The pandemic that the world is awaking from has touched every single part of our lives. Schools are no exception. COVID-19 stressed the foundation of our educational institutions and everything we knew prior to the virus spreading havoc around the globe.
As we slowly creep our way out of this unprecedented time, we must ask ourselves “what lessons have we learned and what current trends will we see implemented once we are out of the pandemic?” Below we list four website considerations, trends, and opportunities that schools must embrace and implement as they navigate this new challenge.
1. The New Normal
Websites have long been staples for schools wishing to engage students, families, and the community. However, schools went into digital hyperdrive upon the arrival of COVID-19. As a reaction to the virus, educational institutions offered fully remote or hybrid options in anticipation of a vaccine from governments and the healthcare community.
While there was an outcry from many who questioned the effectiveness of online learning, one thing remains clear: your school website is more important now than ever, and families will continue to use it as a vital tool long after in-person courses resume. How does this breakdown look?
- Education Hub – Yes, school websites have long been vital tools for families, but in the post-pandemic world websites should provide more information and access to critical transactions that help both schools and families as they administer student experience.
- Attendance – While in-person engagement is still critical, a healthy online presence will allow families to engage more frequently through the use of online tools such as forms, chats, signups, and Zoom calls. This will also allow students to attend classes virtually on sick days and allow teachers to conduct coursework when schools close due to weather.
- Digital Prowess – Teachers and staff will adopt a more holistic educational approach that will include a healthy dose of online learning and community engagement. To do so, they will need to continue to learn and incorporate digital educational strategies that will help all parties navigate this new normal – for the long term.
- The Buy-In – It is still undetermined just exactly how online education will affect K-12 learning. However, AT&T’s Future of School report found that “94% of teachers are open to the idea of hybrid learning with the proper resources, curriculum and support,” while “84% of parents support virtual tutoring or enrichment programs.” With this kind of buy in from both sides, it’s safe to say that online education will long play an integral part in our schools.
- Educational Opportunities – It has also been recognized that online education is a skill unto itself. For example, in the past year we have seen an unprecedented number of jobs go fully remote. Some companies have incorporated strategies to continue this trend to reduce overhead and attract talent regardless of location. With online communication skills in hand, students will be equipped to navigate this new workplace world.
2. Your Website Has to Rock
Now that we have covered the “why,” it is essential to examine the “what” when looking at the future of school websites and online education. In particular, families and school staff must have a digital experience that mirrors those they receive from banks, progressive e-commerce companies and other website destinations. This is notably important in the areas of:
- Useability – Is your website easy to access and be found? Are there prompts that guide visitors through their experience? Are there online resources that help them navigate their time on the site? These are just a few questions school’s must consider as they create a seamless user experience for constituents searching for vital information.
- Accessibility – Another important consideration schools must examine is whether ALL visitors can consume online information and use their websites. This includes colorblind users; English language learners; people with limited motor control; the elderly; deaf individuals; and those with learning disabilities such as dyslexia. By doing so, schools can increase engagement and digital experiences for all audiences including families, staff and faculty.
- Design – As more and more people spend an increased amount of time on your website, it’s important that you create an aesthetically pleasing look and feel. Whether consciously or subconsciously, an attractive design will give your website a sense of legitimacy, care and warmth. Include your school colors and logos to create a sense of community with visitors. And add student photos that illustrate academic achievement and student life as a way to humanize your online presence.
- Architecture – As mentioned above, website design is paramount. But what good is an attractive website if your users can’t find what they need? By creating a logical website structure, you can quickly guide visitors to their desired destination. This includes points of entry in your main navigation and sub-navigation, plus prompts and calls-to-action on your homepage. Don’t forget your internal pages. Once they begin the navigation process, it’s important to keep your visitors engaged with information that is relevant to their search.
- Mobile Friendly – In today’s world school websites must look and perform well on all devices – phones, tablets and desktops. Accordingly, schools should seek out website options that provide cross-device functionality so visitors can conduct school business despite what device they are using. Responsive design is part of the solution. This concept identifies the device visitors are using and optimizes your website for full functionality and superlative user ease.
Below, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary website uses stunning visuals to invite visitors to its website.
3. Security Enhancements are a Must
With this increase in online use by families and staff, schools must ensure communications by all parties are safe and secure. Student and family information can be extremely sensitive, and schools must protect all of those using their websites. Protocols to follow include:
- Automated Security Scans – Create processes that automatically check any plugins, code, templates, and themes for any known vulnerabilities.
- Code Review – Employ expertise that allows you to check your website and all its features for best practices to minimize potential exploits.
- User Authentication – Configure a safe way of authenticating users, including with two-factor authentication to ensure only those trusted and approved can edit your website.
- Security Patches – Repair any known vulnerabilities to the CMS or server in less than 24 hours.
- Firewalls – Protect sensitive information and attacks on your website with brute force and DDoS protection, with all traffic monitored.
- Audit Logging – Capture detailed logs of user actions in case information needs to be retrieved.
- Backups – Ensure encrypted backups are taken nightly and stored somewhere separate to your website in the case you experience website or server malfunction and test that the recovery process works regularly
4. Multisite Platforms
A school website is no longer a static place for general information. In fact, it is becoming the digital equivalent of a living, breathing organism where students, staff and families engage in a variety of communication methods. To meet this challenge, schools should consider a Multisite platform. This is a popular choice for those looking to simplify the management of online spaces. Features of Multisite include:
- Network of Sites – Multisite allows you to create a network of websites for your school or school district under one umbrella. That means only one download and one central location where all websites are administered.
- Access Levels – Multisite also allows you to assign various levels of access so you can recruit faculty and staff to update your website, while controlling who can actually make live changes, publish pages and alter the website’s look and feel.
- A Complete Digital Solution – Multisite networks are more than just your main website. In fact, you can have separate sites for academics, clubs, about us and even portal sites for parents, students, faculty and staff. Lastly, this option allows teachers to create their own classroom websites and gives students the opportunity to publish their own blog and e-portfolios.
- On-Demand Site Creation – Multisite also offers schools the opportunity to create as many websites as they wish. And they make it easy. Faculty, staff and others with the proper credentials can publish new websites quickly in an on-demand, real-time environment.
On its website, Port Moody Secondary School uses a blog format for course assignments.
The WordPress Solution
Choosing the platform that is right for your school website can seem like a daunting task. However, WordPress can provide you with all the options you need to meet the ever-changing educational landscape. In fact, WordPress powers just about 40 percent of all websites in the world that use a content management system. This solution allows you to easily create and customize websites, and there is a myriad of hosting options, security solutions, plugins and themes to choose from.
- Accessibility – Choose WordPress and take advantage of accessibility plugins that ensure your website is compliant.
- Templates & Themes – Select from a variety of pre-developed designs to get your website up and running fast.
- Plugins – These additional pieces of software give you additional functionality for your website (calendars, countdown timers, SEO tools and more).
- Customizable – WordPress is easy to use and allows you to customize templates or create a look and feel on your own.
- Multipurpose – WordPress can be used as the content management system for your website, while also serving as a blogging and ePortfolio solution for your staff and students.
- Multisite – Administer and update multiple websites from one dashboard and one login.
- Access Levels – Assign access to multiple WordPress users and allow them to make updates to specific pages/sites.
Check out more reasons to use WordPress as your content management system platform for your school website.
Below, Del Valle ISD uses portals, plugins and strong calls-to-action to engage visitors to its website.
At CampusPress, we’re experts in bringing innovative web solutions to elementary schools through WordPress and our wide range of out-of-the-box and custom plugins and products. In fact, our services in accessibility, security, hosting, support, along with an extensive suite of other tools, power millions of education websites, blog networks and portfolios.