Academic journal article Planning and Changing

Designing a School Website: Contents, Structure, and Responsiveness

Academic journal article Planning and Changing

Designing a School Website: Contents, Structure, and Responsiveness

Article excerpt

Introduction

Over the past few years, as part of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) reform on the one hand, and the increased demands for school accountability on the other, more and more schools have launched a school website aimed at enhancing educational activities, supporting student-teacher communication, contributing to school marketing efforts, and fostering accountability to and collaboration with the school's constituency (Hesketh & Selwyn, 1999; Maddux & Johnson, 2006; Miodusar, Nachmias, Tubin, & Forkosh-Baruch, 2003). A large body of research on ICT-based pedagogical and educational websites (i.e., websites that focus on subject matters and learning activities) reveals the contributions of such websites to the schooling process (Kozma, 2003; Miodusar, Nachmias, Lahav, & Oren, 2000; Pelgrum & Anderson, 2001; Plomp, Anderson, Law, & Quale, 2003). However, the phenomenon of school websites, which serve the school organization in its entirety, remains relatively unexplored. Buzzwords like "E-learning," "E-teaching," and "E-schooling" have become very popular but provide no help in generating a deeper understanding of school website contents, structure, and functions.

The vagueness of school website goals is also evidenced in the metaphors used to refer to them in the educational literature: a window for the school's culture (Giladi, 2004); a virtual display window (Klein, 2005); like Hollywood movie sets with large graphics but not much solid content (McKenzie, 1997); or a tool through which schools seek to reaffirm or reconstruct their institutional identities (Hesketh & Selwyn, 1999). All these metaphors indicate the power of the potential messages school websites can convey to casual and intentional visitors, but what is actually happening on school websites?

The present study aims to start answering this question by exploring the contents and structure of school websites and their responsiveness to their school's environment. In the following sections we briefly review the literature regarding school websites, describe the institutional theory that provides the conceptual framework for the study, present the study methods and findings, and finally discuss the results and suggest practical implications for accountability-oriented school website development.

Literature Review

School Websites

Schools' access to the Internet has increased dramatically over recent years. In the USA for example, the proportion of instructional rooms with access to the Internet increased from 51% in 1998 to 93% in 2003 (NCES, 2005). It follows that there may be a corresponding proliferation of school websites as well. A school website, like any other Internet site, is constructed of multiple interlocking pages, each presenting different content. The site's design and structure depend on several aspects, such as the content layout (linear, branching, or web-like structure), modes of information presentation (e.g., text, still image, dynamic image, interactive image, sound, and video), navigation tools (e.g., thematic indexes, image maps, time-lines, iconic directional-pointers, search facilities) (ShemIa & Nachmias, 2007), and human resources (e.g., both technical knowledge and understanding of the school's culture and educational priorities) (Tubin & Chen, 2002).

Looking for architectural criteria for website evaluation, Hong and Kim (2004) suggested three main principles-structural robustness, functional utility, and aesthetic appeal-that impact user satisfaction and loyalty. Other researchers found that website quality depends on the richness of the contents (Leping & Johnson, 2005), the website's usefulness and ease of use (Selim, 2003), and the user's goals and activity levels (Hong & Kim, 2004). The quality of a school website also depends on the degree to which it fulfills the school's needs. McKenzie (1997), for example, proposed four goals for a good school website: introduction to the school, interface to outside resources, publishing of good works, and serving as a resource database. …

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