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Russo's Ramblings

A Clear and Easy Web Presence

Image licensed from iStockphoto.com

We are very used to interacting with many businesses through their website. When you call a company on the phone, you often hear, “Please visit our website…” Airlines even offer incentives if you book flights online instead of through a real person on the phone. For example, check out JetBlue’s Contact Us page and how they encourage web contact (and charge $15 more if you book by phone).

This move to the web assumes that the website is clear and easy to use. In many cases they are (kudos to JetBlue as I typically find their site easy) but not always. How many times have you been at a site and completely frustrated that you could not find what you needed?

Think about your school website now. Put yourself in the shoes of a parent or community member with little knowledge of the school, but need to find something out. How is your website set up to help them get what they need? Now think about an elementary or middle school age student. How is your website set up to help him or her get the information they need for class?

In our district, we have two distinct sites for access to information: a public website, viewable by anyone, and a private webstie, or intranet, viewable only by those with authorized access (staff, students, and registered parents/guardians). The public website contains all the information typically found on a school website, such as news, school information, and district information. The intranet focuses on information related to students – schedules, grades, class notes, etc.

What tends to happen with this type of setup is that schools post information in one or both places for parents and students. Confusion can arise if one looks on one site for the information, when it is on the other. Within the intranet, there are multiple ways to provide links. Add to this some new tools on the scene, such as wiki pages, other teacher class pages, and suddenly there is a glut of ways to communicate.

Don’t get me wrong – this is not a bad problem – it’s just that as web presence increases, we have to think about the effect on the other side. How easy is it for our users to know what is going on and find the information they need from our website(s)?

With regards to the web presence for Heim’s computer technology this year, I am going to focus it on one link from the intranet (WITS). Previously, I have been growing a few different ideas, including this blog, a wiki site, and a WITS page. This one link will provide a window to the multitude of computer tools available to students and staff. As WITS grows, it is important to keep it simple. It is also time to sort through the links available in WITS – over time the list grows and inevitably contains broken or old links.

Web tools are awesome. We live, breathe, and eat the Internet every day. We just have to be sure that our web presence remains clear and easy to use in the process.