DO THESE WEB SITES WORK?

DO THESE WEB SITES WORK?

Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. Learn what our new editors Ken Royal and Zach Miners say

Mankato Area (Minn.) Public Schools www.isd77.k12.mn.us

DESIGN

The home page is devoted almost entirely to links to site information areas and misses opportunities to make the opening screen functional and inviting. The key central portion of the home page is a random list of "Recent Updates," including a "Back to School" newsletter that was still up in February. This page needs to be reformulated and developed. -Ken Royal

The "100 Best Communities" designation on the home page is impressive, but it should be hot so users can click on the graphic and get more information. The meaning of the "Smart Starts @ Your Library" section is also vague and needs to include descriptive information. -Zach Miners

NAVIGATION

The main menu is relegated to the left margin of the page but should be more prominent. The pop-up menus for most of the topics are effective, though it is not possible to jump to the various sections without choosing one of the subtopics. The site also offers content that is differentiated for user groups: parents, students, educators and the community. -KR

The general search tool is positioned properly at the top of the page, but it doesn't work. -KR

The site needs to be better organized by priority areas; for example, the Organic Turf Grass Project is presently given greater importance than the events calendar. -KR

Clicking on the district banner on various pages brings users back to the home page, but the logo does not appear on every page, and the "Home" buttons do not work, so it is often difficult to return. -ZM

QUALITY OF THE INTERACTION WITH THE USER

Many of the pages are cluttered and unorganized, and users must take too long to figure out where important information is located. While the various calendars could be combined into a separate section, no information seems to be posted on the so-called interactive district calendar. -KR

Content such as the information booklet and school news is presented in PDF form, which adds another step and is slow to load, so it might be better presented through HTML. -ZM

SCHOOL-TO-HOME INTERACTION

The e-mail search tool for the staff directory is useful, but it should be expanded to include phone numbers. -ZM

The district events calendar works well, with links for each individual school, but it also includes information on registering for community education classes, which should be placed elsewhere. -ZM

CREATIVE USE OF ONLINE TECHNOLOGIES

Beside the Mankato movie overview, the student online data retrieval and PDF pages, there isn't much in the way of current or creative technology at the site. Most of the pages are heavily text oriented and use graphics, photos and other media only sparingly. -KR

The videos on the "Superintendent/District Info" page offer useful segments on topics such as gifted support services. The nine-minute district video on the home page is informative but is only available in RealPlayer format, and the RealPlayer download link doesn't take users to the appropriate page. -ZM

The "Continuous Improvement" page under "District Info" contains downloadable files that are labeled as Word documents but are actually TXT files. -ZM

UP-TO-DATE INFORMATION

Updating the content seems to be a problem throughout the site, and many pages have not been updated recently. -KR

The "Recent Information" section offers useful and well-designed information brochures for each Mankato school that need to be highlighted and widely distributed. -KR

Although the design could be enhanced, the school board pages offer valuable information including policies, committee assignments, meeting agendas and minutes. -ZM

Dubuque (Iowa) Community Schools www.dubuque.k12.ia.us

DESIGN

This site is packed with almost overwhelming amounts of district, school and community information linked to an opening page that is bright and alive with short overviews, colorful headings, inviting photos, graphics and video clips. -Ken Royal

The district mission statement is in a box halfway down the home page, and "Learning Competencies" and "Belief Statements" are placed toward the bottom of the long home page. It would be good to group such related content, perhaps on a separate page, and make it more prominent. -Zach Miners

There are two different links for the same credit card transaction page on the home page, which could be combined into one item. -ZM

Streaming video is a staple of the site, so there is no reason why the link to the video archive should be relegated to the bottom of the home page. -ZM

The home page desperately needs to be streamlined. The many links seem to be placed in random locations throughout the page-some are even duplicated-and scrolling all the way to the bottom is the ultimate test of willpower. The sitemap offers a more comprehensive view of the same content, which might be useful in redesigning the home page. -ZM

NAVIGATION

The search tool is almost a quarter of the way down the home page on the left margin, but it is redundant since a search button is at the top of the page. -ZM

The site offers a useful "For Parents Only" section, with a link to a guidance and counseling directory. -ZM

QUALITY OF THE INTERACTION WITH THE USER

The site offers separate buttons to play video selections using Windows Media Player or RealPlayer. The site is quick and responsive, and content is accessible for users with all levels of connection speeds. -KR

The "New to the District" section in the left margin of the home page should be reworked to include more than just a calendar, and it needs to be in a position where new users can easily spot it. -ZM

A few sections are no longer hyperlinked, such as "Driver Education" in the left margin of the home page. -ZM

SCHOOL-TO-HOME INTERACTION

The site offers a very useful nurse's page, where you can find everything from medication policies and immunization requirements to information on food services, with e-mail links to nurses in each school. -ZM

Teacher Web pages are limited and scarce and offer few in-classroom views for parents and community visitors. The site also offers relatively few hyperlinked e-mail addresses for individual teachers. -KR

The site offers a valuable password-protected forum for district educators called "The Hub," with online tools, forms and related resources pertinent to the professional staff. -ZM

The "Quick Reference Guide" for building-level contact phone numbers is not a guide at all but a page of instructions for accessing voicemail. -ZM

The site offers a variety of Web-linked services, including convenient credit card options for parents to pay student fees online, and an online print center for the professional staff. -ZM

There is no area of the site devoted to information and statistics about student achievement, which is vital information for most parents. -ZM

CREATIVE USE OF ONLINE TECHNOLOGIES

The photographs on the site are excellent, and streaming video is used effectively (Dubuque Community Schools Television) for a variety of school topics from pets in the classroom to a production of Guys and Dolls. Users can click most photos for larger views, and video is accessible for all media players and Internet speeds. -KR

There is a Webcam for the new George Washington Carver Elementary School construction project, which streams live video in real time from the site. -ZM

Users can subscribe to the "SchoolTRAK" service and receive text messages and e-mail notifications on school closings due to inclement weather. -ZM

The interactive school boundary map is a good idea, but it is buggy and doesn't provide a way to navigate back to the home page. -ZM

The home page includes a Spanish language switch that instantly translates everything on the page into Spanish. But once you click on the links for the actual stories or resources, everything goes back to English. -ZM

UP-TO-DATE INFORMATION

There is also little indication when pages were updated, which makes it difficult if not impossible to distinguish old content from new content. -KR

The site includes a useful archive of featured stories from 2000 to 2006 and an archive of minutes from school board meetings. -KR

The cultural advocacy group site features videoclips and photos from this year's Martin Luther King celebrations, and highlights from previous years. -ZM

Ken Royal, kroyal@edmediagroup.com, is associate editor.

Zach Miners, zminers@edmediagroup.com, is assistant editor.


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