Creating school websites with SharePoint part 3. Creating beautiful ‘non-sharepointy’ looking sites.
One of the real challenges with SharePoint is how do you make it look beautiful like many normal websites? This is an area we wanted to develop and the decision to make a new, more visual and edgy site to engage older teenagers in June 2009 gave us an opportunity. As with our main site the 6th form site was designed by an external agency but this time there was a greater focus on working with our existing A-level students to find out what would appeal to them. The results are shown below and the site can be found at www.twynham6thform.com
The site is far from traditional with a top and bottom navigation with a large central zone for high quality visual images. These images rotate in a loop covering the key areas shown in the bottom navigation. The top navigation is largely administrative, allowing students to book open mornings, request prospectuses and most importantly apply to the sixth form.
The main engine of the 6th Form website is the subject areas which allow students to make decisions on their A-level choices. The start of the process is the carousel shown below which displays the subject list visually.
Perhaps the most powerful argument for schools who have SharePoint as a Learning Platform to move their website over is the benefits of cost and time. Using SharePoint to produce websites means that key areas such as latest news can be updated without any technical skill. The image bellows shows a simple interface for adding text and images which is as easy as adding to a word document.
When this is completed the latest news appears instantly on the page. This role has recently moved over to the Headteachers PA instead of a member of staff from the IT team which ensures that valuable technical expertise is not used on administrative tasks. In addition to latest news, job vacancies can be added in minutes without waiting for a response from the technical team.
During 2008 and 2009 we have moved beyond the creation of internal Learning Gateways to the creation of external anonymous access websites. The first project was our main school website which was being redesigned in the summer of 2008. Moving the site into our SharePoint set up was a big challenge but the benefits for many schools are clear as they can save in hosting costs. More importantly moving websites into SharePoint allows them to be updated by chosen end users without the need for developers. As soon as the design was completed by an external team our SharePoint team set about creating master pages to produce the website which can be seen below.
The main changes to the website design were aimed to create a much more visual site with a greater use of images. At the same time, with the creation of gateway and in particular the Parent Gateway it was possible to slim the overall content of the site out and move this to the internal gateways. The key change within the school was to move from seeing the website as a place for all information to seeing the website as an extension of our prospectus for future parents and students.
In addition to this the site is the key point of entry to the internal gateways. Staff, students and parents click on their relevant site and are taken to a login page which takes them directly to their personalised page. The website can be found at www.twynhamschool.com
The student zone contains a video tour from current year 7 students for year 6 students to get a feel for what life at Twynham School is like.
Key processes for the school including the admissions process are all made available to parents through the website.
One of the reasons we have been able to keep making progress with our Learning Gateway has been the continual evolution of the system. Central to this has been the constant feedback from staff and parents but, most importantly, the students. As you will have seen earlier we run Student Council groups throughout the year focusing on culture, teaching and learning and technology. All three of these groups have impacted on the Learning Gateway throughout the last three years. Very recently the Headteacher of Twynham School, Dr Terry Fish and myself were given presentations by the culture and technology group to make two key recommendations.
The first was from the technology group with a series of recommendations of how we can further improve the Student Gateway. The document they produced from 6 thirty minute meetings is below and it shows the level of thought they have undertaken.
These recommendations where produced by between 12 and 20 students at each meeting but in turn they use tutor captains to take feedback from all students. This process ensures that the information coming back from students effectively reflects their views as a whole. We are able to further support this process by using surveys within SharePoint which can be named or anonymous and compulsory or voluntary. During the last three years we have used these for a wider number of issues including decisions on study leave and feedback on the quality of learning within departments. The regular reflection allows us to ensure that the Learning Gateways are always evolving in line with student expectations.
One of the last changes we have made to our Twynham Learning Gateway focuses on the design of the sites. The original sites were almost entirely undeveloped and an example of these is shown below.
In February this year we decided it was time to take a serious look at the overall design to create a more professional and blended look across all the sites. This is the first time we have outsourced any work for our internal gateway and the best investment we have made in the three years. For this work we went to the undisputed king of SharePoint design, Sam Dolan who is also known in SharePoint land as Pink Petrol. The end product can be seen below with a unified and engaging look:
The overall change is very clear and at the same time there are more subtle changes with the use of the same 4 colours from the banner and navigation bars throughout the page. This particularly makes a difference in blending the written elements into the colour scheme to give a very professional look. I would happily recommend Pink Petrol based on the work we have done and he can be contacted on twitter as @pinkpetrol or by email through email@example.com Sam’s website with examples of his work and service can be found at http://www.pinkpetrol.com/ I will also be joint blogging a more detailed explanation of Sam’s work in a joint post later this month.
One of the key engines of our Twynham School Learning Gateway is the student learning areas. These began on March 22nd 2007 with the development of our Revision Gateways based on the structure shown below.
Our Revision Gateways took off very quickly and led to us building full subject sites later in 2007 so that students could easily navigate across all subjects and within all areas. The top level of our subjects sites can be see below with our Technology home page.
Having navigated one click to the subject site above students have just one more click to get to any area of the subject sub sites. An example is shown below with the Biology sub site.