3 keys to building a school community online
When I built my first school website in the ’90s, one stand-out feature was the alumni directory, which allowed for searching out classmates no matter where they were in the world. It was a hint of the digital social networks to come but also an acknowledgment that schools are communities.
School communities are different than they were in the ’90s, too, especially as today’s parents expect to be able to connect with those communities online whenever they can squeeze it into their busy days. It’s important, then, to make sure your website reflects your school or district’s community.
Fortunately, a site that accurately presents your community’s identity will also have a positive impact on morale, culture, the ability to compete in a school-choice atmosphere, and teacher retention and recruitment.
Here’s how you can ensure you’re putting your school’s best foot forward online.
Tech that’s easy for everyone
Schools are wonderfully diverse these days, with families from a range of socioeconomic, religious, and international backgrounds. All of this might affect their technological fluency, so what works for one student’s family may not for another. Many student guardians will expect an experience that matches the consumer apps and websites they interact with already, while others may have little experience with technology and become frustrated if they aren’t sure how to find what they want quickly.
If a parent looks for the school calendar, it should first be easy to find. That same calendar should automatically be visible and optimized for their input no matter the device. And, of course, users should be able to subscribe to the calendar so that they never have to search for it again.
The bottom line is, if your communication platform is difficult to navigate, glitchy, or overly complicated, parents and other stakeholders will turn away.
Communications tools, from the website to social media to news updates, should reflect the school’s culture and promote community engagement.
Adopting common user interfaces goes a long way toward reducing friction no matter the user. That art teacher who isn’t the tech-savviest educator on staff, but who forms touching bonds with her students as she teaches them to silkscreen a T-shirt, isn’t going to post a video of the process if she first has to watch a 10-minute tutorial on uploading. If the interface is simple and familiar from other services, however, she’s going to have a good idea of how to share it, and parents will get the chance to see inside her classroom as they’d never been able to before.
Strong but inconspicuous security
Schools and districts are increasingly integrating other technology with their websites, such as payment functionality or a learning management system. Consolidating this shared data is a great help in creating one online destination for parents, but all that data going back and forth can pose a security risk.
Storing data in multiple clouds and further protecting it with encryption and public key infrastructure while making everything visible to appropriate stakeholders through single sign-on is vital. It takes a lot of effort and should be a top concern for school leadership, but it’s not very visible to end-users. If you’re doing it right, parents won’t have to worry about website security and can focus on finding the information they need to support their student’s education.
Reflecting the school culture online
Our online communities are not siloed off from the physical communities they serve. The interfaces may be different online than in person, but the interactions between parents and schools should not be qualitatively different than they are in the physical world.
It should be as seamless for a student’s family member to have a conversation with faculty as it would be in person. The communications tools, from websites to social media to direct notifications, should reflect the school’s culture and promote community engagement.
For example, a static image of the refurbished gymnasium is fine to share on a website. However, a page brimming with video and photos and social media posts about the first basketball game or the school carnival hosted there transforms both the gym and the website from just another athletic facility or online space into a place people want to be involved in and want to involve their children in—a place where community is created and nurtured.
Ali Arsan is the founder and chief executive officer of Edlio. With 18 years of experience working in edtech, Arsan still loves learning from educators and discovering what makes each school special.