Do These Web Sites Work?
Hamilton Central School (New York)
The central portion of the opening screen is devoted to "useful links"--including job vacancies and a telephone directory--whereas the main menu that offers links to each school is relegated to the left-hand portion of the page. It would be helpful to move the main menu to a more prominent position, and dispense with or reformulate the useful links menu so the links are indeed useful, which they presently are not. For example, the link to the district calendar appears on both menus, but only works on one.
It is easy to navigate from the opening screen to the separate sections for each school, and from there, to individual class and department pages. And, since the main menu is carried over from page to page, it is easy to move immediately to other areas of the site.
The site map on the opening screen makes it possible to access specific information, though there are no search tools to help users, and few resources targeted separately for teachers, students, parents or administrators.
It might be helpful to add duplicate menus across the top and/or the bottom of individual pages, so there are multiple ways to access content, and also add additional submenus to narrow searches for particular topics.
Quality of the Interaction with the user
Redundant navigation options, consistent designs and integrated search tools would make it easier to find specific information. However, the resources in the teacher and department pages are particularly strong, with timely and useful content for students and parents.
The site offers an administrative directory with telephone numbers and links to Web pages for individual administrators including the superintendent. Similarly, the Web pages for teachers and the support staff can be accessed through the school sub-sections. However, the site lacks a centralized directory of contact information with e-mail addresses for the entire staff.
The home page features the opportunity for users to receive daily district news flashes by e-mail, that link to the site, but recommends that users go directly to the news page, which negates the purpose of an e-mail distribution list.
The administration pages offer up-to-date content of interest to parents and the community, including district policies, budget information, and minutes from Board of Education meetings.
Creative use of online technologies
The major portion of the site is text oriented, though most of the teacher and staff pages make use of graphics, photographs and animations. A next development step would be to expand and enhance the overall content with multimedia technology that supports district activities, including speech, music, film clips, live camera shots, online tutorials and interactive simulations.
Hinds County School District (Mississippi)
The central area of the opening screen offers undated "news" items that are not particularly timely, and the only contents in the news archives were from November. An up-to-date district news section has the potential to draw users to the site, but this area needs substantial development.
The main site is packed with almost overwhelming amounts of information, though the sections overlap needlessly. The site also links to separate school sites, but these too lack uniformity in content and presentation, and need extensive development.
The top menu remains on the screen at all times, which makes it easy to jump to specific sections--if the titles were clear--but the side menus are inconsistent, and the selection choices change dramatically from page to page.
The site offers a useful pull-down menu that links to major topics such as curriculum frameworks and the school calendar, and a pull-down menu that links to the Web pages for each district school.
Users have multiple ways to find information, but the content needs to be consolidated for easier access.
Quality of the interaction with the user
It would be helpful to scale back some of the voluminous amounts of information and re-organize the content into stronger application areas such as curriculum, personnel resources and student services. Related information now appears in multiple locations and is difficult to find.
Content might also be organized for teachers, parents and students at various levels. The site offers a combined section for students and parents, though the needs of the two groups are quite different. And there are relatively few resources targeted for students on the district or school pages.
Useful resources are presented throughout the main site, with policies, reports and information of interest to families, ranging from district report cards to daily lunch menus.
Creative use of online technologies
The separate school sites make some use of graphics and color photographs, but the pages lack uniformity in content, presentation and levels of development, and contain numerous errors.
In spite of the huge amounts of information, the archived content is generally up-to-date. However, the district and school sites need timely content that keeps users coming back, including school and district news, notice of upcoming events, and links to the community.
Odvard Egil Dyrli, email@example.com, is senior editor, Web site editor and emeritus professor of education at the University of Connecticut.