Creating a well-Defined District Web Site: A Checklist for Administrators

Article (PDF Available) · February 2005with 12 Reads
Winter 2005 • DataBus 25
A Seven Step Guide for
Administrators
School districts are encouraging
administrators and teachers to create
Web pages to support curriculum goals
and advance communications. How-
ever, according to a recent study, only a
fraction of teachers have the necessary
skills to get their own Web sites online,
or use the Internet as an integral part
of their teaching style. In most districts,
teacher’s Web sites are scattered either on
commercial hosts or on different district-
managed hosting locations with little
regard for uniformity, common look and
feel, and consistent school identity.
Despite all the energy, money and
effort spent by school districts trying
to make their organizations’ Web site
efforts successful, reaping the benefits of a
well-defined Web portal is still an unful-
filled promise for many school district
administrators. Training and encouraging
teachers to create Web pages to improve
communication within the school commu-
nity and between the school community
and parents poses a host of difficult issues
and challenges for administrators. The
following tips are offered to help design a
functional, consistent, and well-designed
Web presence for school districts.
Step 1: Top Management
Involvement
Top management should play a strong
role in the district por tal planning process
because creating a well-designed portal
requires input from the IT department,
various functional departments within the
district, site administrators, and teach-
ers. Create a planning committee that
ensures the district portal is comprehen-
sive and has the endorsement of all par ties
involved.
Step 2: Evaluation of Needs
Before a district can implement an
effective Web por tal, it must identify
its needs thoroughly. Through Internet
research, personal interviews with staff
that will be using the site, and profes-
sional technical advice, the planning
committee should develop a precise road
map that will guide their entire process
towards success and fulfillment of their
actual needs.
Step 3: Avoid the Quick Fix
The district must avoid the quick-fix
mentality. Developing a well-designed
portal is a strategic decision requiring a
well-planned process. A piece-by-piece
patch job will not provide consistency
or ease of use and in fact could be a very
costly undertaking that in the end will
frustrate everyone involved.
Step 4: Have a Proactive Plan
A well-designed district portal should
encourage communication between teach-
ers, between the district and the parent
community, and between teachers and
students. Have a plan in place that will
motivate and guide teachers, students
and parents towards adapting the new
technology and taking full advantage of
the online medium. The plan should also
identify who will be in charge of imple-
mentation.
Creating a Well-De ned
District Web Site:
A Checklist for Administrators
By Mohsen Attaran, Ph.D.,
Professor of Operations
Management, California State
University, Bakers eld
■ ■ ■
Despite all the energy,
money and effort spent
by school districts
trying to make their
organizations’ Web
site efforts successful,
reaping the benefits of a
well-defined Web portal
is still an unfulfilled
promise for many school
district administrators.
■ ■ ■
Step 5: Tap outside
professional services
Consider outsourcing the devel-
opment process to a qualified
company that provides experience
and expertise in designing communica-
tion portals for school districts.
Step 6: Use E-Rate
Starting July 1, 2004, Web hosting is “E-ratable.” Web
hosting is funded as a priority one service, so your district will
pay only a fraction of the actual hosting costs according to your
district’s e-rate funding percentage. Be sure to request “Web
Hosting” on your form 470.
Step 7: Appropriate Training
If you outsource the development process, be sure that the
company you are working with provides training, technical
assistance and documentation. If you are developing your own
communication portal, make sure your IT staff has a plan to edu-
cate your entire district on the new technology.
A Checklist for Success
The following actions will help you create a well-defined
district portal and eliminate the critical mistakes made in the
design/implementation process:
Promote a Consistent District Identity: Make sure your dis-
trict Web site, including all schools sites, maintains consistent
standards. That includes “look and feel” content presentations
and overall presentation.
Flexibility in Site Design and Functionality: Your district/
school portal should have unique site designs resembling the
theme of your site/district. The Web portal including its sys-
tems operations should be tailored to your unique functional
process.
Robust and Flexible Architecture: Make sure the portal is
“browser independent ” (Microsoft and Netscape) and that it
is Mac and PC compatible.
Web Friendly: The district Web portal should be easy to use
and provide navigation tools to let site users find information
quickly and easily.
Promote Active Participation by Teachers and Staff: Your
district/school portal should provide an easy-to-use, template-
driven tool for teachers and staff to create their own Web
sites.
Rapid Startup Time: The technology you choose should allow
your district/school sites to launch the new portal after a few
short weeks, rather than months of development time.
Easy to Learn and Train: Your teachers and staff should be
able to manage their own sites as easy as filling out simple
forms and clicking on options without requiring technical
skills.
Minimize Technology Costs: Eliminate the need for hiring
a permanent Web czar and system and database administra-
tors by outsourcing your Web portal. Technology costs can be
minimized by purchase or by affordable lease or annual soft-
ware maintenance subscriptions.
Multiple Hosting Options: Make sure hosting can be at your
district or out-sourced to selected vendor hosting sites.
26 DataBus • Winter 2005
Winter 2005 • DataBus 27
Scaleable Design: Make sure your Web por-
tal allows sites to add new modules without
major development costs. This will guarantee
the portal can scale to handle future modifi-
cations or addition of new modules.
Vendor Flexibility: A successful product
depends on the vendor’s willingness to mod-
ify their por tal through an iterative process
according to the present needs and specif ica-
tions and as needs and deficiencies become
apparent during the testing phase.
Protect against legal liability: Utilize secure
content management methods to protect your
firm from exposure to legal liability. Screen-
ing e-mails for sexually explicit content and
filtering unwanted spam e-mail are recom-
mended.
Mohsen Attaran (mattaran@csubak.edu) is
the author/co-author of three books, more than
80 papers and 10 commercial software pack-
ages. As president of Interactive Educational
Services, Inc., Professor Attaran serves as an
educational consultant for the National Tax
Sheltered Accounts Association Educational
Institute and for the National Institute for
Pension Administrators. He provides e-Busi-
ness solutions to local education entities and
to local/national firms. He can be reached at
mohsen_attaran@firstclass1.csubak.edu.
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