behind this implementation is to not look at different applications or products, but rather through the trial implementation of one system begin to work out what that product should be and what an e-portfolio means to HKA.
That leads to two questions.
Why did I choose Weebly and why is it a good choice for this trial implementation?
Like I said, 'right product at the right time.' In the summer of 2009 before moving to Hong Kong Academy I knew that I wanted to set up a class website to coordinate all of my communication with my students and parents and set up an online portal and community for my students. HKA at the time had dabbled with Moodle in Middle and High school, but there was no system in Elementary school. I looked around the internet at different options. I built trial versions in Wix, Weebly, Ning and Google Sites trying to think about how I would like my class website to work. I knew I wanted flexibility with my site for it to grow and not just be a blog so decided against Edublogs and Blogspot as well. I also wanted it to be hosted online and not something that I needed to worry about the setup, running or maintenance of such as Moodle, Wordpress or Elgg. Some of these are still potential options for an e-portfolio system at HKA in the future, as is Mahara and more. These decisions can come later on after a look at what an e-portfolio is and the discussion about them this year. But less about what it shouldn't be, why Weebly?
A big plus for Weebly is the ability to create a blog. Not just one in fact, as many as you like within your site. There is a temptation to create too many blogs, but one or two extra blogs as repositories of work such as specialist teachers, as we used them last year in my class, allows you to use the power of the blogs categories to search its database and make that part of your site more interactive. The blogging platform keeps things simple, it allows you to easily update a website without spending lots of time building it. I've thought more about blogs and their significance for e-portfolios here.
The website navigation is really straight forward to use. Creating a page or blog under the pages tab you are given a choice whether you would like it to appear in the main navigation, as part of a drop down bar or be hidden. You can then drag and drop the pages to reorder them and all links are retained. Choosing one of the pages and moving it slightly to the right will create a set of nested links under another link. Having built my own websites with dreamweaver I have to say that this ability is a huge time saver.
Each class can have their own password to control access to see their blogs. There are positive points and negative ones to the way Weebly sets it up which I will discuss later, but access is an issue the school needs to address.
Access from anywhere and any computer. At HKA we use Macs, but many of our students also have Windows at home. Having a web based non-platform specific e-portfolio allows students to access it at home as well. It is also possible to create an authentic audience for the e-portfolio within the class, school community and around the world
...anything that provides an embed code can be integrated into Weebly. Weebly is also partnered with various services that you can use such as poll daddy, scribd and has direct links to flickr, google maps and YouTube.
Weebly for educationSetting up an education account allows a teacher to set up a class underneath their own account. You are allowed 40 students with one education account. Extra student accounts can be added by purchasing more. There are restrictions with a normal account, but adding pro for a very reasonable rate will enable students to upload audio, video and embed documents. Even now Weebly are thinking about education and activating new tools like assignment submission pages.
One year of useIt has to be mentioned that I have already been using Weebly successfully with my class for one year. During this process I have been able to answer some questions that I would like to know about before nominating a product to other educators. Some of these are:
I have had a class of 20 all on Weebly at the same time via our wireless network.
The students found it easy.
There was very little down time and we could access it when we needed to.
Great support from Weebly, every problem resolved or question answered in 2 or 3days.
The ability to control the class via passwords, access and disabling editing
Using deepvaccum I was able to successfully download and burn the e-portfolio to dvd at the end of the year. (Weebly's download tool doesn't currently support downloading the full blog).
Are there little problems with Weebly? Sure, there some little idiosyncrasies, can be hang ups with some of the droppable elements, not to mention a reset formatting for text button is needed. These are things that will need to be thought about in the adoption of a platform at HKA and addressed through this implementation. Overall the positives far out weigh the negatives.
On a personal level I found that Weebly fulfilled all of my criteria to run my own website. It also made me think more about content rather than the setup, style and intricacies of building and running a website. Not that this shouldn't be something that students learn, but that it isn't the focus when it comes to the e-portfolios, that should be the content and how the school sees it running. So on to the process....Start blogging by creating a new post. You can edit or delete me by clicking under the comments. You can also customize your sidebar by dragging in elements from the top bar.
This name comes from an article by Will Richardson on his blog weblogg-ed and the idea behind it should be discussed when talking about web based open portfolios.
Who hasn't searched for their name on the internet to see what turns up? All of that under your name that may or may not actually be you is your g-portfolio. Even those parts that aren't really you? Well yes, until you can show that it isn't you and create an online identity that people see is you. Your brand, image, online identity, it has many different names but none truly accommodate all of the different facets of you that will be included whether you want them to or not. But how can we control that? Should we? And what does that mean for us and our students?
But first, how does that work? Search engines employ programs called spiders to 'crawl' around the internet referencing sites, checking links and providing the information to provide a search. Any web page unless protected by a password or a specific piece of code is indexed and added to the search engines database, this then provides the information on the screen that appears when a search is undertaken.
During this indexing process information is gathered from any pages including blogs and retained as searchable material in the database. This can include any names that are used and is where we need to start thinking about the g-portfolio or digital footprint.
A g-portfolio is the collection of information about a person that can be obtained by performing a search using their name. The more unique a persons name the easier it is to refine the search and find their g-portfolio or digital footprint, all the things that they have published, created or joined on the internet. I say all, but this isn't quite correct, for instance it doesn't include some wall gardens such as Facebook and don't expect an adults bank details to appear, however the amount of details that can be found out is quite impressive.
So imagine in the future that a potential employer performs a search on your name. What would they find out? What should they find out? What would you want them to find out? What they find out is your g-portfolio. This is the part that you want to think about, the online identity and the snapshot of you that it is giving someone of a you that is….. a creative, knowledgeable person, someone with passion, ideas, a thoughtful web presence, or….. someone else? And what about all of those other people with your name appearing at the same time?
This is about a more proactive choice of controlling that g-portfolio, putting your best face forward and trying to bring the pieces into a more cohesive whole. How does the e-portfolio that a school sets up for a student fit into all this? Well maybe this is the first step in helping a student create it. The applications and technology are going to change, but the basic ideas of online identity, digital citizenship, branding, accountability, openness, cognition, reflective thought, learning, authenticity and a self-awareness of what being online means is not. These are what we should be aiming for with our e-portofolis, not a focus on the tool.
It is possible to create a walled garden for the e-portfolios and something to be considered by all of the stakeholders. The school could make them password protected to keep out the search engine spiders. It is also possible to include code that stops these spiders from referencing the site as well but leaves it open for a wider audience. More details about that is here. What does that leave a student at the age of 18 leaving school as their online identity? Is it just all of those things that they signed up for and did on their own outside of school and nothing to show for their hard work at school? How about the portability of the system when a student gets to that age, should they be able to take their e-portfolio away with them from the school system? There are some important considerations that need to be thought about by a school when undertaking a web based portfolio system. They should be analysed, discussed, researched and discussed some more before a decision is taken. It may be that a school decides to raise the walls and keep the students penned in, 'safe' and provide systems that keep this information within the school. I don't believe that this is responsibly preparing our students as digital citizens and making them knowledgeable about all of their online decisions. Will this stop them having a g-portfolio? Absolutely not. Everything they do outside of school will be up there front and centre. Should that be the first and only thing a person sees about one of our students? ……. For the sake of keeping this blog post succinct as it is I haven't discussed the issue of first and last names being used on the internet, or even aliases that can become an identity. That'll be saved for another post.