Daren White | @Ranga_EDU
In today’s digital era, school websites have become indispensable tools for educational institutions, serving as vital hubs for students, parents, and educators alike. These digital platforms have revolutionised the way schools operate and communicate with their stakeholders, offering a plethora of advantages while also presenting some challenges.
Is that really the case? Maybe 10 years ago it would have been but the pandemic and the advancement in online tools like Google Classroom, ClassDojo, Teams alongside the arrival of parental apps has changed the game and the need.
Let’s delve a little into the potential advantages and disadvantages of school websites with a critical eye. Below I have highlighted 5 of each in detail.
- Accessibility: School websites have broken down geographical barriers, allowing parents and students to access essential information from anywhere, at any time. This accessibility is especially crucial for parents who work long hours or have busy schedules.
- Communication: Effective communication is vital for a successful school. School websites provide a centralised platform for disseminating important updates, announcements, and newsletters. This can foster stronger relationships between parents, students, and teachers, enhancing the overall educational experience.
- Information Repository: From curriculum details and grading policies to extracurricular activities and event calendars, all essential information is just a few clicks away. This transparency helps parents stay informed and engaged in their child’s education.
- Homework and Resources: Many school websites now offer online portals where students can access homework assignments, study materials, and additional resources. This digital convenience enables students to stay organised and take more responsibility for their learning.
- Showcase School Achievements: School websites provide a platform to showcase students’ achievements, sports results, community activities and artistic endeavours. This can not only boost the school’s reputation, but also celebrate the hard work and dedication of its students and staff.
- Accessibility Challenges: Despite the advantages of school websites, not all families have equal access to the internet and digital devices. This digital divide can exacerbate gaps, making it essential for schools to provide alternative means of communication for those without access.
- Maintenance and Updates: Keeping a school website up to date can be incredibly time-consuming. Outdated information can confuse users, erode trust and adversely affect applications and recruitment. It’s essential for schools to allocate resources and personnel for regular maintenance and updates.
- One Way Communication: While school websites offer numerous benefits, they are generally information givers and very few allow any discourse with parents or the wider community. This is contrary to the majority of business websites that users have become accustomed to.
- Potential for Confusion: Poorly designed or confusing websites can lead to miscommunication or just plain confusion. Too many headers or too few can make it impossible to navigate a website effectively. It’s crucial for schools to ensure that their websites are user-friendly and that information is clear and accurate.
- Showcase School Achievements: The temptation to share everything on your website, including images and videos not only raises privacy issues that need to be addressed, but also page load issues. I see many school website homepages that are very ‘homepage heavy’ in that everything gets posted there so it doesn’t get missed……..which often makes it overbearing and cumbersome to navigate, whilst also taking an age to load on a mobile device. If it doesn’t load in 3 seconds, it’s pointless.
Audience and Alternative Thinking:
Understanding the diverse needs of the audience is crucial for schools to harness the full potential of their websites. Parents, students, and educators all have unique requirements, as of course do external verifiers, but parents fall into 2 distinct groups, current and prospective – each with very different needs. In this digital age we need to think differently.
Firstly, think about who your website is for?
I would argue that if you have parental communications apps or email systems working effectively (with non-digital alternatives for those that require it), then your website is at best, of no interest to existing parents or at worst, confusing them with conflicting information.
Secondly, for prospective parents, is what they really want just a digital prospectus? This could take many forms including 360º tours, videos, digital flipbooks etc, but could be guided rather than relying on often chaotic navigation of numerous pages and tabs.
Students: If you are using an LMS, then student communication can flow through here and from face to face interaction. There’s no reason why students couldn’t have an easy to access app too. If you were to examine your website analytics, I’d wager the hits from the younger demographic are almost non-existent, yet we continue to plough effort and time into maintaining the pages we think they might access.
Educators: Teachers and staff invariably have access to most things they need via the cloud or internal systems.
In conclusion, school websites need to adapt if they are to survive. To maximise their usefulness, schools must adapt their websites to the unique needs of their audience while addressing potential pitfalls.
Consider cutting your website back to minimal tabs, perhaps “About Us” (including your online prospectus) and “Statutory Information” . Ask yourselves, Do we really need any more than that?
And as for the interaction, how about incorporating a chatbot to answer those FAQs or direct enquiries to the right individual? Website users expect a chatbot in this day and age, but are schools keeping up?
Above all, the most important thing is this. If you have a website, you have to maintain it. This takes time, training, skills and awareness of the bigger picture. It’s not “an admin task” – it’s a vital strategic factor of your school and deserves the time and the team to make it work for you and your audience.