The Art & Science of School Sites

Thu, Apr 21, 2011

Design

The Art & Science of School Sites

This article is dedicated to those looking at developing sites for schools and schools looking at hiring a professional developer to look after them.

After ten years developing school sites, it is time to shed some light into this mystery that is “School Sites” and why they all fail,  except my sites of course.

There are many factors involved in the success of a school site, but most importantly it is the school’s intent. The clear intent and vision for the project permeates the entire process and the overall concept of success.

Take for instance the simple brochureware type of site.

The school principal is not expecting more than a business card online, a few good pictures and the content usually comes from their printed promotional media, contact details and your are done.  When this style of site is agreed upon, we do explain the options and the potential that other styles offer, but it is important not to start pushing for a site that the school is not ready yet.

To offer a site that exceeds espectations is not wrong, but to exceed the client’s understanding on what they are investing time and money without the oportunity to educate their choice is dishonest, bluntly put.

As   technologists geeks as most of us are, we tend to get carried away by explaining features and added functionality,  “we know” the Internet is an amazing medium, but it takes time for schools staff to realize what could be accomplished with a couple of hours of work a week. We assume that because we know the “World of Google” everybody knows and from personal experience I have seen how most teachers are amazed when they learn how to refine a search in Google and Google has been around for many years, so do not be surprised if some will find our own technobable incomprehensible.

After more than a year and Millions of dollars later and most schools are wondering what is so wonderful about this Ultranet, or was it the Intranet or I heard extranet?…-ah you meant Sharepoint! yes we used it sometimes.

Facebook is doing more for schools than most tools provided by DEET. Facebook opened the world of communication and information exchange to the layperson, mostly gossip and voyeurism I must agree, but now most educators can relate to the importance nowadays of this bonifided typewriter. We grown-ups used to criticice harshly most youngsters for spending too much time on the computers or mobile phones, now we are too distracted with our Facebook message walls to realized what other members of the family are doing or if they are still in the house. (generalising a bit and exagerating just to make a point)

Even when tools such as FB rise a few red flags about privacy and cybersafety it is at least making the public aware of this “internet phenomena” and that by itself is a big plus.

So things start to get interesting when the school principal, AP or ICT coordinators have an idea of the actual potential of a site. They start asking questions and begin to learn what is possible with an “online application” type of site instead of a brochureware site. back to you on this in a minute. Sometimes they even ask very specific questions like “will teachers be able to publish their own material?” can we have a blog section? or a sponsors area?

So a failed site is the one that sits idly  a whole year, a site that is hard to navigate and where vital information is missing or hiding under the wrong heading, but missing out on building a community space is perhaps the saddest aspect of a brochureware site for schools.

 

When I started building school sites my son was starting Primary School and like most parents I wanted him to have the best possible education “public schools” had to offer. I was unashamedly proud of schools in Victoria, the state was doing a terrific job in most areas.  I grew up in a country that nowadays is very empoverish  and where schools are  simply a place where kids can “at least get a glass of milk in the morning” so  I was very grateful and proud that Victoria was doing so well in terms of primary school education. except (there is alwasy a but) in IT or ICT like we call it in schools.

Even in the late 90′s schools were considerable well equiped, most schools had a computer lab maybe a projector, but most schools didnt know what to do with it so I offered to develop a special program for students with an interest in IT and I designed a sophisticated school site to showcase the outcome of these special lessons.

Since 2002 I work closely with teachers students and parents, mostly in technology and communication related areas and because of such an involvement,  I still believe  in information as a function of cooperation and equality and strongly believe that we are lost at the beginning of this revolution.

The School website should work as the school manifesto for this revolutionary process or like a sanbox where the community tests which approach works best.

Of course that for this to happen we need to keep our eyes open to the potential that online participation and collaboration can bring to schools. we need to play with enthusiasm like children do.

New, but not so new tools.

So…we went from an “online business card” to a major publishing  media for this modern revolutionary technological driven period in education. and  the 64 million dollar question is -How do you get there? the answer is simple…-baby steps, but with a proper road map drawn by grown ups so the baby can avoid steping in its own poo over and over because the baby gets upset, tired and does not want to keep walking.  I can still hear the echoes…This stupid printer never works, the internet is slow again…back to pen and paper. repeated  frustration is the what poisons this ubber vision.

Remember SmartGroups?

I do, in fact I was first introduced by  the school council president of my son’s school back in the days when Windows 98 SE was still a novelty. I cant remember who developed SmartGroups but they had a clear intention in regards to online marketing and collaboration

 

 

More soon…very soon

 

 

One Response to “The Art & Science of School Sites”

  1. Brian Says:

    It is a good article on the topic, I worked for schools the there is a simple fact that seems missing…maybe they do not care…in general of course. they only seemed to care when someones contract was up for renewal and that person was looking at ways to show off, so for a couple of months we had a very eager staff member who disappears once they get their chance to look good in the principals eyes.
    good look with the current state of things :)


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