Magazine article Techniques

Spinning Schools onto the Web

Magazine article Techniques

Spinning Schools onto the Web

Article excerpt

Just a couple of years ago school sites on the World Wide Web may have been a novelty, but these days they're standard issue, experts say. More than 8,000 school sites are on the Web. Should yours be on the bandwagon?

Asking whether vocational-technical schools should have a presence on the World Wide Web is like questioning whether Bill Gates should have tinkered with technology in his garage.

As the original purveyors of hands-on, minds-on education, vocational-technical schools simply can't afford to ignore today's most potent symbol of a leading-edge organization. Web sites, e-mail and other Internet-based technologies are standard issues for today's most progressive school systems.

National statistics support this trend. School Web sites increased more than 1,200 percent in 1995 and today more than 8,000 schools in the United States have Web sites, according to Web66, an international Web site registry developed by the University of Minnesota.

"If we want to market ourselves as the school district of choice, we really need to have a place on the Web," says Elliott Levine, communications director for the Lawrence Public Schools in New York.

The challenge is getting on the Web in the most cost-effective and strategic way. Successful Web sites have clearly defined goals and are designed to meet the specific needs of the site's key audiences.

If a Web site is going to target students and adult learners, for example, online course catalogs, program descriptions, career interest inventories, counseling services, financial aid information, faculty e-mail addresses and easy-to-use registration processes make good strategic sense. If the goal is to use the site to salute your school's business partners and promote the value of vocational-technical education, showcasing successful students, along with testimonials from community leaders and major employers might be a better option.

The key is to match message, audience and medium. The Web is a great way to get time-sensitive information out quickly and cost-effectively. Developing and posting a school report card or annual report on the Web is much cheaper than printing and mailing a 20-page booklet, for example. Once the document is posted, updating or changing information is a snap. Realtors, the media and other community leaders may find this information useful; students couldn't care less. Keep in mind that low-income parents and students probably won't have Web access, so you can't abandon traditional communication channels.

No captive audiences

Web users tend to be highly motivated and attentive readers because they control the flow of information. This is both a communication advantage and challenge. Since they select the information, Web users are more likely to recall it later. As a group, they tend to be highly educated and high income. This also means they're quick to judge. If a site fails to grab their interest or if it is packed with information they don't want or need, they'll ignore it--and they may never come back.

It's important to realize up front that no one person or department has all the knowledge needed to make the site a success. A computer teacher or coordinator can supply key technical skills and software knowledge, while the district public relations professional probably is going to have the best handle on graphic design and content. Strong leadership and respect for all parties involved is essential. More Web sites have been derailed by turf battles than lack of staff or funding.

"What you give up in terms of control with a team approach, you more than gain in terms of ownership," says Peggy Remis, Web site manager for the Cooperating School Districts (CSD) of Greater St. Louis, Inc.--an education consulting business. "But you have to give people the tools and training they need to get the job done, and you have to trust and support the decisions they make. …

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