[THIS IS ONE PART OF SIX PARTS IN A SEQUENCE OF LESSONS FOR THE FIRST "MINI-UNIT" IN MY COURSE.]
I think one of the strengths of the Research Notebook is the use of four of the five base page-templates for Google Sites. To reiterate from the first lesson in this mini-unit, these are descriptions of the the various pages on each student site:
home page/landing page - made from the webpage template is the portal into the small site ... it includes a bio. and picture for each student as well as "feeds" to internal site content (blog posts and list items) ... the page also includes a "free choice" gadget in order to add a bit of personality
My Research Blog - made from the announcements template is a "poor-man's" blog of research process ... students will announcements (essentially blog posts) throughout the semester as they work toward the final essay ...
My Research Interests - made from the list template is a dynamic list for saving research ideas and notes along with one URL as a good starting point to the topic ... students are also able to rank research interests in their lists
My Portfolio - made from the file cabinet template is an e-portfolio for posting all of the major assignments (summative assessments) from the course ... the portfolio stores .doc, .docx, .rtf., .txt., and .pdf files as well as links to Google docs or any other type of web-based essay or paper
Each of the various pages has a specific purpose that ties to various research and advanced writing skills, and these purposes will become more and more evident at the course unfolds. For now, though, these pages and the site itself needs functionality and strong aesthetics.
Now that students have created the "base" home page/landing page with a basic layout, added some bio. info., and established the various pages needed for the site, it is time to begin basic customization. (See my previous lessons: "Creating a Web-Based Research Notebook: The Basic Layout (Part 1 of 6)" and "Writing an Effective Bio. for the Web (Part 2 of 6).") At this point in the design of their pages, I point out how web developers use content from inside a site to populate a home page for viewers. The use of content or pages inside for posting on the "front door" of a site is universal, and it goes nearly unnoticed by everyone.
Just as a way to illustrate this concept, I quickly click to The Daily Beast or Salon (or both), and I simply follow some links from the home page to their spots inside the site. As I do this, I point out how the URL changes to reflect the address of the "inside" content, and I mention that this is as old as the web -- pages are inside of folders and the "cover" of the folder is the site's homepage. It happens less and less of late, but sometimes there is at least one student who has an "aha moment" about this very basic web fact.
After clicking through a few pages and answering any questions, I state that students will be "junior" web developers today, and they will place content from "inside" their notebook sites on the "front door" (home page/landing page). I remind them again of what my mock-up site looks like, and mention that I will now show them how to create the exact same look for their sites. (The attached resource is a screencast for adding two important gadgets.)