The one place where technology should be at the cutting edge, in schools, is currently lagging years behind, somewhere around 2006.
…remember who the end users are and some of the strict parameters you might have to operate in - IE5 anyone?
A simple site with kids and parents primarily in mind, striaghtforward brief with a basic budget. There's lot of things to consider, especially when working with teachers, pupils and parents. There were also some of the strict parameters we had to operate in i.e. operate sometime in 2006 - more of that later.
The other thing that had to be emphasised was the lead-in time. Not everyone would use the site initially. I stressed to the head that it should start with her. She must get comfortable using the site and all its features. That way it would mean that the technology would filter down which is much much easier than a lowly substitute IT teacher pushing new methods on a school with established practices.
So to the Rhodia and a few sketches of the front page, a rough idea of templates that would be needed etc. The various features such as rotating banner, kids blogs etc were set up to be rolled out as the teachers and pupils became more comfortable with the site and began integrating it into their daily lessons.
The site was then mocked up in Freehand MX and presented to the client, comments made, elements changed and rearranged and then off to Fireworks and Expression Engine.
The main idea was to get away from the typical dayglo colours mixed with Comic Sans that all primary schools seemed compelled to follow.
Old school site.
We wanted to present the content in a clear methodical method, with obvious links and navigation that the pupils would find stimulating and easy to navigate. The more content the pupils generate themselves the more 'school like' it will become.
Having worked in education for a while I'm aware that it's an environment that takes time to adjust to new methods. The advantage here was the hands on, positive approach of the Principal. She drove the project and once completed was comfortable taking on the Admin duties, meaning the trickle down use of the site was guaranteed. She is now able to turn on and off features when she feels it's appropriate.
General state of affairs
The fact is, through probably over zealous firewalls and fear of anything improper appearing on a harddrive, the list of content that primary schools aren't allowed to visit is probably greater than those they can visit. All IT content is controlled centrally by the Education Department. All upgrades are handled externally.
So if you're a very proficient teacher with great IT abilities wishing to use social media, in a controlled, classroom environment, to demonstrate or enhance the learning experienced - you can't. Essentially you're forced to live somewhere around 2006. That means, Flickr, Twitter and Facebook haven't arrived yet. Lots of great features that could be taught in a safe, classroom environment are banned.
The Whole Web 2.0 experieince hasn't arrived in schools yet. Microsoft are still the dominant force. I spoke to the Education Department's IT section on the phone, asking why the whole school was stil on IE 5. They talked about "rolling out IE 6.0 in the next 18 months" - seriously! Cloud computing is still very much up in the clouds, the iPhone, iPad and are still on the test bench in Cupertino. Chinese kids are probably getting a richer IT experience than kids in NI.
If there was somewhere were these technologies should be used, it's the classroom. Unfortunately teachers seem to prefer it this way. Granted some just fear the technology but there are others who get it and embrace it but ultimately fear something improper, for totally innocent reasons, ending up on a hard drive and the blame, inadvertently, landing on their doorstep.
Work completed using: XHTML, CSS, Fireworks, Freehand, Expression Engine.