The Forever Challenge of Website Design


Have you ever questioned why you make websites?  Or lesson plans?  Or plans, period?  Well, when it comes to my latest online project, today's been one of those days...

How Do You Capture Student Attention...on a Website??

So I've been building a new website, and I recently hit the wall of "oh...this thing I've been doing kinda sucks...I should probably change the sucky part..."

But why was it terrible?  Well, it wasn't — it was actually a very thorough and informative bit of web design.  It had all kinds of headers, images, embedded videos, and even color changes to cue the section changes.  But the information became simply overwhelming — as the writer and web designer, I was having trouble keeping track of everything on the page.  Scrolling down from the top of the page to find things was taking forever.  And when I told Google Sites to add a Table of Contents, the length of the contents was simply absurd.

The (Frustrating) Journey of Websites

The more I do websites, the more frustrating they become.  It's a bit like writing — once I figure out how to do something, I realize that there's a better way to do it, and that I've been doing it wrong the whole time!!!  And then I have a choice: do I start over from scratch??  Or do I try fixing all the old stuff that looks wrong???

Obviously, I can't go back and redo everything — that would take forever.  And I have this lovely collection of UDL Journey posts that I don't feel like retyping.  So at some point, I'll probably need to find a better system than Google Sites — something like Blogger, perhaps, or even WordPress.  Some online platform that actually keeps track of which posts I've written and where I've written them so I don't have to go through and manually link everything together.

Lessons Learned from Starting Fresh

So how did I come to this realization?  From starting over again, of course.  I've been working on this new English Language Arts Website for my job at YouthBuild McLean County, and the newness of it has encouraged me to really step back and reconsider the basics of my web design strategies, everything from images to navigation to text layout.

Now, it helps that I've taken additional courses about online teaching — lessons on backward planning from Heartland's Alternative Delivery Certification Course transfer really well to web design.  You have to know what you're going to put on the webpage and how many webpages you're going to need before you really start getting into the weeds of details.  It helps to map out your plan beforehand — this way, you can build the navigation directly into your website from the beginning.

But is that enough?  I thought it would be.  I figured that as long as I planned out a course into modules, it would be easy to build a detailed online program that I could use in the classroom with my students.  But then I caught myself getting distracted.  I went from writing learning objectives and assignment milestones to building in lists of outside resources and examples and even cautionary tales.   Let's just say that the "quick" website I was building has quickly begun to bloat.

Maybe bloat's the wrong term, though.  After all, it's good information.  For my page on writing newsletters with Google Docs, I embedded some YouTube videos that show how to format tables in Google Docs, and then I arranged the materials so that everything fits neatly on the page.  (Unlike like this rambling little blog thing, which has neither pictures nor a true layout.)  But if you check that page right now, you'll find it's a hot mess of navigation buttons that don't actually link to anything.  And that's an improvement!  I literally spent like three (four?) hours today figuring out which arrangement of buttons would best show off the twenty webpages necessary for my upcoming Digital Newsletter course.

But why does the course need twenty pages?  At first, I was thinking four pages total: an Overview, a page to describe Google Docs, another for Slides, and a fourth (final!) page for Sites.  But no.  Now each session of the course will need its own page because I was putting too much info onto each page.  For the page on Google Docs, the first two and a half sessions put me at 3,683 words of writing — and there's no way that's gonna work for a webpage.  I mean, seriously — what reader is gonna sit through fourteen pages of text on a single webpage?  What student in their right mind is gonna scroll through some 4,000 words of illustrated lesson plan — plus outside links! — just to find the day's homework?

So...I'm averaging 1,500 words of lesson text for each session of the course I'm planning — and that's on top of those outsides links to "recommended" reading and "optional" videos.  And that's actually about right — for this course, a single "session" is supposed to represent about a week's worth of a high school course.  I just vastly underestimated how much material it would take to fill each of those sessions.

Newsletter Course: The Old Plan

So...what's this new plan for the course layout?  Well, let's start with the original plan:

Newsletter Course (How It Started)

Newsletter Course (How It's Going)

Newsletter Course (The New Plan)

Okay, so here's the rather more boring outline that I'll actually use because it's somehow more manageable:

Overview: Making Learning Sound Fun.  Because of course it is.  And teachers would never lie about this.

Google Docs: 8 Sessions of Research Articles Disguised as Newsletter Writing

Google Slides: Because "Death By PowerPoint" Sounds Way Less Painful When You Call It "Constructing Visual Narratives"

Google Sites: The Module Otherwise Known as "Let Me Share the Pain of Website Development with All My Students"

Life Hack: Turn Your Notes into Blog Posts!

So I was struggling to figure out all the button names I was gonna use for the navigation panel, but now I've got them all neatly highlighted in this list you just slogged through!  Now my job tomorrow (and the day after...and the week after...and the next few months to come...) will be so much easier.

So. Much. Fun.