Getting Online

Building a Website:

I started ElectronLab so that my students would have a point of contact for classroom activities. That early site was crude and just barely worked for my purposes. I wanted to be able to post assignments, online quizzes, supplementary materials, and allow students to view their grades. I moved past static HTML and now publish this site using WordPress and handle class specific functions (most of why I started the site) using the Moodle Learning Management System (LMS).

So, how do you publish a website? There are lots of ways to get online and many of them are free. All of them take an investment in time, but none are especially difficult (at least at the basic level). At the end of this article, I will provide links to some web building resources, but first, let’s look at a few options:

Free vs Paid

Should you put up a free site or use a paid service? Well, that depends on what you want to do. If you have no experience with Web publishing and just want to try publishing a blog or basic website, I suggest starting out with a free service. You will be able to put up a reasonably attractive site and learn the ropes with no out-of-pocket expense. On the downside, free sites will limit how much control you have over the site usually don’t allow you to publish with different platforms (for example a WordPress and Moodle site) under the same domain name.

OK, you are a control freak, like me. How much does it cost? There are two elements, domain registration, and hosting. Domain registration generally costs less than $20.00 per year and is done through a registrar. Usually, your hosting provider and handle this for you when you sign up. Your host provides the server, bandwidth and a number of behind-the-scenes services that make a website possible and provide customer support services.

Hosting can cost anywhere from a few dollars per month for shared hosting plans to hundreds or even thousands of dollars per month for dedicated servers. For anyone reading this article, expect to pay between $2 and $15 per month for a shared hosting account. The higher priced packages give you more server resources (the server is shared with fewer users), give you the ability to create email accounts, allow the creation of sub-domains, and usually have one-click installation of dozens of software packages that will allow you to build just about any kind of site you want.

Building Your Site

If you are using a free service, your site will be built with whatever tools are provided. These types of sites typically use some kind of content management system (CMS) for input and provide a number of templates or themes to allow a certain amount of customization to the look of the site. There are also free Learning Management Systems (LMS) to help you conduct classes. Some of these providers will allow you to move into a paid level with your own domain name, but I do not recommend going that route since — in my opinion — they will not give you as much flexibility as an independent hosting provider.

Free options include:

  • CMS – WordPress, Yola, Weebly, Google Sites and dozens of others. Some providers run ads on your site to pay for the service. My favorite is WordPress, but the others are certainly good options.
  • LMS – Free, hosted Learning Management Systems are less plentiful but do exist. Check out Blackboard CourseSites and Canvas.

Options with Paid Hosting:
If you pay for a hosting plan, you have many more options. You are paying for the hosting while using HTML or open source software to provide functionality at no additional cost. Examples include:

  • HTML – For the base site you can — though I don’t recommend it — hand code in HTML or use a site design program like Dreamweaver of NetObjects Fusion to create and upload your site to the server. This is the way we used to do things and with enough skill, you can build anything this way, but it probably won’t be better and certainly won’t be quicker.
  • CMS – These include WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla among others. A CMS has all of the tools necessary to add content built into the system. Furthermore, there are tons of themes, to change the look of, and plugins, to extend the capability of the site. This is where I recommend going.
  • LMS – These include Moodle, Chamilo, and Claroline and can function as a classroom website, grade book or online learning site. I currently use Moodle to schedule my lessons and keep my grade book.
  • In addition, there are tons of open source systems that can be installed to provide every imaginable type of website including e-commerce, wiki, social networking, forums, guestbooks, project management, help desk, etc.

Finding a Hosting Provider:

There are lots of hosting providers to choose from and if you look at reviews you will find that they ALL are fantastic and they ALL suck, depending on who is doing the review. I have used a few and they all have done an OK job, but I have gotten the best service from smaller providers. Currently, I am using A2 Hosting and I’m pretty happy with them. Service has been good and customer support has been fantastic. If you decide you like them, please use the following link to sign up and I will get a small credit to my account: A2 Hosting.  I have also used GoDaddy and 1and1. Both were fine, but GoDaddy did not bother to update to newer server versions and wanted a fortune for email. 1and1 was also adequate, but I found that my sites were attacked almost continuously while I was with them and they did not seem especially concerned about the situation. I expect that the hacking attempts were due to 1 and 1 being a large provider headquartered in Europe.

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