Easy Does It! Tech Tips for Organizing Your Web Site

“Organization is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up.” ~ A.A. Milne

Organizing information is one of the things librarians do best. And where is it more needed than when designing a webpage? When I first began creating our school’s webpage, my attention was drawn to how I wanted it to look. Visions of colors and fonts and graphics danced in my head. I soon found that while those design elements are important, first I needed to think about making the website easy to navigate, informative and useful. The following organizational tools are easy and free and will give your website the structure it needs to be a successful educational resource.

Symbaloo

As my webpage is the launching pad for most of the projects that my students are working on in the library, it is critical that students are able to easily locate the necessary resources. Instead of an endless series of links, the graphical interface of Symbaloo organizes information and makes it easy for students to click and be taken to the source they need. With Symbaloo students do not need to type in web addresses. You can create color-coded blocks and add graphics to organize the information for easy access.  As my students would say – “it is easy peasy, lemon squeezy.”

 Symbaloo

There is a free version of Symbaloo. You can sign up for your account at http://www.symbalooedu.com/

Thinglink

Another way to visually organize information in an interesting way is by using Thinglink. You simply select a central topic then choose an image that represents this subject. For example, I used a bookshelf for my Thinglink on “How to Find a Just Right Book.” Next you add links – the links can be to webpages, videos, images or an interactive page like your library catalog. Once you’ve completed the Thinglink, you can embed it on your webpage. Users then click on the links to go to the different resources on the topic.

ThingLink

There is a free version of Thinglink. You can sign up for your account at https://www.thinglink.com/edu

Organizing to Keep Students Safe Online

Filters can never be 100% effective so I am always concerned about how to keep students safe when they are online. I use the following two tools to increase control over student access.

Safe Search Kids

Safe Search Kids is a custom search engine created by Google. It uses their SafeSearch features but takes it a step further by including additional strict filtering to search more safely.

safesearchkids

The link to use is http://www.safesearchkids.com/ You can also add a link to safely search images at http://www.safeimages.safesearchkids.com/

SafeShare TV

Although video is a powerful tool to use with students, too often the YouTube videos I want to use start and finish with an ad or links that are seldom what I want students to focus on. SafeShare TV is amazingly easy to use. It strips out these ads and links and leaves only the content you wish to share. Simply go to SafeShare.TV. Paste the link to the YouTube video you want to use and magically you receive a SafeSearch link.

youtubebefore
Before
YouTubeAfter
After

The link to this tool is at http://safeshare.tv/

Posting Projects

We tell students all the time to “show, don’t tell.” Here are some ways to show student work not just describe it.  Not only is it motivating for students to see their projects online, it is a wonderful opportunity to showcase their great work to their parents, the community and the world! 

Flowplayer

Create videos of student work and share them using Flowplayer. This video player allows you to embed student videos on your website. The free version is available at https://flowplayer.org/pricing/ – click the button “Sign up for FREE account.”

Flowplayer  

Youblisher

Another way to show off original student work is by creating a flipbook. It is super simple to do but looks really impressive. First, save your student’s work as a pdf file then upload the file to Youblisher. In a very short time, you will receive a link to the book that you can post or incorporate into your Symbaloo page.

Youblisher

Go to http://www.youblisher.com/register for a free account.

Hit Counter

Now that you’ve loaded projects, added links and created videos, how do you know if anyone is using your site? One way to tell is to embed a hit counter. There are many different hit counters you can use. I incorporated the free hit counter from http://www.hit-counts.com/ on my page. So far, we’ve recorded over 150,000 views of the page. A lot of hits for a small town! Using this counter is easy, simply sign up (your email address and URL are required), choose a style and click generate code. You will quickly and easily receive a counter code to use on your site.

Hitcounter

 

Just the beginning

“The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow.” – Bill Gates

Today having a web page is essential. Our site is often the first stop students make when they want to view content. We need to ensure that users don’t get lost as they navigate to and through our sites. Symbaloo, ThingLink, SafeShare TV, Flowplayer and Youblisher are powerful ways to structure web site content. Are there any changes you can make so that users can easily find the information they need?

Geri O’Reilly is the Library Media Specialist at the Dennett Elementary School in Plympton

 

Advertisements

Arranging a school library home page

As a school librarian, I’m interested in the way things are organized. Organizing is a big part of the job and I’m proud of the way I’ve shaped our library’s physical space. I’ve found myself reorganizing this space to allow form to follow function. When I tackled the job of creating a digital space for my library, I relied on what I’ve learned from arranging and rearranging the physical space. With both, I’ve found success in keeping things very simple and uncluttered. For our school library, physical and digital space alike, I place importance on an open, uncluttered, and inviting space.

A few years ago, our school moved to an all-Google platform for uniformity among our three-town district. This meant that all teachers were required to use Google Sites as their host. For me, this meant changing my K-8 TeacherWeb site to Goggle. I looked forward to the change since starting from scratch gave me the opportunity to weed and rethink its purpose. It wasn’t an entirely new start. I knew I needed a catalog link, links to databases and student search engines, as well as curriculum resources. The challenge was how and where to arrange these things. And Google Sites, especially in the basic form we adopted, is not very easy to work with. I sought out the help of experts for technical stuff, but for the look of my homepage, I turned to some tricks I’ve learned from reading comic books.

DESIGN

Comic book page layout, as well as magazine advertisements, have much in common with website homepage layout. Our eyes first scan rather than read these media. In Comics and Sequential Art, Will Eisner (the guy for whom the graphic novel award is named) explains that in western culture our eyes are trained to move across a page in a left to right direction. We start with a sweep across the top, then diagonally through the center, and left to right again across the bottom in a “Z” shaped pattern. Our eyes are most comfortable scanning this path across a page. When I designed my website, I chose a Google template that fit this model. I put the bold “welcome” message across the top of my page. The middle has a centered short paragraph explaining basic navigation with white space on the left and right. Across the bottom, there are just three bold graphics connecting patrons to the sites most used by elementary kids. When it was time for me to add my Web Seal of Excellence, I decided on the very center widening the “Z” and providing more white space on the sides.

webpagesize

Your eye first follows the path that welcomes you to the site. Once you move across the center, you find yourself at the most popular link, the library’s digital catalog. Your last quick movement is across the bottom where you find the most used links by early elementary kids. If at this point you haven’t found what you are looking for, you can start again. This time you might read the message in the middle directing you to the tabs at the top or the links at the very bottom. Those links that require some hunting are designed for older kids and adults. Again, just as the library is designed for easy movement and access through the stacks of books, our eyes need the same comfort as they travel across the homepage.

OMNE TRIUM PERFECTUM

As for space, it’s important to stay uncluttered. I decided to use graphics sparingly, following the rule of three. Working in a Pre-K through 8 school posed the added challenge of where to place content for very different age groups. I chose colorful graphics for those links most frequently accessed by our younger patrons. For older kids, parents, and teachers, I put their links on the smaller tabs at the top. These links are more text-heavy but each annotation within is still kept short. The Policies and Procedures tab does contain long paragraphs, but each annotated link for teachers, parents, and middle school kids is kept under three sentences long.

I grouped the vertical areas on the homepage in threes as well. The banner with tabbed links on the top, a short paragraph explaining how to use the site in the middle, and the three bold graphics anchoring the bottom. Depending on screen size, most of the homepage fits on one screen cutting down on the amount of scrolling and searching to find links.

The arrangement of library website links, like the physical arrangement of the library’s collection, should welcome visitors. Both need to be easy to navigate. Both need uncluttered access to the most popular resources first, and both need a design that brings people back.

Works Cited

Eisner, Will. Comics and Sequential Art. Tamarac: Poorhouse Press, 1985.

Kidd, Chip. GO: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design. New York: Workman

Publishing Company, Inc., 2013.

Michael Caligiuri is the school librarian at the Florence Sawyer School in Bolton