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The trouble with school websites? Who uses them?


The trouble with school websites? Who uses them?

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"Why doesn’t anyone use our website?"

From Christopher Dawson at
Our website is nothing fancy. No dropdown menus, no Flash, just information. I ginned it up this summer as a way to get information out to parents and staff and keep moving spiffing it up down on my very long to do list. I don’t think the problem with our website is a lack of spiffiness, though. This isn’t meant to be sales or marketing, although the case could be made PR efforts are important for a school looking for community support. I think the real problem is more cultural in nature.

We’ve never had a web presence before. It was simply never a priority and there was never anyone at a district level to administer a website. Although a site bearing our domain existed, it was even more out of date and unattractive than the one we have now.

Given that, people simply didn’t think to check the website for information. If I need specs on the latest Apple equipment, I pop over to the Apple website. If I need to know Barack Obama’s position on healthcare, I go to his website. If I need to know when final exams are, I look at the calendar posted on the district website. I just happen to be the only one, since a calendar has never been posted there before.

So how do we get people in the habit of looking to the website first for information? We’ve started posting school closings and dismissals on the site and used our automated calling system to inform people of the address. We did a press release in the local paper noting the web address. It still is certainly not the first place people think to get information about the schools.

Of course, part of the problem is a chicken and egg issue. Since people don’t tend to look at the site, staff in the schools don’t tend to post information to the site. Without compelling new information, community members won’t look to the site.

So it looks like it’s up to me. Next snow day, it’s time for an overhaul with some serious new content. It’s time for some PR and it’s time that the site grew up. I see some surveys in my future for parents and staff. To what information do you need ready access? What documents or functions would make the website more useful?

The other piece of the redevelopment will be to include consistent sites for each of the schools. While some schools have their own sites, a single point through which people can access information for individual schools would be useful.

What else? Twitter feeds from staff? Blogs and newsletters from staff? What are the “killer apps” on your district’s/school’s website?

Why doesn’t anyone use our website?
444 1 rate


Udut, Kenneth
from Golden Gate Estates, Naples, FL
Associate, 3508 posts
Reply ·  Quote ·  Edit ·  Delete

on Jan. 9 2009
Udut, Kenneth
from Golden Gate Estates, Naples, FL
Associate, 3508 posts
Reply ·  Quote ·  Edit ·  Delete

on Jan. 9 2009

My response was this:
You've raised a tricky issue. I have faced a similar problem in developing a community website for the Collier County Florida (Naples, FL) area. It's a pet project, not-for-profit, and it has been really tricky to get people to engage. You pour loads of effort into it and wonder if anybody is getting anything out of it.

Well, after a year and a half, I've discovered that people DO use it and have learned a few things that may help you:

1) Have a personal login and profile feature. People LOVE having profiles on sites. Think about myspace -- it's just a user profile page made KING. Who would have thunk it? It gives them a feeling of OWNERSHIP over the site.

2) Allow people to easily, and perhaps in a guised / semi-anonymous way, add comments. It may be some more work on your part,as you have to go through daily and check for the occasional inappropriate comments, but it's well worth the trouble as it gets people to engage. Again - ownership.

3) Discussion groups. This might be safer than comments. If you have controversial topics for discussion (pick your favorite topic of controversy that's applicable to your situation), there's a better chance of getting some good input.

4) USE TWITTER. I just added a link to "Follow me on Twitter" to my website and my readership EXPLODED in a matter of a couple of weeks. I had no idea how powerful Twitter has become.

5) Post updates daily to twitter and try to find students/faculty who are already on twitter and FOLLOW THEM. See what they're interested in. Incorporate those ideas into your site. You might be surprised!

6) Link to a myspace page. Yes, myspace smells like a middle school locker room, but it's a powerful force even today. And you may find your students have already created a group on myspace that you can have your website's identity attached to.

7) Incorporate RSS feeds. There are two ways you should introduce RSS feeds. First, your site should generate them. Some of your more tech saavy viewership will make use of it, and the search engines will love it, making your Google-visibility that much more powerful. Secondly, you should bring feeds in -- from local newspapers, local events calendars, etc. Having updating feeds keeps your website fresh and new looking.

I hope this can help. You really have to get on a campaign to make your website a place they end up on over and over again. Make it the only place to get some key bits of information. Freely copy bits and pieces or even whole articles from other websites (and give credit, of course).

Oh! And one more thing that's even more applicable for a school website: Give editor rights to several people and give them sections to manage. You still have the ultimate say, but let them have nearly full control over their section (and if they go overboard, you still have the right to ask them to remove inappropriate content, etc).

I hope this helps!

Kenneth Udut, webmaster of Naples, FL USA

P.S. - I liked your article so much, I copied it to my website as well, with linkbacks to here, so that you can get more exposure. I was very impressed.

The trouble with school websites? Who uses them? — "Why doesn't anyone use our website?"
The trouble with school websites?  Who uses them?