Talking to Myself about a New Website

Here’s a little tech advice learned the hard way: Begin with the end in mind.

That’s good advice in general, but it’s especially helpful when starting a new website, blog or web presence using an existing platform. Host platforms will usually offer more bells and whistles than you actually need and maybe more than you want to use. For those of us in school settings who are designing tools for student use, a lot of options on a page can be distracting and counterproductive, or … they can be a means to differentiation. We need to find the artful balance that fits our students.

This is fresh on my mind today as I work with Tony Romano and EMC Publishing’s editorial and design staff to create and launch a new website to accompany the new edition of our textbook, Expository Composition: Discovering Your Voice, which is scheduled to roll off the presses in early fall. The new version of our book is even more tech-friendly, including a new chapter “Writing Online,” as well as blog post models from students around the country, our friends (and excellent bloggers) Meredith Stewart and Mary Fons, along with tech-forward tips and approaches infused throughout the book.

The working title of the website is Discovering Your Voice. Before we start building it, we need to articulate for ourselves, What should this site do?

Here’s my list:

The website should be an online extension of the physical textbook. It’s not a big secret that paper versions of textbooks are fading in favor of e-books. That trend is a reality in some places, but many schools aren’t there yet, so physical books are still in demand. Tony and I want this website to provide online support for users—teachers and students—of our book and simultaneously be ready for an e-version of our book when the publisher says the time is right.

The website should be a helpful resource. An on-going guiding question for us should be, What do writing teachers need, and how can we provide it online? The first resources that come to mind for me are (a.) additional writing models beyond those found in the textbook, (b.) class activities and materials that can easily be put into practical use, and (c.) a way to communicate easily with Tony and/or me for support or troubleshooting with any writing-related issues that a teacher or student might face.

The website should be personal and interactive. Our textbook is different from most writing textbooks because it isn’t boring, and users can directly contact the authors for help. The author names on the cover are two guys exploring the same daily work that users are going through. We include humor, inside jokes, and personal stories. We strive to deliver it all in a friendly, natural voice that teachers and students using the original edition have told us is appreciated. We want the website to make it even easier for writing teachers and students to communicate with us and with each other.

Here are the questions we’re still wrestling with:

We want to provide support and resources for both students and teachers, but is it a good idea for this companion website to be a resource for both students and teachers? Will one clientele scare off the other?

How much should we control the content? Should users have clearance to post material? My heart says Yes, but I’m also a little concerned about what happens when something dicey comes across the transom. What’s the artful balance on that?

Should the website be available only to users, or should it be open to all? My thought is to make it open to everybody. Obviously, there is a marketing angle to this site, but I’m OK with trusting that will take care of itself if we do a good job of helping teachers and students with writing instruction.

What should we be considering that isn’t even on our radar?

Thanks for reading.

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2 Responses to Talking to Myself about a New Website

  1. In my experience as a student I was never too keen on needing special clearance for a school-related website, so I’d say make it open to all. That will make users who ARE using the site in tandem with a textbook less intimidated by an official “educational” site. Students are used to using open sites on the web, and to require any sort of confirmation is less user-friendly and therefore less welcoming. You want them to return. To think of the site as a convenient resource, not something they have to go through hoops to use.

    Hope my student perspective helps a bit…


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