What is the purpose of a school web site?

This is the topic of a meeting I have today with the other technology teachers in my district. So I thought I’d prepare for the meeting by taking some time and writing my thoughts down.

I’m glad we are stopping for a moment to look at what is our objective with a school web site. What is it we are trying to communicate and to whom?

I can’t help but continue to look at the school web site Tim Lauer has produced for his school in Portland, OR. The Meriwether Lewis Elementary School web site is a great model that I think we should take a close look at.

Lewis Elementary School

I have built and maintained my fair share of school web sites over the years but with the invention of blogging software and Web 2.0 there is a new revolution that is happening on the web and I think Tim has captured it rather well on his school’s page.

What I think is a very important concept, is that Tim is the principal of the school and is in charge of maintaining the web site. Why not? The principal is the main communicator of information coming from the school. I feel they should be the web master of the schools web site. The problem is how many principals out there really have the knowledge to create and maintain a school web site? (Maybe we need to review the qualifications of a principal?)

This is where I think open-source software comes into play. Tim Lauer uses Movable Type, a free blogging (although you can pay for added features) software program for his web site. He doesn’t have it set up as a blog, but he can easily and quickly post articles that reach the audience he wants without having to do a lot of work. Write and publish…a simple two step process for getting information to the school audience.

Tim also does a great job of using free programs to benefit his school. The ‘lost and found’ pictures are kept on flickr.com a new and great place to share photos. Parents can visit the photos and see if something their child is missing is in the school’s lost and found. And how about that calendar program he is using that is easily changeable and everyone can stay up-to-date with what is happening in the school. I can see a great use for this online calendar system as this month alone there have been three changes to our printed calendar. Those changes are then e-mailed to all the staff and then a paper copy is send home with all the students talking about the changes to the calendar. Think of the paper we could save if everyone used the online calendar to confirm when events were?

So back to the question I need to answer: What is the purpose of a school web site.

A school web site’s purpose I feel is simple: To communicate what is happening in the school. To allow parents, our clients, to see deeper into what is happening in the school they are sending their child to everyday. Tim is the only principal I know who expects his teachers to post at least once a week to the web site. Every teacher must post what is happening in their classroom. What a concept! To have everyone communicating the same way via the web in one easy to find location for parents. Now that’s the purpose of a school web site!

3 Comments

  1. Lots of interesting points but a couple that can’t be left alone. Tim is the principal of the school and is in charge of maintaining the web site. Why not? Are you serious? I’ll tell you why not. Yes the principal should oversee final decisions regarding the information that goes on the website but maintain it as well? I’m no principal but from what I’ve seen, most principals have enough on their plate already and I’d just as soon have them focusing on doing a good job within the scope of their current job description rather than adding to it. Besides, making choices about what should be on a website and how best to diplay/organize the information requires some knowledge and know-how and I don’t think it’s safe to assume that most principals have either of these skills. The reason a principal has a secretary is no different: the principal has to priortize and therefore allocates the workload to others.
    You later go on to say “Tim is the only principal I know who expects his teachers to post at least once a week to the web site. Every teacher must post what is happening in their classroom. What a concept!” Ya, what a terrible concept! As teachers we nearly never stick to our original lesson plans so anything more than a rough guideline really just boils down to added paperwork that has to be uploaded during a teacher’s already hectic day. What’s worse is when administrators insist teachers send home weekly news letters recapping what has gone on. The idea of a news letter isn’t a bad idea but does it make sense to send a letter home every week especially if the students are still in the middle of a project or paper? The only people I’ve ever heard answer yes to this question have been administrators and I’ve never actually heard them say how it benifited the learners. It does seem good for PR though. I think sometimes we loose focus of what is our priority which is teaching students. If extra work (for teachers or administrators) benifits our students then it is at least worth trying but lets not loose or focus.

  2. We http://www.mjsd1.ca
    had Tim Lauer on a Skype conference during on of our bi-monthly school tech meetings. The need for more frequent updating and communication was apparent. OUr division is in the middle of a merger and so we hesitated to implement a CMS or blog approach since it’s likely all our websites will get revamped. In the meantime we installed a script called cutenews which imbeds a php include on the homepage of school sites to provide a blog like look at functionality to the websites. It will provide a good transition for schools who will likely get brand new sites in the fall.

    PS. Did you know your flickr zietgiest includes pictures of nude women? I was a bit taken back when I came on your site. Just curious if you intended that or not.

  3. Jeff,

    You make a very good point in that

    “A school web site�s purpose I feel is simple: To communicate what is happening in the school. To allow parents, our clients, to see deeper into what is happening in the school they are sending their child to everyday.”

    I would add that another part does not address parents, but students themselves and also prospective students and parents. Students access any LMS or other applications available to them through the website and prospective families search for information about the school (ours is private).
    I’d say the purpose is to communicate what the school is about and what goes on in it; it’s the public face and door into the school.
    I also agree that a CMS is critical to the job. I maintain our school’s website (http://www.glm.edu.co) and use Drupal. It was a steep learning curve, but worth it. A CMS like this allows great flexibility, especially since users can post their own content without any knowledge of HTML.
    This brings me to Reece Lennon’s comment. A principal should have someone who is in charge of maintaining the website and use it himself to post often (with all the help and support needed every time), but focus on his/her job’s busy schedule and responsibility.
    My idea is that students should be in charge, with supervision and help from a tech. person. It didn’t work for us this year, but I’ll try a different approach next time around.

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