What are the benchmarks of a good school web site? What role do standards play, and how do these intersect with the content and aesthetics of a high-quality site? I am pretty opinionated on these topics, and I’m sure most of you have strong opinions as well. Considering the near-ubiquitous penetration of the internet into our daily lives, it’s easy to forget the web is still practically an infant in relation to other media. Ideas about what constitutes a “good” or “bad” web presentation and, by extension, design and coding standards are still evolving.

I think this is a good thing, because it allows for creativity and innovation, which–coupled with a low barrier to entry–allows for a more fluid media experience that other forms don’t allow. On the other hand, without some accepted conventions in design, content, and construction, the utility of a school web site is diminished. In the case of the web, you don’t want to require individuals to learn unique navigation for every site they visit, and you certainly want browsers to interpret code in a predictable and consistent way. Sometimes, even if there is a “better” idea, once something reaches a critical mass, it is probably wise to conform to the given standard; otherwise, you risk losing and frustrating your audience. In my opinion, the best web sites innovate through convention, not outside of it.

Any way you slice it, the environment of web standards is a tricky one to unravel. Utility for the user in site navigation, browser compatibility, security, and the need to present content in unique and exciting ways are all issues that sometimes cooperate and sometimes compete.

In light of these issues, eSchool News Online has posted a guide to school web site development created by Elliot Levine, vice president of SchoolSpan Inc., and eSchool News columnist Nora Carr, titled “Building Blocks to Electronic Communication: A Rubric for School Web Development and Management” (http://www.eschoolnews.com/schoolspanwebsiterubric.pdf). In this rubric, the authors provide a framework for effective school web site design and a metric for self-evaluation. Levine and Carr divide the rubric into sections for “overall content,” “publishing techniques,” “security/safety,” and “web site design.”

The authors’ mission was to introduce standards and lay the groundwork for schools to begin addressing a variety of needs in web publishing–something so many schools have lagged behind on, despite advancements in electronic media. Their rubric provides a top-to-bottom account of the four main facets of online communications and is worth a look from all those responsible for producing their own school web sites.

Carr and Levine come at the issue from the point of view of school public-relations professionals, and so their guide focuses more on the kinds of information that a school web site should contain–and how easy it should be for stakeholders to find this information. In response to their work, ed-tech blogger Tom Hoffman has posted his own take on the subject in our Ed-Tech Insider blogs at eSN Online, which you can read at http://www.eschoolnews.com/eti/2006/05/001402.php. Hoffman offers some ideas for taking the rubric even further and implementing some of its suggestions, and he fleshes out some of the areas he believes are a little underdeveloped–such as the rubric’s technical standards.

I highly recommend that you check out both perspectives and then draw your own conclusions. Both documents provide some good advice and pointers that are critical. Even if you don’t use everything the rubric or Hoffman have to offer, you’ll be well on your way to building more effective school web sites. And the debate this rubric has started is just one example of the kind of free-flowing dialog on important ed-tech issues that readers can find every day in the Ed-Tech Insider section of eSN Online (http://www.eschoolnews.com/eti). New Educator’s Resource Centers

Since our last issue, we’ve compiled a few more must-see Educator’s Resource Centers that will help you integrate digital presentation technologies into instruction and leverage new technologies to reach visual learners:

Digital Presentation (sponsored by Mitsubishi Digital Electronics) http://www.eschoolnews.com/resources/reports/presentation/index.cfm

Visual Learning (sponsored by ELMO USA) http://www.eschoolnews.com/resources/reports/Presentation2006/index.cfm

These new Educators’ Resource Centers join our already existing centers on such topics as 24-7 Learning Communities, Professional Enrichment, and Electronic Records Management. If you haven’t already done so, I encourage you to check these out at http://www.eschoolnews.com/erc/Challenges.