Friday, September 14, 2012

Teacher and School Websites

Oh my gosh, school and teacher websites, are you kidding me?

It's my opinion that school-related websites are some of the worst designed and maintained sites on the entire Internet. Oh sure, you can find good ones, but I'm talking about the websites I've seen at the schools I've been at and the teachers my children have studied under. It's a joke. 

The class sites look like they were designed by, well, some high school teacher with no clue what a website is supposed to look like and feel like. They are hardly ever maintained. You click on the website, either a class or school site, and you can read the calendar items for eight months ago and see pictures of last year's graduation ceremony, if you're lucky. Oh, they tell you they'll keep their site up to date, but it must be the doormat on the priority ladder. Class sites are almost as bad. Teachers with good intentions start a website but don't have the time and/or ability to keep it up to date. It's too bad, because school websites can and should be the communication link to the community and the parents. Class websites should and can be the link between the teacher, the students, the parents and the public at large. In this day of modern communication and short attention spans, proper website management is critical. But I almost never see it happen correctly.

For me? That's what I would spend my summer vacation doing: creating the best class website I possibly could. My website would be the go-to place for students and parents on a daily basis. Students would post examples of their work, find out what they missed yesterday and what the assignment was today. They could ask the teacher questions and read previous frequently-asked questions (FAQs) to get tips on completing the work and solving problems. Students could easily link to class wikis and blogs, where they can share information and collaborate on projects. The website would have links to research sites and web tools. For the parents and community, it would be simple but comprehensive. Parents could view their children's work, see what assignments they should be working on, and how the class is progressing overall. They will have multiple options for communicating with the teacher and the school, including counselors and administrators. They can absolutely ask me, the teacher, any question at any time. All communication would be confidential.

As for school websites, they often look good, but that's about where it stops. Far too often, the information is old and irrelevant. Should we really have to tune into the local news channel to find out if school is canceled? What about that guy I heard was trying to pick up girls after school the other day? What's being served for lunch tomorrow? What was that announcement my son missed at the beginning of school today? via Facebook

Often the sites are too busy, with too many links going too many directions. What information the parents and community needs to find should be front and center, with no clutter. It's great that the band performed during halftime at the big game, but it's not worth a massive slideshow mucking up the front page of the site.

Websites, for both classes, schools and districts, are often the first thing people see. First impressions mean a lot. I'm sure there are districts and teachers that are website masters, and their sites blow away anything I could come up with. I have seen good ones, and those are the ones I use to model what I want to do. But in my world, over here in the Land of Lincoln, it's coming along very slowly, indeed.


  1. Wow, Rob! You hit a lot of excellent points in this post. District, school, and classroom sites have the potential to be great sources of information-but you are many fall short. I am planning on tackling this same topic in my blog post and "exposing" my own classroom website with its gaps and shortcomings. I think one of the things I struggle with is the amount of time it would take to maintain a truly valuable website.

    Your idea to spend the summer creating the best class website would be a great idea to get the "shell" started, then add and maintain as the year goes on.

  2. I have to say that our school does a great job keeping up with the district site, but the same issues you share above... they are not updating or putting time into quality looking sites. I have found that our online gradebook system is also underutilized by teachers when it comes to posting assignments and resources that supplement the assignments. It may be time consuming, but it is time well spent in having resources available to students 24-7. Not to mention, it is one more way of communicating with families and students so there is more accountability placed on them.

  3. The time it takes to maintain a class webpage is one of the reasons I have not set one up, yet. I don't want to be one of those you mentioned that are not up-to-date or are under construction. Maybe someday...

  4. I agree that websites are a lot of up keep. The thing that really makes websites hard for teachers is that even though teaching is a job that never stops we have personal lives to lead as well. And like me when you are switching to a new grade level almost every year it becomes even more of a challenge. Also, a lot of teachers are required to have a website by the school. When you are forced to do something that is extra and hard to do its not going to look the best.