Do These Web Sites Work?

Do These Web Sites Work?

Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. Learn what our online experts, Odvard Egil Dyrli and Gary Stager say.

Anne Arundel County Public Schools (Maryland)

www.aacps.org

Design

This site presents useful information on one of the 50 largest school systems in the U.S., but the opening screen does not specify the state or town where the district is located. Also, too many colors and fonts were used in the opening screen, which detracts from its appearance, and the content elements need to be better organized.

The main menu on the left side of the home page and the "frequently visited" menu on the right included unnecessary duplicate links to the school calendar. While the acronym AACPS can be understood in context, others used in headings such as ERO and SEMS should be defined.

--OED

The formatting in the box "From the Superintendent" is messy and confused by the use of right alignment of the text bullets and the budget icon below.

--GS

Navigation

The site is an effective gateway to the more than 100 schools in the large district, and the "QuickLinks" pull-down menu provides overview information for each school and easy access to their Web sites. Also, the top menu usually remains in place and side menus are carried from page to page, so it is always easy to move to other content areas.

--OED

Quality of the interaction with the user

The site provides resources targeted specifically to students, parents/community and teachers, with timely and useful content for each group including announcements, programs, policies, online forms and related links.

--OED

When I clicked on the Schools button, I went to a page where the text was garbled in my Safari browser. There appears to be some sort of compatibility problem.

--GS

School-to-home interaction

It is difficult, if not impossible, to find e-mail addresses for teachers, principals and school district officials. The individual school sites do not even contain direct e-mail links to the principals. As a parent, I need a way to communicate with teachers and administrators via e-mail.

--GS

The home page features content of interest to parents and the community including school safety information, district goals, a presentation on the upcoming fiscal year budget, district press releases, and Board of Education decisions.

--OED

Creative use of online technologies

Most district site pages are heavily text-oriented, though a few use graphics and photographs sparingly. That makes the content presentations less appealing to users and inaccessible to individuals who are visually impaired. Future development might also explore how multimedia technology could enhance and expand the site with audio, video, animation, online tutorials and interactive simulations.

--OED

Up-to-date information

The quality of online access among the separate schools ranges widely, from well-developed sites, to "placeholder" sites with only opening screens, to schools that do not have Web sites at all. Establishing an online presence for every school and making the content more uniform among the sites should be district-wide priorities.

--OED

Plano Independent School District (Texas)

www.pisd.edu

Design

The site has a very clean welcome page. The "New to Plano" ad on many pages takes you quickly to useful information. The site has an excellent search capability built into each page and the results include the URL and an excerpt from the matching Web page.

--GS

This is an exceptionally well organized, informative and easy-to-use district Web site, with a clean, inviting and highly functional format. Menu selections for the three major user groups are also highlighted through prominent labeled tabs that read "for Parents," "for Students" and "for Staff."

--OED

Navigation

The effective site menu remains on the screen at all times, so users never lose their way among the pages and can jump immediately to other sections. It is also easy to find specific information from anywhere in the site, since links to a search tool and a site index--arranged alphabetically for easy access--appear at the top of each page. Submenus are placed consistently on the left margins for each section--such as "Know Your School District"--and the content is so well designed that users can click every item from top to bottom and gain a comprehensive view of that area.

--OED

Quality of the interaction with the user

All site content and menus can be displayed in Spanish, by clicking a button at the top of every page, which makes everything accessible to parents for whom English is a second language.

--OED

School-to-home interaction

The site does not include e-mail addresses for teachers or administrators. This is one of the primary features I desire in a district Web site. I need to know how to contact the educators who care for my children. Also, while I am not interested personally in monitoring my children's grades, the ability to do so from the district Web site would appeal to many.

--GS

A link to the current district calendar is located at the top of every page, with hotlinks to selected items such as meeting agendas and exam schedules and an early look at next year's calendar. Separate content boxes also highlight events such as upcoming registration and school open house dates. And directories for contacting administrators are accessible through the district site, though for some reason few individual e-mail addresses are included. Directory information for teachers is available only through the school sites.

--OED

Creative use of online technologies

This site is incredibly well executed and filled with information for members of the community. It would have cost a small fortune to design and maintain. The site goes out of its way to promote the district's accomplishments, big and small.

--GS

Although this is an effective and well-designed site, it does not take advantage of online multimedia technologies including speech, music, film, and video that can take teaching, learning and communications to even greater levels.

--OED

Up-to-date information

The site is kept up-to-date meticulously, with weekly news items on the opening page and timely announcements that keep users coming back.

--OED

Odvard Egil Dyrli, dyrli@uconn.edu, is senior editor and emeritus professor of education at the University of Connecticut.

Gary Stager, gary@stager.org, is editor-at-large and an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University.


Advertisement