GUIDE – Tips for Building a Course Web Site

UPDATE: See this new post, which expands on some of these suggestions: Rhetorical considerations for online course materials

NOTE: These tips are under development, but I’m posting what I have thus far in case it’s of interest to anyone passing by! If you’d like some assistance with the process of actually implementing any of these tips, please let me know. We can meet in person or I can make a screencast or handout.


  • Follow the customary principles of site layout, with a horizontal page menu along the top and one or two sidebars along the sides
  • Put the most important information near the top of the sidebars, including a welcome box and a link to the dashboard (if students will be posting new entries)
  • If you will ask students to post new entries, make sure to choose a theme that displays the author’s name. Some themes are meant for single-author blogs, in which case the author’s name wouldn’t need to appear on every post, but a multi-author blog should always show the author’s name. The theme TwentyTen has this feature. Soon I’ll make a list of other themes to consider.


  • De-activate the tools you’re not planning to use. If you leave them enabled, students will click on them and be annoyed to find them empty, which then trains them not to explore course web sites in the future.
  • Choose an icon set and color theme that are different from the default, to add a personal touch and demonstrate your visual awareness.
  • Put a custom header at the top of the main page if not all pages (email me if you’d like some HTML code you can copy and paste to create a centered box with a white background and formatted text).
  • Don’t nest materials deeper than two folders and make sure students can find everything they need with as few clicks as possible. They would rather search one page with a lot of handouts on it than to have to open a bunch of folders in order to find specific handouts.
  • Ask students to “user test” your CULearn site and take their feedback seriously. Share the results with them so that they can see which kinds of comments are shared by the majority and which reflect their own unique preferences.