Schools everywhere are building their own school Web sites. If you but feel overwhelmed by the apparent enormity of the task, the Education World Tech Team can help you cut that task down to size.
WHERE TO BEGIN?
"First, determine your goals and identify your audience," Lori Sanborn, technology specialist at Rancho Las Positas Elementary School in Livermore, California, told Education World. "Without a clear goal or purpose, a Web site is nothing more than a piece of paper. To make it more than that, you must be able to answer the question, 'How will having a Web site benefit our school?'
"When you have a clear answer -- whether it's publishing student work, facilitating communication within the community, or creating a global presence -- you will be better able to organize and structure your site effectively," Sanborn added.
PLAN! PLAN! PLAN!
After you've established your goals and identified your audience, our experts agreed, meticulous planning is the most important step in developing a successful Web site.
Start with the basics, said Beth Gregor, elementary technology coordinator at Pleasantdale Elementary School in La Grange, Illinois. "Be sure your Internet service provider can accommodate your Web site. Check your school's acceptable use policy, and be sure every possible Web situation is addressed."
Eve Datisman, a library media specialist -- and self-proclaimed "resourceress" -- at Washington's Forks High School, offered this list of additional factors to consider as you plan your site.
BALANCING THE BUDGET
We asked our Tech Team members about the expenses schools might incur in creating a Web site.
"My advice to any administrator would be don't buy anything at all or assign anyone to do anything about creating a Web site for your school," said Patrick J. Greene, an assistant professor of educational technology at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, Florida. "Use the free [online] resources that can connect your entire school or district without costing you a penny.
"It's paid for by a small ad space on the screen," added Greene. "Nothing your teachers or hired consultants can do, even with the best Web creation software and skills, can measure up to the high quality provided by these services."
Other Tech Team members, however, objected to any advertising at all and felt that sites created by school staff better reflect the personality of the school. "Besides," said Stew Pruslin, a third-grade teacher and technology specialist at J. T. Hood School in North Reading, Massachusetts, "as long as the actual work is being done by people who know what they're doing, it really isn't difficult at all!"
"If you decide to create your Web site yourself, you'll need two types of software -- an HTML [hypertext markup language] Web editor to create the pages and FTP [file transfer protocol] software to load pages to the Web," according to Lydia Patrick, technology coordinator at Mountain Brook Elementary School in Birmingham, Alabama. (Look up definitions of HTML and FTP in the glossary on Nerds 2.0.1.)
"Of course, you'll also need direct access to the Internet that has adequate speed," Patrick added.
Other nice-to-have, but nonessential, items recommended by Tech Team members included a good graphics CD, a source of GIFs and JPEGs, and a digital camera.
Most of the editing programs are easy to use and don't require HTML language. Mary Kreul, a second-grade teacher at Richards Elementary School in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, pointed out that "some knowledge of basic HTML coding can be helpful in tweaking possible problems or glitches that are bound to arise when you are constructing Web pages."
"In addition to budget support in the form of software to build and manage a site, administrators should provide funds so staff members can attend seminars, courses, and workshops on Web development and design," said Dave Figi, a computer teacher at Parker High School in Janesville, Wisconsin. "It would be ideal if administrators could also provide two to four weeks of paid time during the summer for staff members to organize and rough out the Web site. That way, adding to the site during the school year becomes a more manageable task."
"Our district also provides training for teachers on how to create their own Web pages," Cathy Chamberlain, a technology expert for the Oswego (New York) School District, added. "Teachers need to know how to use the program, and they need ideas on how to use the Internet effectively in their own classrooms."
AS EASY AS LOGGING ON!
After you establish Web policy, determine server capability, train your personnel, and obtain the necessary hardware and software, you're ready to design your site.
Eve Datisman provided the following tips for easing the design process. Go slowly! Start with the home page -- a clean page displaying the school's logo and identifying its geographic location -- and then add links to information you want to publish.
JUST DO IT!
At last, it's time to choose someone to manage the site! "The old phrase, 'Too many cooks spoil the broth,' applies to Web site management as well," Dave Figi told Education World. "The Webmaster will be adding to the site constantly, proofreading information, and making sure student pictures, writing, and artwork follow school guidelines. I don't believe that can be done by a variety of people. Ultimately, one person needs to oversee the entire effort. If too many people add to the site and upload to the Web, errors can easily be made.
"However, the Webmaster must make a real effort to include as much student- and staff-supplied content as possible. That will lighten his or her workload and give the site its own personality," Figi added.
Our Tech Team experts estimated that a Webmaster needs a minimum of two days to create a site and from a few minutes to a few hours a day to maintain it -- depending on the site's size and complexity.
PUTTING YOUR BEST FOOT FORWARD
Exactly what should you plan to include on your site? Tech team members provided a number of suggestions for site content, and advised developers to start with those pages they consider most important to their school and community. Possible features and topics include the following:
"The Web is a wonderful communication tool," Cathy Chamberlain told Education World. "There are so many ways in which schools can use a Web site to enhance classroom instruction and promote communication." The site that was developed for the Oswego City School District is an excellent example of one that provides almost all the features listed above. Be sure to check it out!
When you are just starting out, however, follow the advice provided by Tech Team member Fred Holmes and echoed by the entire Tech Team. "The best advice for starting a school Web site is to keep it small and manageable at first," said Holmes, Webmaster at Nebraska's Osceola High School. "Then, when you become more comfortable with creating Web pages, you can begin to experiment and expand."
"Many school Web sites have retreated to the great Web graveyard when too much was attempted too soon," Dave Figi warned.
SO WHY BOTHER?
Finally, we asked our Tech Team members whether a school Web site was worth the time and expense involved.
"It's absolutely worth it," according to Beth Gregor. "For teachers, seeing their work on the Web promotes pride in what they have accomplished. For students, the value in increased self-esteem is priceless."
"It's very much worth it," said Fred Holmes. "We get a lot of compliments about the information and links we provide our students, staff, and community members. It's also a great way for alumni and others across the country to learn what's going on at the school."
"A school Web page can provide information for everyone in the school community. It can showcase student achievements and projects; provide valuable Web links for students, teachers, and parents; and give an overview of the goals and curriculum of a school. A school Web page can be a marvelous public relations tool for a single school or an entire school district," said Mary Kreul.
"The benefits of a school Web site are many, but the one that comes to mind first is that it is yet another way to get the message home. It's good public relations for the school, and it's a medium that appeals to students," Katy Wonnacott, a teacher at Signal Hill School in Belleville, Illinois, told Education World.
"A school Web site is an excellent way to promote the positives of a school. Having pride in your school and wanting to share that pride should be the driving force behind any school Web site," Dave Figi added.
If you have decided to create a school Web page, but need more help, our Tech Team recommended these resources.
ADDITIONAL ONLINE RESOURCES
Article by Linda Starr
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