Due for an Update?: LPS websites difficult for its students; Why?

By Paulo Gross  (Feature) –

The Lincoln High website isn’t made for its students, and that’s okay. This doesn’t follow the normal conventions set by schooling. School is meant for its students. So wouldn’t one of a school’s many tools be made for its students? It’s actually made for incoming students and parents.

Many students report a
discontent with the state of the LHS website. “It seems like there is a lot of stuff on there,” sophomore Sean Kozisek says about the website.  “It’s too cluttered. There’s too much going on in that small of space.”

Some specific things can be very hard to find as senior Marga Galins found. “I was wondering where you could get sweatshirts and stuff.  I searched it up in the search box and it didn’t show me anything. ”

When further pressed for specific hang-ups that they have with the website, they don’t mention anything other than some non-specific things about the state of the links along the side of the website.

If you visit the website of any of the other Lincoln Public high schools, you will notice that each of them use the same template, other than superficial color and content changes. The same goes for all of the elementary and middle school websites district-wide. LPS schools don’t design their own websites, they are handed to them by the district. LPS saves itself some work by distributing a similar copy to each high school, middle school, and elementary.

The district doesn’t maintain each website though, they design the tools that allow each school to structure and populate their website however they might want to. Brian Fitzgerald, the web communications director for LPS, does this. He’s the one and only at the LPS district building whose job it is to oversee all of the web development in the district. For the last 18 years, Fitzgerald has been creating website templates, maintaining the LPS website and hosting web maintenance workshops for whomever maintains the website at each school. He jokes that his job takes, “lots of virtual duct tape.”

For the latest version of the high school websites, Fitzgerald created a backend called Posts, which is written in Adobe ColdFusion. The LPS website uses Posts also, but middle school and elementary schools use a newer backend called WordPress. Fitzgerald says that WordPress is the next step for LPS’s websites. This is evident when you look at the frontend of the LPS WordPress site through mobile and through a conventional desktop. The newer WordPress sites and the LPS website have a slick design that conforms to mobile, whereas the high school websites remain as desktop sites when accessed by mobile. This does make the LPS homepage better. The Posts backend does have the capability to be mobile, like WordPress, the backend being the nuts and bolts of the coding that only the web developers see. The need for mobile has been a moving target for Fitzgerald. It’s a balance between seeing all of the information on a small screen and keeping it user friendly, he says. Mobile will most likely come wtih the next iteration of the high school websites, but Fitzgerald doesn’t have a schedule for when the LHS website will be updated.

It would stand to reason that high school websites would take precedence over the middle and elementary websites. High schools conventionally use technology more, and a lot of the functions of a modern high school classroom hinge on access to technology. One would think that high school students have a need to access their school websites and that students in elementary and middle schools wouldn’t. So why would the high school websites stagnate while the middle and elementary websites advance?

To think that there is no thought put into which schools get a newer website is incorrect. This difference in advancement is something that the district doesn’t have a lot of power over. There’s only one time in the year that they can roll out new websites. That time is a very short and hectic time, because the biggest part of that process is training whomever would be the one to update the website at each school.

Herein lies the rub; to maintain a website requires training. This and transferring any content from one website to another and doing all of that in a timely manner are the problems that are faced when switching over to a new website. Also, there is only a short window of time that any updates to LPS’s school websites can be done – the first couple of weeks after school gets out. Another large part of it for Fitzgerald is a cost benefit analysis. “On the front end we have to say, ‘what are we going to get out of this’. How much are we going to change for the people who update it, and are the people who view it going to get anything new out of this?” Fitzgerald explains.

Schools are left with the agency to do with their websites what they want, but a special expense to keep the website current isn’t normally in the cards for most schools. This lack of funding leads to schools allocating the job of updating their website to whomever is willing. Normally, schools designate one faculty member or student to keep their website up to date.

In LHS’s case, Executive Administrative Assistant Jeffery Bargar is who keeps our site current. His duties seemingly include most things that principal Mark Larson can’t do throughout the day. The power that he has, “gives me the all the tools that I need to put a little article up, or submit a picture, simple stuff like that,” Bargar says.  Part of that does include organization. So, because maintaining the website is one of his many responsibilities, he isn’t left with much time to focus on it.

Finally, we can answer the question as to why our website is the way it is, why it is unintuitive for students, and why that’s okay. Fitzgerald creates these websites with the focus on people who may have never even been in a high school building.

“Because we see some of these people every day, and whether it’s our teachers or our students, we tend to say, ‘that’s who the website is for’ and generally speaking that’s not who our school websites are for.  We have so many [other] ways to communicate with our own people,” Fitzgerald says.

Some basic numbers regarding the lhs.lps.org website for the calendar year 2016. Courtesy of Brian Fitzgerald

The idea is that the website should be a landing page for students and parents who have yet to make the decision to go to our school. We have alternative ways to get infomation. There are multitudes of different modes of communication and file transfer for students and teachers:  email, Google Classroom, Synergy, personal teacher websites, Twitter, Facebook, SMS, and phone calls, to name the most common. So, our website isn’t made for LHS’s students, it is made for its soon-to-be students and parents.

Paulo Gross
Paulo Gross
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