Designing a School Web Site: Part 3
Last month we introduced some ideas about designing a web site for a school. Navigation was key to this and a mixture of dynamic and static content was important. This month, we’ll look at some nice additions to web sites that can help with communication with parents and the wider community.
When designing a school web site, one has to think about parents and what information they want to get access to quickly.
On my school’s web site, one of the prominent features is a diary, which shows the school’s next 5 items on the school calendar.
In our case, our diary is placed on the front page and automatically updates itself from our Google Calendar using a special plugin for WordPress. However, if you are designing your web site in a different package, one can easily get the code for displaying your calendar from your Google Calendar sharing settings. If you don’t have a Google Calendar, simply popping in the information manually is just as good!
Another thing that schools can do to communicate with parents is to post up any letters, policies and newsletters on to our web site. This is a simple enough process and can spell an end to notes getting lost in the bottom of schoolbags. My school publishes a newsletter once per month and it is uploaded to the Internet using the site Scribd.com. Parents can read newsletters as far back as July 2008, two months before the school opened!
Policies are another handy thing to have on a school web site. Parents can have access to any policy they need without having to ask the school. Many schools are starting to put up their policies now.
A contact form is another way for parents and the wider community to interact with the school. Creating forms is getting easier all the time. Depending on the package you use to design your web site, there are different ways to do this. Any contact form should have sections for the user’s name, email address and comments at very least. Other fields could include a contact phone number, a list of common questions, etc.
If your school has a YouTube, Twitter or Facebook account, there are tools to show your latest updates on the school web site.
I hope these tips will be of use to your school. Last month we were contacted by Crehana NS to see if we could offer our advice to improve their new web site. The school is based in Co. Waterford.
Above is a screenshot of the home page. As you can see, the colour scheme chosen is nice and subtle. The text chosen is easy to read too. The menu is well placed on the left hand side and it is easy to access the different pages on the site. The front page has a few parts to it.
Firstly, there’s the top banner. This banner is is simple and has the name of the school is big writing and the name in Irish below. There is no school logo in the banner. Rather than putting the name of the school in Irish, the second line might be better suited to putting the address of the school so users would easily tell what county the school is in. (I had to go to the Contact page to find out where Crehana was)
Under this there is a ticker feed, which simply welcomes users to the web site. It is a little bit distracting and could be changed to a static welcome. A nice touch is displaying the day’s date, which automatically changes each day.
The main content of the front page is divided into three. The top left gives a welcome message, the top right is a large graphic of the school logo and the bottom part tells people that the web site is under construction. I would have a few suggestions around this front page.
There is heavy usage of clip-art on the front page. I think it would be better to use real photographs of the school, for example one photograph of the school and another photograph of the children doing an activity. It gives the site a more professional look. (see image below)
I’d also move the logo to somewhere at the top to blend in with the banner. I also suggest that schools should never use an “Under construction” label or graphic. These days, a school web site is always under construction, being changed on a regular basis. Instead of the graphics there, I would suggest adding some dates coming up or post the latest news. One can even use the space to “show off” some of the school’s achievements.
I would suggest throughout the web site changing all the clip-art to photographs, where appropriate. The actual content of the web site is excellent and really well thought out. There is a lovely story about the history of the school and some great photographs of school activities.
The parents’ page provides very useful information and this is laid out extremely well. The enrollment page is also well done and utilises forms in a good way. A special page for Green Schools has yet to be completed but I would suggest filling it with project work from the children along with photographs of it in action.
The Kids’ Corner section of the web site is dedicated to showing the different things going on in the individual classes. As I said in my previous article, this can be a dangerous thing to do as it puts pressure on teachers to keep “their” class page up to date. On this particular web site, one class has nothing on it and another hasn’t been updated for 6 months. It is often better to bring all classes together in one page – perhaps the front page being the most dynamic.
In our next issue, we’ll be looking at another school’s web site. If you found this advice helpful, please feel free to ask us to take a look at your school’s web site and we’ll try to suggest some ideas to help. Congratulations to St. Crehan’s NS on having a great web presence and for being brave enough to be the first school to allow us to review. I hope our suggestions are constructive.