In the past, a school district website was nothing more than a virtual bulletin board, a way parents could learn when Picture Day was and where students could spend snowy nights refreshing the page over and over, fingers crossed for a school closing.
And while I’m sure today’s students are still wishing for snow days with the same fervor I did, the role of the school district website has shifted dramatically. No longer is it a static page of important dates and upcoming assemblies—it must serve both a functional and promotional role, and act as a digital representation of an entire district.
Last year, about 60% of new parents cited the school district as a primary factor for their choice of residency, and roughly half of parents are exercising school choice. Many of these new parents are digital natives—which means they’re researching, exploring, and ultimately deciding on a school district based on their online presence.
That starts with an engaging, effective district website, and as one of Chicago’s premier web development agencies, Codal knows the best practices and techniques to help you craft one.
EMBRACE A MOBILE PRESENCE
Let’s start with some lessons from Web Design 101: your school district website needs to be mobile responsive, which means visitors should be able to view and interact with it seamlessly on their smartphone.
This is standard protocol for any modern website, but it’s especially crucial for school districts. Just consider the user types that will be visiting your website: students, who don’t know a world without smartphones and thus expect your website to have a mobile experience, and parents, who will likely need on-the-go access to the site as they juggle home, work, and family in their packed schedules.
Most school districts understand that having a mobile responsive website is table stakes in 2018, but the most innovative ones are positioning themselves for the future by offering a native mobile app as well.
Take the DeKalb County School District in outer Atlanta, which was faced with a stark gap in performance between some of their schools in 2014. After finding a correlation between performance and parental engagement, they decided to create a mobile app for parents, in hopes to increase their involvement in their child’s education.
After hiring a UX design agency, DeKalb School district was able to build out a comprehensive, intuitive mobile app for the cost of less than a dollar per student. It was downloaded over 6,000 times in just the first four months of launch and has garnered rave reviews from parents, faculty, and students alike.
Not every school district needs a mobile app like DeKalb’s, but having a mobile presence is no longer a nice-to-have—it’s a necessity.
KEEP ACCESSIBILITY REQUIREMENTS IN MIND
We’ve come a long way in making education in America more accessible, and your district’s website should follow suit. The American Disabilities Act lays out foundational requirements (known as WCAG 2.0) for both school administrations and UX companies to follow when constructing a website that caters to users of all types.
Some of these requirements include having ALT text accompany images, videos offering captions or transcripts, the ability to tab through fields and forms, and ensuring the user interface is easily readable.
Not only is keeping track of these requirements a hassle, they’re often also chock full of legalese and can be difficult to interpret. That’s why it’s important the web design agency you hire can not only revamp your website to be ADA-compliant, but also use a content management system that district webmasters or administrators can easily maintain post-launch.
SERVE A DUAL PURPOSE
I’ve already mentioned that the modernized role of school district sites is presenting new challenges, design and otherwise, to administrative boards across the country. District sites need to not only provide utility and demonstrate value for their existing constituents, but also entice prospective parents (and faculty!) to come to their schools.
This blend of promotion and usability can be a tough balance to strike, but with the right features and a well-defined scope, you can turn what was once a digital bulletin board into one of your district’s strongest assets.
For the marketing side, the best websites feature an aesthetically pleasing, pixel-perfect user interface that includes visual content such as videos, photo galleries, hero images, or even virtual tours to help illustrate value propositions and engage users more directly.
#BUILTBYGIRLS, one of Codal’s clients in the education space
Well-designed district websites also offer quality content and functions to current students and parents, including interactive calendars, access to grade portals, directories, and feedback channels.
It’s also imperative that all of this content is organized with well-constructed system architecture. Because of the inherently diverse nature of a school district’s user base, it’s necessary each user type can easily navigate to the features or functions they need without confusion.
It can be difficult to juggle all of these practices and features, to prioritize them and discern which ones are going to resonate the most with your constituents. The best way to do it? Just ask!
One of Codal’s user experience design services is user research and testing, which means we can sit down with your stakeholders, faculty, parents, and students to learn their expectations for their school district’s digital presence.
Redesigning or refreshing your school district’s website is no small undertaking—it’s easy to stumble into the same pitfalls that beset any organization creating a complex digital product.
But when you hire a UX design agency with experience in the education space, you’re positioning yourself for a successful product right off the bat and can rest easy knowing that something as crucial as your district’s digital identity is in the hands of industry experts.
If you want to learn more about how Codal can build a website that masterfully serves your district and its constituents, contact us! Consult with the experts, and get your project done right.