Enhancing Student Access to Course Content: The Advantages of a Customized Website

Keeping our students engaged and connected to course content is at the top of an instructor’s list. These two priorities have become even more crucial with the increasing number of online classes offered to our students each semester. Hybrid, synchronous, and asynchronous online courses have become very popular with our students. These courses offer many advantages, like remote access, self-paced learning, flexibility, and affordability. In addition to the numerous benefits, online courses also have a few obstacles that must be addressed to make these courses attractive and successful. One of the difficulties in course design is ensuring optimal access to the information we intend our students to utilize inside and outside the classroom. We use a lot of different supports to teach the content of our courses, such as images, videos, podcasts, PowerPoint, and pdf documents. Having all of that information at a student’s fingertips helps them stay engaged while learning the course content more efficiently. How can we tailor and individualize course content, whether online or in-person, to foster and sustain student engagement and connectivity? Here, I will discuss the benefits of creating a personalized website using the Google Sites tool to publish all of the information needed for a course.

In 2021, I started a new website called “Learning In No Time” to provide a unique and customized platform for students to access the information they needed to succeed in their studies. I first launched this website to help my students who attend my anatomy and physiology labs (ZOOL2011 and 2021). These labs are knowledge-intensive, and students must learn thousands of new terms in just a few months. To learn all of the anatomical and physiological terminology, I have several documents and supporting resources I want my students to read and use for their studies. Rather than resorting to an overwhelming abundance of hyperlinks or relying on a linear presentation format on Canvas, I sought a simpler and more streamlined approach for sharing the essential course information that would enable my students to succeed.

Cloud-based tools have revolutionized how we teach and access the information we need to build a course. Canvas and Blackboard are two cloud-based platforms the teaching community uses to create courses. These two platforms offer significant advantages for setting up assignments, announcements, grades, etc., yet they have limitations. The material added to each module can be cataloged and linear to access and read. A list of links can make the information on these platforms overwhelming for students. Making the information on Canvas or Blackboard more attractive is possible, but it can require coding skills or access to an instructional designer. Only if you know how to code can you create a more web-based experience for your Canvas pages. But coding is not something we all know or want to spend time learning. Nevertheless, the web-based experience is what teachers often try to achieve on their Canvas pages. Fortunately, Google Sites allows you to create a simple, free, and effective website you can use for your classes without any need for coding knowledge or help from a third party.

Using the Sites tool from Google, you can publish all of the information you want your students to use to learn the content of your courses. A web-based format offers many advantages:

  • The information is easier to access and will feel more familiar to your students. Students are used to clicking on buttons and search options to find what they need on a website.
  • You can add videos, texts, images, and links on the same page for your students to access rather than a list of links under several pages within your module on Canvas.
  • Your website can host various supports, such as YouTube videos, different image formats (e.g., png, jpeg, tiff, etc.), charts, social links, forms, and slides.
  • Your website will be automatically formatted to be accessible from phones, computers, tablets, and more. Website platforms like Google Sites are designed to ensure your pages’ content can be read from any support. These multi-format options make accessing the necessary information more convenient for our students.
  • Designing a website on Google is easy. You won’t need to know about coding or spend hours learning how to create a website.

The website I created for the anatomy and physiology labs, Learning In No Time (LINT), has been published for over a year, and students have embraced this website for their studies. Based on a survey taken in October 2022, on a scale from one to ten, 94% of the students (n=20) found this LINT website extremely useful (score 9 or 10). In the same survey, 94% of the students (n=20) found the information extremely easy to access (score 9 or 10).

Your customized website is not a substitute for your Canvas page(s), quite the opposite. You can link your website to your Canvas course using a simple button and use both platform advantages. Canvas is an excellent tool for publishing announcements, organizing, collecting all your assignments, and providing a communication line with students (i.e., emails). It also offers excellent tools for analyzing students’ activity and creating grade books. A customized website is a perfect way to improve student engagement with course material, especially for online courses. A website designed using Google Sites is easy to set up and will take very little time to create.

The advantages of using a personalized website and Canvas together are to:

  • publish, organize, and share the information in a way that will be more engaging for your students
  • have a reliable system to test students’ knowledge and keep track of their scores
  • save time to organize and design the content of your courses

Using both platforms together can improve your students’ engagement and increase their progress in your classes.

Lionel Faure is a plant biologist studying new strategies to increase lipid metabolism in plants to increase lipid droplet production for bioenergy production. Faure is currently a clinical assistant professor at Texas Woman’s University and continues to work on lipid research while also managing the microscopy core. Faure is a dedicated educator, teaching undergraduate courses such as anatomy and physiology I and II, principles of biology II, and graduate courses like ABCs of molecular techniques and research methods labs.