The current version of St Catherine's School extranet is a 2nd generation platform. This is one of the reasons why it has become our benchmark for best school extranets for parents, students, teaching and non-teaching staff.
Being 2nd generation meant that there was less guessing and opinion about what the user community expected from the extranet, and far more data driven decisions about the required information architecture and design.
In designing generation 2 we were able to take the best aspects of the first extranet and leave behind the rest.
We began with an analysis of actual user behaviour to sort out the best of the best.
Data driven design
With the benefit of google analytics it was possible to see the 'heat map' of information that users of each persona sought out most often.
The actual picture was very different to the expectation with only a handful of pages among many thousands being used on a daily basis.
Whilst the popularity of pages changed a little through the school year there were some consistent favourites.
This analysis told us what information needed to be prominent in the design and also that prominence was temporal so we needed to be able to promote and demote content readily.
This was only one design input, the second major input was consultation.
Voice of the user
We were lucky enough to be able to engage directly with each of the user communities through questionnaires and workshops.
Each group was able to say what they did and didn't like about the legacy extranet, and what expectations they had of the replacement.
The recurring themes were speed and simplicity. For some (e.g time poor parents) that meant completing a task in minimum clicks without being asked for information already on record. For others that meant being able to add information without overheads of reformatting and meta tagging.
The conclusion was that 3P's were essential to a successful result.
Personalisation, Push and Pull
A school is a huge and diverse community and any information is usually only relevant to subsets of that community.
Legacy school extranets suffer from a broadcast mentality of providing all the information to everyone. We heard very clearly that no-one saw the school extranet as a form of entertainment and they didn't appreciate being alerted to irrelevant "news".
In the re-invention of the school extranet, individual profiles are pre-populated from the School Management System and then adjustable to personal preference which has formed the basis of a personalisation approach.
Profiles allow parents to see "My Daughters" pages that are specific to their family members, students and teachers to see "My Classes", and everyone to see the sports teams, events and announcements that apply to year group and extra curricular choices.
Still receiving paper newsletters? Well even in the first generation of the school extranet we replaced the paper distribution of 1000's of newsletters with a weekly electronic mail distribution, however, the push approach in generation 2 took this to another level.
Personalisation played a starring role here too with newsletters being individualised to the recipient and only containing relevant content. If nothing was relevant, nothing was sent. Notices were digitised as well. to provide a push based personal daily digest of new information on a need to know basis and clearly separating pertinent information from what previously had been much noise.
Whilst personalisation and push gave massive reductions in interruptions, we also heard that users wanted to pull information from beyond the boudaries of their profile.
Providing a sophisticated search facility that allows results to be organised by age, popularity, meta tags and a range of other attributes rapidly gets users to the resource they're looking for.
Does your school extranet live up to our benchmark by being
Pushing out individualised daily digests
Integrating to your school management system
Productive for addition of new content
Pulling a few select results from a wealth of information assets
and being beautifully styled?
If so, congratulations, what else should we add to our benchmark checklist from your experienced?
If not, get in touch. We'd love to re-invent your extranet together with your school community.