Thursday, November 01, 2012

SD57 website needs help

Here's my school district's website. My wife told me to stop complaining about it and do something about it. Fair enough.

With the recent addition of the Safer Schools link to a "LiveBinder" (great resource for anti-bullying), that brings to a total of four the number of things that have been added this school year. A list of principals, a calendar, and an enrolment report complete the list. The last superintendent's blog post was a full year ago (comments still disabled), and any other changes or interesting bits are a level or two in and pretty much hidden from view. No district logo, no interactive features, no celebratory pics or shared space for dynamic content. Stock images (very few local), and a "Soviet" design protocol. Parts of the site still in test mode after five years. What do you call that? Digital ghost town? A work in progress? We have 60 school districts in the province and our collective web presence does not rank well. The community expects a better site and experience from an organization with an annual budget approaching $130 million, bigger than the City of Prince George; a public institution focused on learning, technology, knowledge, skills, arts, and people. Let's have our site reflect the best of this, and model powerful use of educational technology.

Anyways, if this bugs you like it bugs me, let one or more trustees know about it. You can find their email addresses and phone numbers linked on the district site; no bios or statements, though! Also, feel free to leave a comment here if you want to share your thoughts on the topic.

Be constructive. Let them know to what extent the district site meets your expectations and give them a few ideas on what would make it better. They'll pass it on to the people who maintain it (not sure who that is), and more importantly to the people who decide what it contains (I guess that would be senior staff).

Here's a few free or inexpensive ideas to get things started:
  • Biographies and educational vision of people who speak for the district; trustees and senior staff (2 news ones in last year) would be a good start -- those of us that even know who they are often guess that they are passionate educators and advocates but we can't actually read anything that supports our assumption
  • A monthly story featuring the work of an ordinary or extraordinary teacher and something that is going well with his/her class; include a great picture with the 300 word write-up -- the focus could be random (ask and find out what's going on) or strategic (stories that reinforce district goals)
  • Up front pictures and short write-ups celebrating student success or achievement; link to gallery of stunning work and exemplars by students (include a template for gaining permission to publish)
  • Interactive features and a variety of ways to provide input and dialogue; make the district website a meetingplace of ideas, a source of qualitative data for stakeholders to use and study
  • Portal for the professional learning and development opportunities going on in our district throughout the year; our in-house email system has failed to make this consistent, and a public version would help share our "learning journeys" with parents and stakeholders (plus invite them to participate)
  • Space for the history of the school district; much of this work has already been done by the local Retired Teachers Association -- get their work online! Last year I noticed amazing historic photos of local one-room school houses displayed at the board office -- get these online!
  • Models of a thoughtful web presence -- links to district staff, principals, vice-principals, teachers and the tools they use (sites, blogs, twitter, pinterest, etc.) to affect/provoke/celebrate learning, share professional growth plans, or invest energy in educational discourse in a public sphere (include a standard non-endorsement statement!) 


Thielmann said...

I've had a few tweets & 1 email about this already... thanks. I looked through a few other SD websites and I think that the SD73 website is one of the best examples that we could follow for our school district website. The Kamloops site has great function, clean/attractive design, depth of content, thorough reports, relevant/dynamic links, celebration of student/staff work, trustee bios, sharing of professional development opportunities... in short it has what we're missing.

Thielmann said...

Interesting feedback from colleagues on this. One of our infotech teachers had his students sift through the district website and evaluate it using the design and content criteria they've learned about in class. It reminded me that some attention needs to be paid to the Content Management System that is used in our district. This homegrown CMS, dating back to 2008, helped get every school online, but the unwieldy system also lowered the bar for many of the sites that were dynamic and deep. It also sidelined the involvement of teachers and students in school websites and created the design problems that limit the reach of the district website. Our biggest high school, PGSS, created a work-around and embedded a functional site within the parent site to avoid the issues of the mandated CMS. We shouldn't have to go underground for technology and communication... but are we willing to do the hard work and consultation necessary to get it right?