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How frustrating it is when things don’t work. Online shopping websites and needed databases fail to deliver on their promises. You end up screaming, “Why can’t I just do it on paper!” Now imagine parents trying to enroll their children or pay for textbooks or lunch accounts as the school’s website loads slowly, doesn’t work in their browser, or is impossible to navigate. It’s perhaps worse for students whose assignments are connected to online instruction or digital textbooks and who are locked out because of complex passwords, virus protections, or firewalls.

Summers spent in curriculum development and modification are valuable for learning, but they involve considerable committee work and often show no obvious, immediate benefit to parents. Here’s a different effort for your school: Clean up your websites and databases so that they’re easy to understand and navigate.

The project will involve a committee of parents, administrators, tech support, students, and teachers to eliminate places where unneeded information is collected, multiple forms are required, the same information is entered several times, and confusing directions are in place. Over years, schools add new fields or subsequent screens and forms for a limited purpose. These can become frustrating to those we serve. This article has one sole purpose: To make your school’s website and technology user-friendly. No other issue should be considered—not PR, not artistic merit, not displays of fancy multimedia, not some set of standards. None of the stuff website developers add as “flash and dazzle” when promoting their efforts.

An easy yardstick to measure against is how your school website looks compared to the complexity of filing taxes or changing health insurance. Surely your school can do better. Here are five specific areas to examine:

  1. Design. The opening page is inviting with clear, logical direction; connection; consistent graphical elements; and a background that enhances readability. Newly updated information is clearly identified and individuals are specifically tasked to ensure it stays current.
  2. Technical Details. The website works and is scaled to all browsers and mobile devices; loads quickly over a variety of connectivity methods; is accessible to all; and has a text-only mode with multimedia resources that work and avoid requiring end users to install additional applications. Every link to another site is double-checked to ensure it works properly.
  3. Security. The website is secure at different levels and has access requirements. For example, students can access assignments and post completions. Still, students cannot change grades or access other students’ records. Others cannot access student information. Online databases have different levels of access for parents (to update their contact information), teachers or coaches (to see specific needed information about students in their classes or on their athletic rosters), counselors, and administrators.
    1. If your site involves “commerce” for fees, lunch accounts, etc. where financial data is transmitted, extra concern and protection is involved.
    2. Authentication involving log-ins, passwords, and levels of access must be carefully thought through, often with different levels even for different individuals.
  4. Professionalism. The site is thoroughly professional with regular attention to spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Here’s a case where work assignments must be made so that it becomes one person’s obligation, not something that everyone is expected to do—and in the end, no one does.
  5. Relational Databases. Users are not required to enter and re-enter the same information several times. Opportunities for errors and confusion are minimized. Databases need to be relational. Clear places for users to review the information should be available, but having to re-key everything is a tedious nuisance.

If you’re looking for a place to get started, here are a couple websites:

  • Dr. Christie’s Web Site Evaluation Rubric 1: http://alicechristie.org/edtech/webeval/r1.html
  • Pingdom Website Speed Test: http://tools.pingdom.com/fpt/

Thought for the Week

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