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Why does your school need a website?
Schools are now putting up their own websites but they have yet to effectively utilize this technology to bring real benefits to their audience: students, parents, teachers, and school officials.
The World Wide Web is one of the most effective communications technologies today. A school website can expand opportunities for parents to communicate with the school and become more informed about the education their children are getting. Teachers can use the school website to share ideas with other teachers and make them available even to everyone else. A school website can also allow parents to voice out their concerns to school officials.
Fostering family-school communication
Some parents avoid communicating with their children’s school because they do not feel comfortable talking to teachers or they think their concerns will not be heard while others are simply burned out by their work. When the need arises, many parents and teachers find themselves unable to contact each other.
School websites can greatly eliminate barriers in involving parents in school. Parents like it when they are informed about upcoming exams, activities, and other tips to help their children. With the school providing relevant information, parents can save on time and money usually required on face-to-face communication. Besides being informed, parents can provide feedback to teachers and school officials.
Reaching out to the community
A school website can be used for other than educational means. A school website can include information on the community and build links between businesses, families, and the schools For example, a school website can become a great resource for families who are relocating.
A school website can also reach people other than those belonging to the school’s community; virtually anybody in the planet. Thus, establishing a website can also enhance the school’s reputation.
Elements of a school website
- School information
The website must include the school’s history, mission, philosophy, and plans. The website can provide the school’s hymn in MP3 or WMA format for visitors and nostalgic alumni/alumna to hear. The website must also provide the address of the school and directions on how to get there. Including a map would be very helpful.
- Contact information
The school must provide a way for parents to contact teachers and school officials by either by listing their phone numbers or email addresses. With regards to email addresses, it gives a better impression if the teachers have addresses under the school’s domain name, e.g., firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another approach is for the website to have a contact page where parents could leave a message. The parent could simply select the name of the teachers, write a message, and click a ‘Send’ button. In this case, the school should provide teachers the ability to retrieve these messages in a secure manner; teachers may not want others to read messages intended solely for them.
- School updates
Keeping the contents of the school website fresh and updated is the hallmark of well-planned website but it requires the most effort. Often, schools only provide either outdated news or static information such as school history.
School updates can include intra and inter-school events, announcements of upcoming parent-teacher conferences, and holidays among others. Special events within the school such as a graduation ceremony can be captured using digital cameras and posted on the school website. A digital video of the school play can be posted on the website so that parents can view them after work or on weekends.
- Educational resources
The school website can also be positioned as the student’s portal to the Internet. The school website can contain electronic books, teaching aids, journals and links to other useful websites. Teachers and librarians could review, suggest, and maintain these online materials. This kind of information can also help the parents in need of materials to help the students at home.
Teachers will also benefit from this service. Teachers can use the website to collect the materials they have used in the classroom for their use in succeeding school years. New teachers will have the leverage of having good teaching materials readily available and avoid having to redo the research and compilation. Teachers may even post the lesson plan so that students and parents can know the topics in advance if they want to.
- Interaction opportunities
The school website can host electronic forums where parents, teachers, and school officials discuss various relevant topics. Unlike a PTA meeting where ideally everybody must be present before the discussion is started, an electronic forum allows a person to speak up at virtually any time. The contents of a forum are available for future use and can also be used by school officials for conducting informal online surveys involving teachers and parents.
Parents can start their own forum to seek advice and share ideas on how to best help their children in their schooling. Parents can even provide information on where to buy the best school supplies or what to do during summer breaks.
Teachers can use electronic forums as an aid to teaching. A teacher can post a topic for discussion and ask the students to submit their reaction using the electronic forum as their homework for the weekend.
Electronic forums can be used by students seeking help from other students like a freshman student looking for a project for the science fair. Even alumni can be allowed to participate and share their experiences inside and outside the school.
- Family-school connection
A school website can link families to their children’s classroom. Through the website, teachers can inform parents about curricula and course objectives. The classroom webpage can display upcoming and completed projects of the students. It can also provide information about homeworks and suggestions on how parents can help their children at home. Photographs and diaries from exposure trips can also be published in the classroom webpage.
The school website can also give student performance updates by giving parents access to their children’s grades — assignments, quizzes, projects, periodic exams, etc. Traditionally, parents depend on report cards to know how well (or how poorly) their children are doing in school. If parents are informed early, they will have a better chance of assisting their children at home.
A school website is one of most effective and cheapest technologies to foster communication among students, parents, teachers, and school officials. Developing an effective website takes time and resources but if done right, the benefits to the school community are enormous.
While a school website is appealing to use, there are some barriers that could slow down its integration in schools and its use at home. Insufficient understanding of the technology can limit the options of the schools. To address this, it is wise to seek outside help who understand the technology and more importantly, how better to use it practically for the benefit of the school community.
Giving the students, teachers, and school officials the chance to use and enhance the school website will help them broaden their awareness of technology. This is also an opportunity to teach responsible use of technology and ethics in online communication.
Lastly, the school website should not be perceived as replacement to face-to-face interactions. While a school website provides convenience to the school community, nothing can replace the warmth and effectiveness of face-to-face interaction.