Do These Web SitesWORK?
Rocky Point (N.Y.) Schools
The inviting opening screen uses color and graphics effectively, and is well organized into key sections. Welldesigned banners with the district name, address and telephone number are carried over to section pages, which keeps the name of the system prominent. The site is packed with almost overwhelming amounts of district, school and community information, but also provides a useful site map and search tool. However, it is not always clear why certain content appears in some sections rather than others. For example, sections such as resource center and educational resources seem to overlap needlessly. The many pages are consistently appealing and effective. A few unusual elements are used occasionally, though, such as the annoying "dot animations" that follow cursors. -OED
Some school Web sites make you feel like a new kid who can't find anything: the library, the attendance office, and so on. The Rocky Point Schools site is definitely not one of those. Here, on the homepage, the directory of topics is handsomely designed. And under each topic are subtopics, many of them clickable, as well; e.g., School Profile, Directions, Community Involvement, District Phone/Fax Numbers ... And if this grand menu design isn't enough, the site map reads like a triplecolumned table of contents. -CS The site is very easy to navigate, and offers multiple avenues to get to specific information. These include hotlinked topics under major section heads on the opening screen, and menus at the top and bottom of subsection pages. The prominent site map also makes it convenient to overview site contents and jump to selections without paging through menus, and the integrated search tool allows users to find content by keyword. -OED
QUALITY OF THE INTERACTION WITH THE USER
The site offers an amazing selection of district documents, policies and hand- books, particularly in PDF form, which may add an additional barrier for some users, but many resources are also displayed in html format. It might be good to scale back some of the voluminous amounts of information, however, and re-organize some of the content for user groups including teachers, students and parents. There is a combined section for students and parents, but the needs of the two groups are quite different. -OED
District resources useful for parents and students are presented throughout the site, and everyone is kept well informed about policies, events, activities and information of interest to families ranging from sports schedules to daily lunch menus. The site offers searchable directories for contacting administrators and staff, and an e-mail link to the Webmaster for questions, comments and suggestions. -OED
If it sounds like a lot of work updating a long page like this, quarter by quarter, keep this in mind: the work of getting a referendum passed is much easier if the word is out in the community that your school is a great place. Starting from scratch is deuces hard. Think of a current, engaging, and informative Web site as an investment in the well-being of your school. -CS
Wilmington City (Ohio) School District
The central portion of the opening screen consists of district news announcements with few Web links, whereas the main menu is relegated to the left-hand portion of the page. It would be helpful to move the menu to a more prominent position, and link headlines for the news items to a separate page with room to develop the content. Also, the menu sections targeted to students and parents offers useful but limited resources, and site content targeted to teachers and administrators should be better differentiated. It would also be helpful to make design elements more consistent from page to page, since the sections for each of the five schools vary significantly. A disclaimer on the opening screen states that the Web site is "now and always will be a work in progress," and acknowledges that areas are incomplete and others will be developed. It would be better to promise less and deliver more. -OED
The design of the Wilmington site has not made the jump from print to Web site design yet. All the pages are standard newsletter layout-and conservative at that. -CS
The site provides valuable district and school information, but specific content is not always easy to find, and there is no search engine or site map to help users. While the main menu is carried over to major section pages, which makes it easy to move to other areas of interest, it would also be helpful to title each of the pages to let users know where they are among the selections. -OED
QUALITY OF THE INTERACTION WITH THE USER
Page selections are painfully slow to load, especially when paging backwards and forwards through earlier selections. Since the lack of menus forces users to return to popup screens to move to other content, even within sections, it is easy to get lost. -OED A major point that makes tech people in schools wince, but must be said: The site has to be 100 percent everyday. Five years ago, the thinking among school administrators was that a site would be a nice service for community-an add-on. Now, the site is the school the way Amazon is a bookstore. By the time word circulates that a parent has called and said, "Something's wrong with your Web site," a couple dozen community people have discovered the same thing, but were too busy (or annoyed) to alert you. Imagine 30 adults dropping into your building on a bad day and drawing their own conclusions. That's what happens when visitors go to your site and its shirt is untucked and shoes don't match. See that your site is healthy and dressed for work everyday. -CS
The "teacher and staff spotlights" is a good idea for generating community interest, though only one individual is featured so far. Parents would appreciate having links to class Web pages with curriculum information and examples of student work, but most of these are not yet developed. -OED
CREATIVE USE OF ONLINE TECHNOLOGIES
The site is quite text oriented, though many of the pages include graphics and photographs. A major next step would be to enhance the content with multimedia elements related to district activities, including speech, music, film clips, live cameras, online tutorials and interactive simulations. -OED
The district features weekly highlights on the opening screen, and provides searchable district calendars that can be viewed by date, week or month. It also offers an up-to-date athletics section with sports schedules and competition results, and individual school pages are kept current with news and announcements. However, other areas need updating, such as the the parental advice for Halloween night. -OED
Web site evaluation panel:
Odvard Egil Dyrli is senior editor and emeritus professor of education at the University of Connecticut.
Charles Shields is a contributing editor and a 20-year veteran educator.