It took me only a couple of weeks to figure out that we couldn’t do it. None of my students knew how, and we didn’t have the time to teach ourselves.
After spending five weeks making every other part of our web site look good, we were not about to tolerate a calendar system that was unusable or looked like it was just thrown together. We saw some online calendars that we liked, and we spent a couple of weeks beating our heads against the wall trying to re-create them. Finally, though, we threw in the towel and linked our site to eFridge, an online calendar service that gives organizations a public access space and a password-protected area for adding or editing events.
I have to say, it was tough to swallow my pride and admit that someone else was able to design something that my students and I needed and couldn’t design ourselves. Once I got over that, however, it seemed obvious that a functioning, full-featured calendar system that is up and running immediately was well worth the compromise. Besides, it’s hard to beat the price. It’s free.
While we have a calendar and scheduling system built into our eMail system, we wanted something that could be accessed by people who might not have an eMail account with us, such as parents, alumni, and visiting guests. The system would have a single administrator, who would add events such as award banquets, beginnings and endings of marking terms, and athletic contests. People who wanted to get an event on the calendar would be able to send this information to the calendar administrator, and once posted, the events would be accessible by anyone. We wanted the calendar to display in a grid layout, so people easily could see what day of the week a particular date fell on. We also wanted to enable viewers to get more information on an event, such as its location or a description of the event, by clicking on a hyperlink embedded in the calendar.
We looked at a number of online calendars, including when.com and daypoint.com. Unfortunately, none of them seemed to meet the most important of our needs. Some had a good layout and functionality, but required a password to access them. This would be unacceptable for users outside our network. We wanted people to be able to click a link on our home page and immediately view the events for the current month. We also found other services, such as webevent.com, that seemed well-designed as an add-on to a school or corporate web site, but they weren’t free.
When we looked at eFridge, it seemed to be the best fit for most of our needs. Where it fell short, we were able to make up the difference by loading the page into a frame-set on our site. A major drawback of eFridge is that it doesn’t let you modify the look of the page. Displaying the calendar in the colors of the school would be nice, but not essential. Failing to link back to the school’s home page, though, is a big flaw.
To make up for this, we were able to include a global navigation bar for our site in a frame above the eFridge page. To the left of the calendar, we loaded another page from our site, which allows viewers to load either the eFridge calendar or a form to send event details to the calendar’s administrator.
eFridge is one of a few online application service providers (ASPs) that we have chosen to use this year to bring more interactivity and functionality to our site. In several cases, we have decided that rather than reinventing the wheel, we could get something running immediately that was well-designed and would meet our needs.
In the past, the athletics section of our web site has been notoriously out of date. Since nearly all updates to our web site are done in the spring, the rosters and schedules from fall and winter teams were out of date as soon as they were posted. We would put these up with the intention of updating them as soon as the next year’s season started. Invariably, these outdated rosters would sit there until next spring, when they were replaced with the next year’s outdated rosters.
This year, we were determined to create a database-driven solution through which coaches or team managers could use a web-based form to submit information about their team throughout the year. This would allow us to publish scores and schedules while they’re still useful and interesting to our viewers.
Our lacrosse coach told me about an online service he planned to use this year called eTeamz. This service did exactly what I had hoped to do and more. It made it easy for a team’s representative to input and change any relevant information, such as scores and highlights, without having to use any hypertext markup (HTML) coding. It was even possible to upload photographs. The site also includes a link to get driving directions from Yahoo! to any of the games. Coaches can enter as much or as little information about their players as they like, including height, weight, and other statistics. Win/loss records are kept and broken down between conference and nonconference competitions.
Unlike eFridge, eTeamz allows you to customize the page a little bit. It includes a link back to our home page, and the page displays in our school colors. We wanted a little more control over the navigation, however, so we also loaded this page into a frame-set. We placed our standard navigation structure in the top frame, and we created a page with all the sports we offer in the left-hand frame. When a user clicks on a particular sport, the corresponding eTeamz page will load in the main frame of the frame-set.
Many schools have turned to online ASPs to enable teachers to put courses and projects online. Tools for this purpose abound on the web. Some of the more well-known sites include blackboard.com and nicenet.net, which make it a snap for teachers to get a course on the web very quickly. Private chat rooms, white boards, messaging, and document sharing are some of the options available to teachers to simplify collaborative learning, while online grade books and various options for student registration facilitate the basic management of the class.
If teachers want to create online projects such as web quests, but they don’t have any knowledge of HTML programming, Filamentality (designed by Tom March, one of the founders of the web quest idea) is a terrific tool. Teachers select resources from the web and copy and paste the web addresses of their selected resources into an online form. Then, they type directions and criteria for the project into a similar form, and the Filamentality program automatically generates the project pages for them. Teachers who are new to web-based projects can look at samples with explanations of what makes a particular project effective.
The key in each of these examples is the shifting of content creation away from the web master and onto the people who are closest to the content itself. Web masters at many schools double as full-time teachers or network administrators, and often they don’t have the time or skills to keep up with content updates on their sites. Additionally, they don’t have the knowledge of the content that other people in the school have.
Online ASPs make it easy for coaches, teachers, or other administrators to publish the content that they deal with on a daily basis. The result is a transformation of a school’s web site from static, out-of-date brochureware to a site that is an accurate, up-to-date tool used by a wider range of the school community.