Internet experts and teachers who have built sites on the World Wide Web offer this advice:
Ride the waves.
Internet surfing has something in common with swimming. You can't just read about the breast stroke; at some point, you have to jump in. If you don't know how to navigate the Internet , ask another teacher or a Web-wise student. After all, you can't build a Web site unless you know what one looks like.
Contemplate why you want an on-line presence.
Poway, California, teacher Keith Nuthall advises: "Ask teachers and students: 'What information do you want to interact with? And how will that support content standards?' Technology is great, but ask yourself if you're doing technology for technology's sake." Nuthall also suggests that you try to challenge your students with what you put on the site. "If you expose them to ambitious, interactive projects, they'll do better work."
Think like a teacher.
Ten years ago, says Nuthall, before the Internet was seen as a boon for education, teachers were creating interactive curricula but in a different way. "They probably weren't lecturing for 90 minutes. They were having kids gather information from various print sources. Now, they just have a new tool. The coolest thing about the Internet is that it just makes it easier to build those relationships."
Don't try to be all things to all people.
"I've seen a lot of pages out there that aren't focused," says Ken Rohrer, an Indiana principal who designed the Incredible Art Department site ["Sites To See And Books To Read" in this issue]. "I encourage teachers to pick one thing, and be good at the one thing."
Consider your audience.
Do you hope to interact with students, teachers, and parents in your own district? Or are you planning a global audience? Many experts advise you to start with the former. After all, parents and other local residents have the most interest in what their schools are doing.
Design a balanced site.
You don't want to create something that sits there like a postcard from nowhere, with just a graphic of the school mascot ("Those Fighting Franciscans") and a catchy motto ("Knowledge Is Good"). On the other hand, you don't want too many bells and whistles. Visitors to your site may lose patience waiting for huge photos or illustrations to download. "Web site design is extraordinarily important," says Elijah Collard of the American School Directory ["Sites To See And Books To Read" in this issue]. "Poor Web site design often means delivery is very slow. Let's suppose all I want is to find out where the football game is tonight. I don't want to wait for six pictures to download. I don't need to see a picture of the school building."
Not long ago, you needed to know a programming language called HTML ("Glossary") to build a Web page. Although some diehards still swear by HTML, it isn't necessary. You can purchase Web-authoring software like Claris Home Page, Adobe PageMill, or Microsoft FrontPage. Most of it requires you only to point and click and fill in the blanks. Some on-line services offer similar programs. America Online, for instance, allows subscribers to build Web pages using a program called Personal Publishing. "If you can do word processing," says teacher-author Kevin Crotchett, "you can conquer FrontPage or PageMill." Note: You will need a computer with a modem or a direct connection to the Internet, as well as access to a server, or dedicated computer, to house your page.
Make sure people know about your site.
If you don't, your Web effort will be the technological equivalent of one hand clapping. Send notes home with students. Put a blurb in the PTA newsletter. Mail a press release to the local newspaper. Says Crotchett: "A Web page is nothing without advertising."