I checked in with the media specialists at UM Instructional Support Services with some questions about the web software we tried out last week. Here are some thoughts from Lauren Atkins that offer some food for thought, esp. about Wix and Circle Pad (though I want to gather some more info about the latter). FWIW!
These are all good questions. It’s very important for the students to consider features, flexibility, reliability and security…and longevity, and to consider how creative they can be even within confines.
It’s not necessarily a “pro” version of WordPress that is needed to HTML so much as a feature upgrade that the student would have to pay for (there’s no “license” so to speak for it at all). This also means that students can’t embed just anything into their posts on WordPress.com as well—they can include videos only from a handful of sites (YouTube, Vimeo) and only slideshows from Slideshare and one other service. Wordpress does that to protect themselves from infected content from dubious sources. Weebly does the same.
Wix, I would advise students use with caution. While it is the “flashiest” (literally) of all the options, it’s also the most nitpicky and unstable. There is also no way to export out and move or keep the site they create. A lot of students like it because it’s very customizable and “looks” better but there’s a lot of sacrifice of function that may affect them later on.
Circlepad, I don’t have any experience with, though an initial look at their site didn’t make me excited about it. If a student is familiar with it and wants to use it and feels it works well for them, I think that’s fine, so long as it satisfies a certain level of reliability and longevity.
As for Dreamweaver, that is arguably the most difficult option of all because the student is responsible for all of the creation of their site, and I generally only suggest it for students who have used it before or who have a solid grasp of basic web programming (even using the visual editor can get frustrating without some basic knowledge). Support in using it can often be gotten from the Tech Deck in the library. In most cases, they can easily post sites they create in Dreamweaver in the public folder of their IFS space and run it from there.
I’ve had students complain about some of the constraints of Google Sites before. Those who have some skill at HTML can actually edit their Google Site’s code and gain more flexibility that way. Another tactic is to sort of play around with the page structure, columns, etc, in Google to reproduce what you’re looking for. I do suggest encouraging it for several practical reasons: 1) the upcoming switch to Google Apps for Education might make it more secure and attractive, 2) It is one of the best services for not only keeping track of site changes (thanks to the revision history) but it’s also possible to export the content out in a fairly easy manner using another of Google’s tools, 3) there is ample technical support for it on campus because of its wide use and 4)it easily integrates with all of Google’s other tools, for students who want to incorporate documents, presentations, slideshows, images, videos, maps, etc.
In fact, as far as general features + reliability and longevity, we do really recommend WordPress and Sites and working with students to find ways to enable the type of functionality they’re looking for as best as possible.
Robert has put together a brief overview of a few of these tools on our wiki <https://g333.pbworks.com/w/page/34076819/Free%20Services%20for%20Creating%20a%20Website%2C%20Blog%2C%20or%20ePortfolio> , including storage limitations and an “ease of use” rating.
I hope that helps. If students have very specific questions on any of the platforms, just let me know. If you’d like us to stop by for a brief in-class Q&A or workshop while they’re getting set up, we can do that as well.