Wednesday, 22 June 2011

School websites - have they got over-complicated?

The type of website that a school has can say a great deal about the school. Traditionally, schools have opted for a menu driven website which does all - it is the school's display window to the outside world, it has navigation and communications features, links to prospective parent/student and employment information, links to the various departments, entry points for students, staff and perhaps parents, newsletter or blog displays, perhaps a media gallery.
Sometimes you can see a lot of what the school is up to, other times you need to login for almost any bit of information - an open-to-closed dimension. Often information is hard to find, ending up down some one-way road into a website and no choice but to step-back to get to where you were. Nearly always, complicated.
We are splitting our website into three. The idea is to recognise three separate functions and then provide the type of website for each that meets the needs of the function.
1. Display window to the outside world - information for others, clear to find, split by type of user (prospective parent, prospective teacher, other information) and eye-catchy.
2. A navigation and communications portal - a clear method of finding where you want to go, an integrator of all things to do with navigating and communicating. Functional more than glossy.
3. A learning portal - a place where student or teacher (eventually parent) can go to find the learning/teaching specifically for them. Functional but attractive and leading you to learning.
We hope for simplicity, ease of navigation and of finding things - we have the summer break to get it done.
Later: thumbing through the illustrations in Patrick McNeil's "The Web Designer's Ideas Book" (2007, How Books, Cincinnati, Ohio), particularly the bits on structure, provides some language to describe the above. He includes the following as types of web structures:

  • Horizontal scrolling
  • Tabs
  • Three Buckets
  • One Page
  • Modules
and we could add
  • Vertical Scrolling (what most websites are)
  • Massive Menus
The main page therefore, is a Three Buckets Page, the display window is One Page with Tabs, the navigating and communicating page is Massive Menus and Modules, and the learning portal will likely be One Page showing all the possibilities for each type of learner (student, staff, parent).

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