Creating Superior School Websites: The Secret
Why are some school websites vibrant, dynamic, stuffed with useful information? Why do some school websites see 10, 100 or 1000 times more traffic than others? What’s the secret?
The Secret? Webmasters’ hard work?
Sometimes Webmasters, through extraordinary effort, create extraordinary school websites. But working smarter is better than working harder. We’re not looking to make Webmasters work harder. Instead, we must provide Webmasters with better tools so they can accomplish far more with less effort, not more effort.
On the most effective sites, the Webmaster, rather than just a technical expert, manages the flow of information onto the website. He or she has fewer technical responsibilities but encourages participation, delegates authority, manages updates for current content, and serves as the technical advisor for others.
But what would make that possible?
The Secret? More involvement?
All organizations, but especially schools, run on information. We communicate, inform, collaborate and coordinate and it all takes the exchange of information. The better we share and manipulate information, the more smoothly the organization runs. And the more smoothly it runs, the fewer complaints.
Every school has many teachers, hundreds or thousands of students and even more parents. When one person needs a question answered, chances are that many others do too. Answer it once, available for all, and you save time. Answer it for those who might not go to the bother to ask, and you’ve improved your service. Anticipate questions and answer them before they’re asked and you’ll go beyond simply saving time.
But what would make that possible?
The Secret? Ease of use?
When we think of making Web applications easier to use, we naturally think of doing more easily the things we currently do. It makes sense. Yes, ease of use is critical, but it goes beyond that.
Make it easier for people with the information to update a school website themselves, then suddenly you’ll get a qualitatively different, more useful website. Suddenly, it makes sense to post timely information: announcements, assignments, class notes, permission forms. It makes sense to post information, not just about the football team, but even for the chess club, girls’ golf and the choir. It makes sense to post photo galleries of the cheerleaders’ carwash fundraiser or the Habitat for Humanity Chapter’s upcoming build. It makes sense for the Robotics Club to do a little online promotion.
Make it easier for the people with the information to update a school website themselves, or to authorize a volunteer to update it for them, and you’ll transform the website from a billboard of basic, static information into the school’s dynamic information hub — the first place students, parents and teachers will check for information about the breadth of the school experience.
But what would make that possible?
Consider what the following examples have in common:
· Banking made easier with ATMs
· Buying movie tickets at kiosks
· Leaving voice mail instead of a message with a secretary
· Investing through online trading
· Pay-at-the-pump gas stations
· Self-checkout at grocery stores
· Specifing custom computers online
These are all examples of a major trend of the past few decades: self-service. When the ideas of self-service are applied to school websites, the result is much more effective than typical school websites.
The Secret: Self-service leads to a whole new kind of school website
Self-service makes it easy and quick for the folks with the information to put it on the website. Self-service makes changes easier, faster, more convenient and it gives the folks with the information more control over their online information.
To make things run more effectively, make it easy enough for the person who needs the service to do it directly.
The goal of self-service is easily said but often challenging to accomplish. What about HTML programming, website design standards, reformatting photos and file transfers? And most important, what about security and control? Won’t school administrators lose control of the website and risk publishing inappropriate material?
The right tools give us the advantages of self-service updates and the control we require. But the move to self-service does more than just make things easier.
But the teachers already have so much to do
Sometimes we hear, “Self-service website? Teachers won’t do that. They already have too much to do.”
We see a wide variation among teachers. Some are eager to take advantage of the possibilities that self-service Web technology offers. Some see it as a way to improve their service and save time. Others do not.
Self-service supports the range of teachers. The ones who want only static, basic facts about their classes on the website can have that. In some schools, the Webmaster, not the teacher, may even enter this basic information just as it’s done in conventional static websites. Nothing new is asked of teachers.
Teachers eager to improve their communication, however, have the self-service tools to do so. If they want to put a handout file on their course page ten minutes before class meets, it’s done with a few clicks. Self-service supports the range of teachers’ participation in the website from the disinterested to the eager.
And self-service is not limited to doing all the work oneself. Some teachers choose to delegate website updates to student or parent volunteers. Some coaches delegate responsibility for posting photos and descriptions of games to a student, parent or fan.
Self-service really means that opportunities expand. Some teachers will appreciate the ability to make daily updates. Others will appreciate the ability to delegate updates to volunteers. Still others will be content to allow the Webmaster to put in some basic information just once, then never change it. Self-service doesn’t require frequent updates and more dynamic communication but it does make them possible.
Self-service and administrative control
You can’t allow just anybody to put just anything on a school website. Doesn’t that defeat the notion of self-service? No!
Banks provide self-service access to personal accounts through ATMs. They don’t open up the entire bank database to everybody. They control who can access which bank account. They delegate access control to you for your bank account by providing you with a card and personal identification number (PIN). You don’t have access to all of the bank’s information, only to your own.
Self-service for putting information on school websites also requires administrative control. It requires the ability for the administration to approve information before it appears on the site.
Delegating to control larger websites
On a small or static website, everything could be posted by a single individual. But handling a lot of information quickly and efficiently requires that the administration delegate its approval authority to others as appropriate.
Typically, the authority to post classroom information on a self-service site is delegated to faculty, the authority to post extracurricular information is delegated to coaches or sponsors of those activities, the authority to post information about Guidance and Counseling is delegated to those folks and so on.
Without control, there could be chaos. With the ability to approve content and to delegate approval authority, administration can control what appears on the website but needn’t become an obstacle to the smooth flow of a large volume of information onto the website.
School Site Manager creates self-service school websites
School Site Manager enables faculty, staff, coaches, activity sponsors and volunteers to contribute content to school websites. It’s easy to use: just fill out Web forms and submit. No technical knowledge is required. No HTML programming, no file transfers, no photo reformatting, none of that. School Site Manager takes care of it all.
What about control? School Site Manager provides the administration with the ability to approve announcements, calendar events, photo galleries or profiles submitted by the public. Approve them with a mouse click and they appear on the website instantly. Without approval, they’ll never be seen.
School Site Manager provides the ability to delegate authority over many areas of the site. Authorize teachers to update their course information, authorize coaches to update their team information and so on. They, in turn, might authorize carefully selected volunteers to maintain specific course or extracurricular information. Thus, website changes are not channeled through one overworked Webmaster but can be made instantly by dozens of authorized people throughout the school.
Ease-of-use and delegated authority lead to self-service Web publishing. That leads to a more vital, more useful kind of school website: it becomes the school’s information hub. And the more questions that are answered online, the more teachers’ and staff’s time is saved.
Make your website easier and more effective.
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