Recently I've wanted to clearly and simply articulate why I think all teachers should have a web presence. I agree with Steve Tafee, that in a few years this debate will seem vacuous, but at this moment, I want an articulate justification. In particular, I've wanted to address the concerns of "late adopters" who might be hesitant to embrace a new tool and might ask, "Why do I need a website when I've been successful for many years without one?"
I think the response is that as teachers it is our responsibility to provide students with the best organized access to course content possible, and a website is a powerful tool on that behalf. As teachers, we are constantly improving and honing our practice and pedagogy. As part of this, we should continue to evaluate new tools and approaches as they come along. A website increases the opportunity for students to interact with course materials; it broadens the availability (time & place) of documents, discussions, assignments, and supporting materials, including the possibility of multimedia. A website can support group work and individualized or differentiated instruction. It can also support time-management and document-management.
In teaching, we also want students to become expert learners and flexible users of digital content. Done well, a website is very useful for both of these goals. For an interesting post about the importance of digital literacy, and expectations for educators in this regard, see this blog post by Mr. Whitby. A teacher's website is a tool for teaching in the digital age (and preparing students as learners) which has many instructional possibilities, at least in middle and upper school. I see it as a resource like a textbook, but with the opportunity to be individualized by the teacher (unlike a paper textbook.) It takes significant time and energy to develop a useful web site, and teachers need support for this endeavor.
What would Socrates, Aristotle, or other classical "teachers" say about this proposition? There is a time-honored tradition of lecture and question/response in the history of pedagogy which eschews technology as a barrier to intellectual discourse. Certainly there continues to be good justification for this style of teaching in developing the important habits of mind we all strive to impart, but I don't want to let this limit us from embracing tools on an institutional level which extend and support broad-based instructional goals. I think there is a time and a place for both this time-honored pedagogy and also these new tools that organize course content, enable robust communications, and extend learning in time and place. If Socrates was only able to sit around a rock with fifteen students in 45 minute chunks he might have appreciated the opportunity to broaden their minds with thoughtful online discussion, communication, and links to permutations of their thought processes. Or how about a flipped Socratic classroom, where his students showed up already having listened to his lecture (on his website) and were able to jump right into their intellectual discourse!
What do you think?
ps. There's been an interesting thread on ISED-L this week asking whether LMS systems are dead. (LMS's include Blackboard, Moodle, etc.) It seems to me that there is still significant value to centralization in this arena. It is possible to simply maintain a list of links to each teacher's web presence tool of choice (such as a google site, blogger, wordpress, etc.) but if an institution centralizes efforts on a good LMS, the students will have one-stop shopping, better understanding of site processes, and unified calendaring. I think we need to be exploring best in class LMS's like Haiku.