In reality, it turns into a mess unless the website is organized. And teachers are not necessarily good website architects[*].
The school may have a website. Good. In a content management system like Drupal. Okay. With pages for every class, a news system, etc. Not so bad.
But then some teachers may use a separate Moodle.
And some other teachers may use a separate Google Apps or Google Sites site,.
So, for class #1 you have to go to the Drupal site. For class #2 you have to go to the Moodle. For class #3, the homework is posted on the Google Sites site, but there's some background info on the Moodle. And, oh yes, still other stuff on the Drupal.
AAARGH!!!! I can't remember which webtool - Drupal, Moodle, Google Sites - to use for any particular class. Yes, I may be a Luddite parent - but I am a reasonably web.savvy Luddite parent.
And it's not just me, the Luddite parent, who finds this confusing. The students do too. Not just my kid: I have had a teacher complain to me that this teacher keeps telling the class to use the Google Sites site for the class, but the students never seem to understand. Could it be because this teacher is their only teacher using Google Sites instead of Drupal or Moodle, and the kids naturally look to one place? Perhaps if this teacher created a class page in standard place on the Drupal or Moodle page, and linked to the Google Sites site for his class? It might also help the Luddite parents.
Note that above at the [*] I decided to say "website architect" or "website organizer" rather than "website designer". Website designers, at least the not so good ones, often concentrate on visual flashy effects. School websites have plenty of that. What they seem to lack is organization, or architecture.
Note: it's not just a question of installing a new content management system. They already have more than enough. Note that I am not saying "too many" - I am saying "more than enough". I am not against using different CMSes. But, if you do, you need to link them together, so you can get from one to the other.
Here is a dream, a suggestion a modest proposal for school websites:
(0) Have a front end, in whatever CMS you want. Drupal, say.
(1) Allow the teachers to create sites in whatever other CMSes they insist on using. Moodle. Google Sites. Whatever.
(2) But insist that there be a classroom page created on the front end site (Drupal, in this example). If nothing else, it should point to where on the other CMSes the real classroom contents.
Note that I don't mean just with text saying "some teachers use the Moodle or other tools". Which basically means that you have to figure out how to get there on your own. No, I mean a real, clickable, link to that other site. If you can't create a link into that other site, well... (IMHO that's the only reason to forbid using a different tool.)
More on the same lines: Use dates, so that stale data does not keep rising to the top.
I keep clicking to links and URLs that say stuff like "Fourth Grade Science". But it turns out that it was 4th grade science for 2008. Or last years' class. Or ...
A page identifier like "4th grade science" is really a floating identifier. At any particular time it should point to something like "4th grade science 2011-2012". Every year, it should be updated.
I'm quite happy to have the old years' stuff remain on the website(s). It's nice to look at. But, I don't like it getting in my way when I am looking for this year's stuff.
Perhaps "News" should expire after a while?
I.e. I am not at all sure that class presentations for history class from two years ago are still "News". More like "Olds". Again, useful for reference, but a time waster when I, am a parent, am trying to find what is really new at my child's school website.
In my dreams: wouldn't it be nice to have a page you or your child could log into, that contained links to the particular class webpages for all the classes your child is taking?
Actually, my effort to do that myself - to create a wiki/Evernote/whatever page, pointing to all of the key information on my child's school website - is what inspired this post. It's darned frustrating finding it.
Hypertext systems like the web have great potential. But they are a pain to use if disorganized.
It's hard to keep them organized.
Search engines like Google are the saving grace for the real web. But Google is not allowed to index a school website with possibly sensitive information. Most CMSes have their own search, but when you have multiple CMSes, this doesn't help much.
It would be nice if each school ran its own private Google indexer on its various websites and CMSes. (Hmm, Google, maybe that would be a nice public service? Or are you hell bent on getting as many schools as possible to use Google Sites and Apps, giving non-Google Drupal and Moodle the cold shoulder?)
But even if there was decent search for school websites, some modicum of organization is desirable. I think what I suggest is pretty basic: (1) All class webpages in a fixed place, linking to whatever other websites or services the teacher chooses to use. (2) With dated content content, and floating labels - ("4th grade science 2008-9" versus "This year's 4th grade science".)
Nothing that I say here is specific to schools. This is just good website design - or should I say "architecture" - for a heterogeneous system.
Nothing that I say here is critical of school IT. School IT just sets up the system - the teachers provide the content. The only slight criticism is that IT should enforce the very minimal standards that I suggest. Perhaps school IT should set up the default classroom pages on the primary website. Teachers should be responsible for linking to whatever other non-standard website technology they choose to use.
I just had a thought about why this schizophrenia arises aty school websites.
Teachers are often not the most sophisticated web.users, whether in their own college days, or afterwards.
In college, teachers probably used whatever their university IT department provided. And university IT departments are often pretty good, in particular good at providing services to unsophisticated users (faculty and students)
But different universities have different CMSes. Some use Drupal, some Moodle, Google Apps and Google Sites increasingly common.
So a newly graduated teacher is used to whatever they used at school. And is also used to having reasonably good IT support.
But when they start teaching at a K-12 school, you get teachers who graduated from different university programs, each used to different CMSes. And they all want to use what they are familiar with. Moreover, the K-12 school IT, although perfectly competent, is NOT as fledged as that of a university IT department.
I am sure that large school districts enforce website standards: e.g. they probably tell their teachers that Moodle is the only CMS supported, use it or else. Makes it easier to organize. However, that is not true for the schools that I have interacted with. And I remain an advocate of heterogeneous systems. It;s just that they require a certain minimum amount of work.
I should probably volunteer to help my kid's school organize its website.
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