K-12 School Computer Networking/Chapter 16

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School Websites[edit]

If you are developing your school web page, chances are you have volunteered to do so or you have been co-opted by the school administration because you are the most tech savvy person on staff. In either case, it is no minor undertaking especially because of the time involved in maintaining the site. Some of you will have full teaching schedules; some will be the school technology coordinators who are “masters” of many areas and cannot be dedicated web masters. Therefore it is necessary to manage time wisely.

School web sites follow the same principal as any other website: it must be attractive enough for people to want to revisit it. If not, it is not worth developing. Attractive means good design, interesting content and easy navigation. Thane Terrill, in his book Technology on a Shoestring: A Survival Guide for Educators and Other Professionals, recommends the following team if you are developing a major website:

*Graphic designer: Focuses on the appearance and layout of the site. They also create the images and graphics for the site.

*Programmer: Responsible for the web programming. Many of the advanced features of modern websites require some level of programming skill.

*Database Administrator: Handles mangement of the databases. Frequently, a website is constructed to provide access to a currently existing database, such as student records.

*Editor: Editing for the web is a specialized skill because the lack of screen space requires a terse writing style capable of being understood by a user skimming the text.

*Content Specialist: Responsible for the accuracy and relevancy of the site's content.

*Publicist: If the site requires that the public know about it, a publicist can help get the word out.

*Attorney: This person makes sure you don't get sued and that you secure the appropriate trademarks.

*Project Leader: Develops the concept for the site, protects the vision for the site during the developmental process, and makes sure the group works well together.

No doubt, such as team requires a sizeable budget, and if executed at the district level is quite feasible; however, if you are developing your site single-handedly, you will need to combine many the skills of all of the persons mentioned above with little or no funding in order to produce an effective website. The time and commitment to create a website should not be underestimated. The following questions should guide your project:

What is the purpose of the website?[edit]

Often a school’s website provides and opportunity to celebrate students’ work and the school’s achievements and provide an effective way of communicating with the school family; but not all school sites set out to do this. For example, a small therapeutic school in Connecticut directs all website content to prospective parents: it outlines the school’s clinical programs, staff qualifications, academic programs and tuitions costs. It is highly unlikely that an adolescent would be seeking this kind of placement independently of his family and so the information targets parents.

Who will your website target? You will need to consult with the school administration in order to make this decision. The answer to this question will determine the content because you then have to think about what information these different groups might want or find interesting.

What sort of content and information should be on the site?[edit]

It would be a good idea at this point to look at other school websites and decide what features you like; what features you do not like; what seems to work well; what does not. Just because information can be placed on your web site does not mean that it should. Having fresh content on your Web site will encourage readers to return frequently and that is your over-riding objective: having people return to your site. Just as important as what kind of content, is how that content is presented.

Not everyone can write content for the web. Writing for the web requires a particular skill set Web users do not read a page word by word. Instead, they scan the page looking for individual words or key sentences. Web pages need to employ scannable text: highlighted keywords, meaningful sub-headings, one idea per paragraph. The style of writing would be closest to writing for a televison news report: short and to the point. There are may tutorials on the Web which offer guidelines; for example, The Web Content Style Guide

Who will create and maintain the site? [edit]

As the designated webmaster, you will be responsible for designing, creating, monitoring, and gathering content for your school's web site. As stated above, this is no small task and you will need help. The web site must be updated and reviewed regularly so that readers return to it. Solicit representatives from each department or each year level to feed the content to you. You may find staff members who are skilled at developing web pages and who can be counted on to post information on the web themselves. If not it would be worthwhile to facilitate a few workshops to help your team develop Web publishing skills. Having staff members responsible for updating and posting information pertinent to their respective areas is less time consuming.

Note: One of the easiest ways to create a school web page is to use a Web Content Management system or CMS. CMS is software used to create, edit, manage and publish Web content. The system essentially provides a template or templates into which individuals can create or modify content. The advantage of such a system is that staff need very little technical knowledge to use the system and the site maintains a uniform appearance. The down side to this is that CMS sites allow for no flexibility in design. CMS is expensive to purchase, but there are many open source systems available such as Joomla.

How regularly will the site be updated? [edit]

Your website must be reviewed regularly so that readers return to it. Gather feedback from students, teachers and parents about the site’s strengths and weakness. This will help you to make improvements when you update. Getting feedback will mean that your intended audience knows that you are there. Publicize and promote your web site through parent newsletters, announcements at meetings or placing ads in local newspapers.

Some pages will require more time than others to maintain. For example, if homework is posted on the site, these pages will need to be updated weekly, if not daily. If pages contain many external links they have to be checked regularly to make certain the links are still viable. That is why it is essential to have a team; one person would never be able to attend to this kind of detail unless he was a dedicated webmaster.

What software will you use to author the site? [edit]

The most popular HTML editors are Dreamweaver and Microsoft Front Page. Your choice depends on your level of skill and the end objective you have for your website.

Microsoft FrontPage Editor is a useful HTML editor that is meant for fast website design. and is available as part of the Office Suite of applications. Microsoft Office applications such as Word, Publisher and even PowerPoint offer the option of saving your document as a web page. These are quite user friendly as the beginning web developers are already familiar with their layout. FrontPage is an inexpensive web design application,It does not ask much of you in terms of skills, and all you need to do is to know what you want your web page to look like. Adding website elements is quite easy and extensive tutorials are readily available in case you have a problem. Whereas Macromedia Dreamweaver takes sometime in getting used to, particularly the interface and the myriad of options, FrontPage is designed with the novice web designer in mind and thus its approach to designing web pages is different from the start. You are automatically exposed to step-by-step methods of creating pages, and in a lot of cases you don't even need to know HTML!

FrontPage is a different breed of HTML editor; it's targeted towards users who want to get their website up and running fast, and users who are not interested in too many extensive features. Of course, like any self-respecting HTML editor FrontPage supports the latest technology and modules but its main purpose is ease of use and simple development. In this role FrontPage is ideally suited for web designers who are looking for simple websites without many bells and whistles.

Both FrontPage and Dreamweaver offer an HTML “hard coding” feature, but Dreamweaver is the industry standard for commercial web design.

Dreamweaver has many more built-in features that include interactive design elements, Flash animations and even pre-coded JavaScript functions. An author has many more design tools to work with, enabling them to create websites with a more sophisticated look and feel. Because of its mainstream commercial use, Dreamweaver is an expensive application that is NOT for the design novice.

Special Note: Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA

The US congress amended the Rehabilitation act of 1973 to require Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. This amendment is known as section 508. Standards were established within the act for web-based intranet and internet information and applications. They assure accessibility to web page graphics by the visually impaired using assistive technology such as screen readers and refreshable Braille displays. When sites are correctly designed, developed and edited, all users can have equal access to information and functionality. For example, when a site is coded with semantically meaningful HTML, with textual equivalents provided for images and with links named meaningfully, this helps blind users using text-to-speech software and/or text-to-Braille hardware. When text and images are large it is easier for users with poor sight to read and understand the content. When links are underlined as well as coloured, this ensures that color blind users will be able to notice them. When clickable links and areas are large, this helps users who cannot control a mouse with precision. When pages are coded so that users can navigate by means of the keyboard alone, or a single switch access device alone, this helps users who cannot use a mouse or even a standard keyboard. When videos are closed captioned or a sign language version is available, deaf and hard of hearing users can understand the video. When flashing effects are avoided or made optional, users prone to seizures caused by these effects are not put at risk. And when content is written in plain language and illustrated with instructional diagrams and animations, users with dyslexia and learning difficulties are better able to understand the content. When sites are correctly built and maintained, all of these users can be accommodated while not impacting on the usability of the site for non-disabled users. Although there is no penalty at the moment for not being 508 compliant, it is a good idea to construct your pages according to the standards.

For full accessibility guidelines see article 1194.22 of Section 508.

There are many software tools which evaluate whether your web page content is Section 508 compliant. One such free tool is the HiSoftware Cynthia Says portal. It is an online test which checks one page at a time and identifies which aspects are not 508 compliant.

A Comment from a Tech Coordinator[edit]

There is a gap of understanding that comes from the discrepancy between the client’s ideal and the ability and time limitations of the designer.

Most people think that because they have years of experience using Internet sites, that designing one should almost be as effortless. This akin to thinking that because you’ve been driving a car for years, building one should be as easy as snapping Legos together.

Depending on how basic or sophisticated the site is going to be the volunteer should be brutally honest about their level of expertise and limitations This can save the school a great deal of time and money when these matters are dealt with in the beginning.

The school must also be very clears about their expectations. They need to be able to articulate exactly what they wish to see on their site. Do they want an event calendar, a staff email list? Does each department have their own site? Who is responsible for providing the content for each page? Will the students be featured? Who will secure the permissions for the students? Do you want an online request/survey form? What exactly are they paying for? Who is responsible for upgrade and maintenance?

To make sure all the cards are on the table, it would be prudent to query the client for this information. To make life easier, the designer could create a list of the features they would like to have on their school site and check.

A good site for calculating the price of your site can be found at Lucid Designs

Here at least can the abstract become more concrete. Along with calculating the price of web design elements and features, the web designer can also use this opportunity to calculate the time involved in implementation. Regardless of working for free or a fee, the client should know what this undertaking is worth in time and money. Everyone must be on the same page at the outset in an effort to avoid misunderstanding.

Quiz[edit]

True or False

  1. All public school websites must be 508 compliant.
  2. Writing for the web is very different from writing for other media.
  3. School websites can be developed with very little money.
  4. Microsoft Frontpage is the industry standard for commercial web design.

Multiple Choice

5. What is the purpose of developing a school web site?
a.To communicate to prospective parents
b.To showcase the students’ work
c.To improve communications with parents
d.All of the above
6.What is Joomla?
a. An HTML editor
b. A Web Content Management System
c. A blog
d. A tool to check 508 compliance
7.All of the following are true about a Web content management system (CMS)EXCEPT
a.CMSs use templates to control the display of data
b.It is easy to modify the design of a CMS
c.One reqires little technical experience to use a CMS.
d.CMSs can be found in Open Source
8.Some features of scannable text include
a.higlighted keywords
b.sub-headings
c.one idea per paragraph
d.all of the above

Answer Key[edit]

1. F
2. T
3. T
4. F
5. a
6. b
7. b
8. d

Interview with a NYC Private School Webmaster [edit]

Jim Zulakis, of Trevor Day School, talks about his job as the Web Master for Trevor Day School.

YouTube: Webmaster interview


References[edit]

Bailey, Gerald D., The Web Team: What’s best –centralized or decentralized web staffing?

Clemons, Karen. Personal Interview. July 24, 2008.

Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. The School Website. Victoria, Australia, June 23,2008

Terrill, Thane B. Technology on a Shoestring: A Survival Guide for Educators and Other Professionals. Teachers College Press: New York, 2006.

Wikipedia:Web acessibility