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A Better School Website

A Better School WebsiteTwo brilliant articles by Terry Freedman

14 Ways To Make Your School Website Better

Let's face it: most school websites are pretty boring. True, some have improved a lot in the last few years, but they're mainly the exception that proves the rule.

Looking at most school websites is like taking a trip back in time. No interactivity, no sense of community, no updates for weeks, if not months.

In short, no life.

There are ways in which you can ensure that your school's website is not only vibrant, but stays that way.

Regard The Website As A Publishing Medium, Not A Technical One

This may seem a bit of a no-brainer, but in too many schools the 'powers-that-be' delegate the task of website maintenance to the Head of ICT. That's like delegating the job of producing the school prospectus to the Head of English, on the grounds that it uses words.

Regard The Maintenance Of The Website As A Collaborative Process

Why should only one person be responsible for generating the content, keeping it updated and publishing it? If several people were involved, and if all staff were expected to contribute to the site in some way on a regular basis (once every half-term, say), the website would almost look after itself.

Regard The School Website As The Website Of The School

The 'school' includes pupils, parents, support staff and even the local community, as well as teachers and the Principal. It includes more than the curriculum and sports activities. See the next point too.

Show What The School Is Really Like

School websites often talk about what a great job the school does, usually through a combination of lists of examination results and photos of people on a sports field or at a computer. Yawn. Why not have pupil bloggers on the website, discussing what they do and why, and what they like and don't like?

Why Not A Blog?

With that in mind, consider having a school blog rather than a website, or have a website which incorporates a blog. A blog can be updated quickly and easily, and lends itself to participation by allowing comments to be made on the articles posted.

You Can Go Further Than Articles

How about a school Social Community area in which parents can get into blogging and discussions? Obviously, it would have to be moderated, but think of the dividends in terms of goodwill and excitement.

Or How About A Weekly, Or Monthly, Opinion Poll To Engage Parents?

It doesn't even have to be about the school itself. A question like "What do you think of the new Vetting and Barring Scheme? would generate some interest, and may even provide some good ideas for the school. It should certainly give the school management a good idea of where parents stand on the issues involved.

Nice Target, Shame About The Approach

The main aim of most school websites is to attract new pupils. They have a corporate kind of aim, but not a corporate kind of approach. Most commercial websites give stuff away. It doesn't cost them much, but gives people the impression they are not just after your money.

How come I have never seen a school website that gives stuff away? For example, how about a downloadable sheet about keeping your child safe online? How about one explaining what the National Curriculum levels mean?

Don't Have A 'Latest News' Page...

... Unless you really are pretty sure that you can keep it going. There is little worse than seeing that the 'latest news' is three months out of date -- which it may be, given end of term exams followed by a long summer break.

Have A Publishing Schedule

It makes life a lot easier if you have a good idea of what you're going to write about and when. There are key times of the year, of course: reminders of holiday dates, and parents' evenings, for example. There are also key times of the week, such as setting the tone on a Monday morning.

Blog Ahead, If Possible

One of the features of a blog I now regard as a must-have is the ability to write a post and have it appear at some time in the future. It means that you can bash out a few articles all in one go when you have the time and energy, and set them to publish at the rate of one a day automatically.

Another handy feature, if you can get it, is one which 'unpublishes' articles.

Write Draft Posts

A blog post is referred to as a 'draft' if it has not been published yet. It's incredibly useful to be able to have articles written and ready to go live, but not necessarily automatically. Why? See the following point.

Be Forever Timely

Taking the above three features together, it is possible to write an article called, say, 'Big basketball match tomorrow: don't forget!', have it appear the day before the match, and then disappear on the day of the match.

As well as keeping the articles timely, and therefore relevant, it also paves the way for putting up two further articles: 'Basketball match: the big day arrives!', and 'Basketball match results'. This is where the draft articles come in. True, you can't write much detail about something that hasn't happened yet, unless your name happens to be Nostradamus, but you can write something which is almost certain to be true, such as:

'The basketball team looked resplendent in their kit as they marched out onto the pitch. Nerves? Maybe, but only their coach would know, and he wasn't telling!'

All you have to do on the day is take a quick snapshot, upload it along with a caption and a bit of text about the weather or something somebody said, and hit the Publish button.

Regard The School Website As Important

That means, giving whoever is responsible for putting it together and maintaining it or co-ordinating everyone involved some proper time to do it in. Or exemption from doing (some) cover/substitution. Or even a bit of extra salary perhaps?

14 MORE Ways To Make Your School Website Better

Around 18 months ago I published an article entitled 14 Ways to make your school website better. I took another look at the article over the weekend, and I think there is little I would change. Ning is no longer free, so perhaps were I to write the post today I’d suggest looking at this guide to the best social networking services for free alternatives. Other than that, I think it has stood the test of time pretty well, especially judging from a few people’s responses via Twitter.

 Nevertheless, there is always more we can do, and so here are 14 more suggestions for improving your school website. I do not for one minute suggest that anyone try to implement all of them! Regard these 28 points as suggestions from which you might select two or three to try out. If you can think of any more, please let me know, or leave a comment.

 SET UP A WIKI FOR PARENTS

It’s good to get parents engaged. In Building Parent Engagement in Schools, by Larry Ferlazzo and Lorie Hammond, the authors draw an important distinction between parental involvement and parental engagement. (Incidentally, I’ll be reviewing that book in the next edition of Computers in Classrooms, the free newsletter for educational ICT professionals.) Why not set up a wiki in order to learn more about parents’ suggestions for access to social networks in schools? Perhaps the wiki could be used for drawing up a code of conduct about cyberbullying.

 SET UP A SUPPORT FORUM FOR PARENTS

There’s still a lot of mileage in “old-fashioned” technology like forums. Why not experiment with a forum in which parents could ask questions of other parents? It would be interesting to see what sort of issues parents are concerned about, which they may not wish to voice to a teacher directly. It would need moderating of course – a job for one of the governors, maybe?

CREATE A FAQ PAGE

Still on the subject of parents, not everyone wants to trawl through the school prospectus to try to find out who to phone when their child is ill. These days, many people are used to looking through a Frequently Asked Questions page to find the answer they need, so that’s another way to get them coming, and returning, to the school website.

PROVIDE A LINK TO THE SCHOOL’S VIRTUAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENT

If that’s not possible or feasible, provide a parental login page, at least, from which they can access the forum, the FAQ page and the latest bulletin like “Sports lessons cancelled tomorrow” – the kind of thing you don’t necessarily want to share with the world at large.

SET UP A COMMUNITY NEWS SECTION

Many schools are hubs of the local community, so why not have a community news page? The local doctor’s surgery could put up notices, or supply them to the school’s web editor, about flu jabs, healthy eating tips and so on. Ditto safety tips from the police. An advantage of this is that the school can keep its website vibrant without having to provide all the copy (written material) itself.

SET UP A PHOTO GALLERY

This is another way of avoiding having to write stuff all the time. If your website platform allows it (most do), you can set up a page which links to a Flickr page. A snippet of code means that you can have a changing photo display without having to do anything manually once you’ve set it up – apart from uploading more photos every so often of course. You can seen an example of this sort of thing at the Writer’s Know-how website.

CELEBRATE ACHIEVEMENT IN THREE DIFFERENT WAYS

A page for examination and sports results.

A page for pupils’ work.

A page for pupil achievement, eg “Merit Award of the week”.

With any suggestions involving pupils, make sure the child protection guidelines are followed. And even then, I’d get the final seal of approval from a senior teacher if I were you.

USE MEDIA IN THREE DIFFERENT TO ENGAGE WITH PUPILS, PARENTS AND THE WIDER COMMUNITY

Set up a school YouTube channel.

Set up a school podcast.

Set up a school radio station.

These can involve the pupils – they should – involve the pupils, so there are other benefits from getting them to work together for a real audience and a real purpose. But do make sure these things are sustainable before you start, rather than announcing a weekly video bulletin, say, to great fanfare, and then allowing it to die after three episodes.

USE OLDER PUPILS

Kids don’t like listening to adults, but they often listen to other, especially older, kids. Advice on behaviour, studying, dealing with bullying are just some of the topics that could be addressed.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

How about a page which features ex-pupils? How are they getting on at their new secondary school, or university, or job? If you aim to update the page once every couple of weeks, ie twice per half term, you’d only need to line up about a dozen a year. And such a page might tell prospective parents more about the school than test results alone.

CONCLUSION

Hopefully this list has given you some food for thought. Not all of them will be possible, I realise, whether because of “political” issues, technical ones, or others, but perhaps they contain kernels of one or two useful ideas.

 

AUTHOR: TERRY FREEDMAN, EDUCATIONAL ICT CONSULTANT | WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 11, 2009 and MONDAY, JUNE 6, 2011

 

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