14 Reasons Why I Use A Website, Not A Text Book


I decided for September 2014 that I would not buy textbooks for the A Level Psychology course. Kim Croft @kimberleyfcroft, from whom I was taking over, had developed a revision site which students liked using. I had been using printed notes and resources for a couple of years and had found increasingly that the text books which I gave to students to accompany the notes I had written and printed were coming back more or less untouched. I had some training at DHSB about how to make a Google site and managed before September to get everything online. Just before I started my job, this news story about the Stephen Perse Foundation school in Cambridge suggested that I might be on the right track.

Six months or so into my job, I have made a list of why using a website is better than using a text book. I wrote these points down as they came into my mind, in no order of importance.

  1. Ease of access.
  2. Links between topics.
  3. Move between topics.
  4. Update as you go.
  5. Add video content to explain text, for example Khan Academy videos.
  6. Personalise to reflect an individual view of what is important about Psychology.
  7. Hyperlink to quizzes in the Google environment to introduce content.
  8. Hyperlinks on mark schemes to create coherence.
  9. Establish a core for students: essential things they need to know.
  10. Separate core from “mastery learning”.
  11. Communication with parents: what exactly needs to be done.
  12. Incorporate up to date assessment materials alongside course content.
  13. Use images creatively.
  14. Gives me control over content.

I will focus on four of these for now.

  1. Update as you go.

I like being able to upload new content as I find it. I use Twitter to keep me up to date with some of the new developments in Psychology. Last week, a piece of video was published by the Royal Society about the history and practice of peer review in science. I could upload this video next to my account of peer review.

  1. Hyperlinks on mark schemes to create coherence

Psychology A Level requires students to shape their knowledge to meet the demands of a question. After they have done assessments, I share with students markschemes with hyperlinks between questions and the core content of the course on their website. This enables them to refer back the course content in order to see what information they needed to use to answer each question. This creates coherence. Because that content is readily available, they can focus on the higher order skill of applying knowledge.

  1. Separate core from “mastery learning”.

On my webpages, the core content is written in black and white. It shows students what they need to know for the exam. I use a different colour background for “mastery learning”. I use this term to refer to tasks I want students to do to broaden and deepen their learning. These involve wider reading and often the use of audio and video. In AS, students can treat mastery learning tasks as optional in their exam preparation. In A2, they need this mastery learning to access higher mark bands. I cannot think of a way of making this distinction clear on paper.

These three are important to me in my day to day practice. On reflection, number 14, “Gives me control over content” has wider significance. I am in my 28th year of teaching. I realise that I have always wanted to control content in my lessons. I like to write things down in my own way. In the early days, that meant duplicating worksheets on a banda machine. In 1993, I bought a home computer partly so that I could make my own worksheets. The site I use now is an extension of something I have been doing for a long time. It has been a liberating experience.

There are of course some disadvantages. It takes time to put the site together. For me, that has been possible because most of what is there now existed before in print based form. Using the site relies on good wi-fi and good hardware. That is getting easier. The hardest thing for me is that because I am taking sole responsibility for course content, it is my fault when things go wrong. I spend much time checking mark schemes and examiners’ reports word by word to make sure I have got it right.

The article about the Stephen Perse Foundation I quoted at the start refers to teachers working differently and to being “at the beginning of the transformation of the way in which we teach in schools.” I think that I am doing what I have always done. Using a Google site has helped me do it a bit better. I like that.

Simon Tombs @tombssimon

Teacher of Psychology


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