Analysis of Elementary School Web Sites

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

While researchers have studied the use and value of educational software for many years, study of school Web sites and/or their effectiveness is limited. In this investigation, we identified goals and functions of school Web sites and used the foundations of effective Web site design to develop an evaluation checklist. We then applied these criteria to a random sample of Web sites to identify the extent to which the key features were evident in them. The majority of the elementary school Web sites surveyed provided evidence of basic design principles; however, scores were not as good for structure, design, general components, and general ratings. Based on our findings, we derived and present a set of guidelines for developing and improving elementary school Web sites. We also suggest that future research efforts should examine contextual factors influencing the effectiveness of elementary school Web sites and how various stakeholders use elementary school Web sites.

Keywords

School web sites, Web presence, Elementary schools, Internet

Technology has become a critical component of everyday life. In recent years, one indicator of this has been a rise in the development and use of school web sites. This is primarily due to the steady increase in Internet connectivity of the many stakeholders in the educational process (Chen, 2002; National Center for Education Statistics, 2003; U.S. Department of Commerce, 2001). Because of this increase, concerns about the value of the content, form, and use of school Web sites have emerged, much like interest in the educational value of software appeared years ago (Higgins, Boone, & Williams, 2000; Larsen, 1995; Lee, 1987; Truett, 1984; Zane & Frazer, 1992).

In this regard, Goyne, McDonough, and Padgett (2000) discussed questions that professionals should ask when evaluating software (e.g., Is it consistent with the curriculum and learning outcomes? Does it offer the learner choices and control? Does it have high-quality technical components? Is it accessible to students?). Others have addressed the extent to which educational software was meeting the needs of teachers and students and provided guidance for structuring the evaluation process in general and special education (Forcier, 1999; Higgins, Boone, & Williams, 2000; Huff & Cooper, 1987; Spitzer, 1996). Justified largely by the pressure resulting from widespread development and use of commercially-developed products and the lack of summative or formative evaluation information, educators became increasingly more proficient critics and more determined advocates for better software for their students.

The growth of the Internet and its availability in schools around the world has been unparalleled in the history of technology and innovation (National Center for Education Statistics, 2003; Nielsen/Net Ratings, 2004; Owston, 1997; Revenaugh, 2000; U.S. Department of Commerce, 2001). This is particularly true with regard to school Web sites:

   Nationwide, 86 percent of public schools with access to the
   Internet had a web site or web page in 2002 ... This is an increase
   from 2001, when 75 percent of public schools reported having a web
   site. There were differences by school characteristics in the
   likelihood of have a web site or web page. For example, the
   likelihood of having a web site or web page was lower in schools
   with the highest minority enrollment than in other schools (76
   percent compared with 87 to 92 percent). (Kleiner & Lewis, 2003, p.
   10)

While culture and geography direct specific aspects of some school Web sites, the importance of considering general functions and goals justified the need for the general evaluation completed in our study.

Goals and Functions of School Web Sites

Elementary, middle, and high school Web sites have two primary functions: serving as information systems for site visitors and acting as intermediaries between the numerous stakeholders in the educational process (McKenzie, 1997). …