Normalised Use of the Digital & School Websites

Debbie Northway from Ipswich in Queensland asked after the last post if I could point her in the direction of some exemplary sites. In response I wrote:

Thanks for the question.

Had the chance to reflect upon it last night

Tis very important because I suspect it may well be a question that has never been addressed before – hence my replying both to you and the list.

Rather than pointing you to specific sites – which as mentioned I’m reluctant to do for a number of reasons – I suspect it would help your quest more if I made a number of observations you could build upon.

Thus far most educational administrators, the bureaucrats – and sadly politicians – have regarded schools as places of constancy and continuity, where nothing really changes and where they can continue to apply ‘one size fits all’ solutions.

The ‘cookie cutter’ website reflects that thinking.  So too does the base most are built upon. They were never designed to accommodate on-going rapid change or the plethora of purposes for which they can be used.

The reality, that all on this list full well appreciate there is now an immense – and indeed ever-widening difference between schools, with some still firmly staying with their paper operational base and others that have long left that mode of schooling, that have normalised the use of the digital across their total community and which are operating in a fundamentally different networked paradigm.

In contemplating one’s school website the key is to recognise every school is unique, with its own distinct context, community, resource base, size, leadership and staffing mix, all at different points in their evolution.

The kind of site employed by a small regional primary school with limited staff compared to that of a 2,000 student multi-campus school will, and ought be significantly different.

One needs a site apposite for one’s situation, the school’s educational agenda, the principal’s thinking and where the school is at and where it wants to be operationally.

That said there are a number of common attributes that our research has revealed hold with all schools, small and large.

The principal has to commit to the on going resourcing, operation and evolution of the website.

Significantly every one of the websites we examined in those schools that had normalised the use of the digital was employing what we called a digital communications suite, which had at its core the website and which was integral to the everyday workings of the school.

That communications suite was a tightly integrated, multi-faceted, multi-way facility, built around an integrating website, with personalised communication with all within the school’s community and a complementary set of social networking facilities that allowed the school to take full advantage of the efficiencies, economies, productivity and ultimately the synergies possible in a digital world, and in particular the student’s personal technology.

The suite is integral to the school’s everyday collaboration with all within its it’s community, in and outside the school walls and as such needs to be a facility all can readily use and access.

While other might want to comment these are suites to be used by all, and as such ought not be simply the domain of a school promotion’s unit or a contracted web designer.

They all used some type of WTSWYG platform able to accommodate rapid on-going change, that required little specialist know how to operate, could be used by all members of the school’s community and most importantly could be seamlessly integrated with other ever-emerging facilities.

Significantly most were inexpensive that made extensive use of free or inexpensive Web 2.00 facilities or apps.

All had an operational overseer – often from the information services, instructional technology or iCentre team, who were allocated the requisite time and support – but all also were designed to be used by all members of the school community from the very young upwards.

That to which I contribute allows three of us as community members to work on our weekly contribution outside the school walls, to post it several days before its due use and for the work to be readily integrated with other contributions in the weekly multi-media communiqué with the school’s community.

That particular school in a village setting has a commitment to collaborate with its community in the 24/7/365 education of its kids and so includes in that communiqué information on both school events and those being conducted by local organisations for the kids.

All incorporate in the communiqués a regular, sizeable body of material on the school’s information services.

Each school, and in particular each school principal has to make the call when the school should open its operations for scrutiny, take away the password block and trust the teachers, the students and parents.

It is a significant decision but vital if the school wants close, normalised collaboration between the school, its homes and its community.

What needs to be borne in mind on contemplating such a website one has to do the requisite homework and address basics like having parent permission to show student’s photos and ensuring you always have the parents/interested parties latest email, SMS or Twitter address.

Debbie – think by now you’ll appreciate the answer you are after is that you’ll want a solution apposite for your current situation but which has the ready facility to grow as the school evolves.

Twould be interesting to hear what others also working on their school sites have to say.

As I flagged at the outset thanks for the question for ultimately it is one very practical issue every school will have to address.

About Mal Lee

Mal Lee is an educational consultant and author specializing in the evolution of teaching and schooling from the traditional paper based mode to one that is digital, and in turn networked, and the impact of the technology on that evolution. Mal’s is a macro focus examining all the elements associated with the development, leadership and operation of schools operating within a digital, and increasingly as networked school communities. Most importantly his is a positive approach that envisions how educators and school communities might best use the ever-evolving, ever more pervasive technology in the home, on the move and in the classroom to provide an ever better schooling for the full range of students. Mal is a former director of schools, secondary college principal, technology company director and a member of the Mayer Committee that identified the Key Competencies for Australia’s schools. A Fellow of the Australian Council for Educational Administration (FACEA) Mal has been closely associated with the use of digital technology in schooling, particularly by the school leadership for the last two decades. A historian by training Mal has written extensively, particularly in the Practising Administrator, the Australian Educational Leaders and Access, Educational Technology Guide on the astute use of technology in the development of schoolings. Mal has released four publications with ACER Press. In 2008 Mal and Professor Michael Gaffney edited and had published Leading a Digital School. In 2009 he co-authored with Dr Arthur Winzenried The Use of Instructional Technology in Schools – Lessons to be Learned, and with Chris Betcher, The Interactive Whiteboard Revolution – Teaching with IWBs. In 2010 Mal joined with Associate Professor Glenn Finger (Griffith University) in the writing of his most significant work yet for ACER Press on Developing Networked School Communities: a guide to realizing the vision – on the next phase of schooling. Copies of the books can be obtained from the ACER Press website at - http://shop.acer.edu.au/acer-shop/product/A4032BK
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