School website project

  Stuart Leyland 16:57 02 Mar 04

Hi all :o)

The school council and the teacher in charge of organising the school council have decided that they want to produce a website. Great idea yes? Easy way to spread news, keep people informed of events, etc, etc?? However, there is the slight problem that none of them have ever put together a website before (as far as I'm aware anyway) which is where I come into it. The teacher knows that I've done websites before and so asked me if I'd be willing to help. Of course being the kind and giving person that I am (:oD), I agreed to help.

After speaking with the teacher on Monday, it has come to light that no-one has a clue what to do or where to begin. This means that I've got to organise 10 pupils (between the ages of 12-16) and one teacher so that we can produce a website and this is where I need some help. Building a website on your own is no problem because you only have to think about what you want and what you can do but I would imagine that it is going to be a great deal more challenging and I need to know where to begin.

I have suggested that we begin by deciding what pages/content we want on the website. Then we can start to work on a layout. I proposed that people work in pairs so that we get 5 different layouts and then take aspects of each one to come up with our final layout. At that point, it would be time to get on to the computers and start designing the pages before finally adding the content.

This poses several problems:

1. Is 5 different layouts too many to be combining into one?
2. How do we get ideas for designs (eg: look at other websites first or not)?
3. What to do about graphics (see note 1 below)?
4. How to overcome cross browser problems (ie: Opera's displaying of tables).
5. How to incorporate a colour scheme without having to change it on each page if it is decided that it needs changing (see note 2 below)?

Note 1: One of my friends was drafted in to help with the website because the teacher thought that he had experience of it but apparently he's never created one before. However, he is very good with graphics and if there was only me doing the website then I would ask him to do the graphics but as it is supposed to be done by the council reps then I think it would be unfair for us to do it for them. This then raises the question of what to do about graphics because without them, websites look plain. Any suggestions would be most welcome.

Note 2: If I was to do the website myself, I would either use a template file or use CSS but with those who have no experience of website design I do not think it would be possible. This would mean that each individual page would have to be changed if the colour needed changing which is not very desirable.

As you can tell, I've had no experience of working with a group to produce a website and so would like as much help as possible with regards to what steps to take, etc.

Just one final note, even though I can code PHP and mySQL, the teacher wishes for the pupils to create the pages themselves, which has ruled out this option.

Thanks a lot for any help you can offer, it will be much appreciated by everyone involved.

  jgosden 18:32 02 Mar 04

i'm glad i don't have to do it!!!

as you may know if you want the site to look good it should follow the same layout, the kids have enough to learn i would definately use css!!

are we doing raw html here ??? Or using a wysiwyg editor??

i was spend the first few sessions give them a crash course on how to make websites as from experience of teaching kids how to make websites its not easy!!!!!

Then once they no the basics look at some decent websites click here bbc is always a good starting point and look at the design , note CONSISTENCY. You may then want to get them to draw an outline of what it should look like.

I agree that graphics will be a MAGOR problem here, and am not entirely sure what to do here, maybe make some decent examples and let them modify them

at the end of the day you can't teach a bunch of kids how to make a website and they will suddenly be making professional websites so it isn't going to be great. To be honest i feel sorry for you as they seem to be expecting something which just isn't going to happen!! :)

  Taran 18:34 02 Mar 04

We've been down this road before haven't we Stuart ?

I seem to remember a school site project and animated Flash movie a couple of years ago...

Anyway, moving swiftly on.

I suggest several things:

1. Forget about layouts and their colour schemes/graphics and so on, at least for now. Colour schemes should, where possible, follow the school uniform/house colours as closely as is practical and nothing beats a top banner/left navigation panel layout.

2. Ask to arrange a meeting with the school head/deputy head, any other relevant staff members and those students who will be part of your panel

3. Prepare a series of questions for everyone about the following:





Serving the site

I'll pause there for now but there are lots of other factors.

To expand on the above:

You need to have a reasonably firm notion of the overall direction the site is planned to take. Will it be used primarily as an 'about us' kind of information portal to the public or, far more likely and far more useful, will it be used as a means for delivering student resources, assignment material, even quizzes and so on ? Most school sites end up turning into an intranet with an outward facing section.

Who will supply and control the content, will it be sub-divided into curriculum subjects and and if so how will that information be delivered [aside from the HTML pages will there be document downloads and if so what file formats and how best to offer them].

How often will updates to the site be planned - this could affect the overall navigation structure. Static information is easy to handle but regularly updated pages should be dealt with differently and controls should be put in place linked with content. Who will provide it and in what form etc,.

Accessibility issues are a very serious consideration. From a design standpoint the site should meet with accessibility standards as a matter of course which will entail code considerations and validation at some stage.

Serving the site: does the school currently have a web host available and if so will it be Windows IIS or Linux hosted ?

Your comments on PHP/MySQL were interesting and should not be overlooked. Most of the schools and colleges I work with have Windows IIS hosts and so they tend towards ASP/Access or ASP with MS SQL Server. However, if this has yet to be arranged here are two links for you which may be very interesting:

click here

click here

Both are a complete PHP/MySQL school website project with many features built in purely for academic use. Student grade books, half term and other holidays, quizzes, assignment downloads [and uploads] and all kinds of other things. You can modify them as you see fit and they both offer the means of creating additional pages and sections of the site quickly and easily.

Working on a collaborative project is a whole new ball game and you're in for some interesting times ahead.

A couple of final points: even a small school can find a lot of information to publish and it is important to be able to keep a handle on it and manage it. Breadcrumb navigation helps in terms of finding your way around a large site and keeping its folder structure quite modular can also help. So think in a logical manner.

For example, you could treat each academic subject as a subweb. Even for static HTML pages it helps tremendously to be able to partition everything off in this way and it can really make a difference when the time comes for updates.

Since the site is likely to be fairly large at some stage, even if it isn't to begin with, you might want to think about building ease of maintenance into it by considering CSS files to control layout and format. Once you get above a handful of HTML pages any major change to format becomes very, very laborious. Change a CSS file and you change the entire site in one go.

I'll shut up now. There's loads more to cover and lots more to say but this should kick you off and start you thinking.

Feel free to take this to email if you need to Stuart. Even when I'm not in the forum I access the web every day so if you need to...

Best of luck with the whole concept and keep us all posted - I'm very keen to see how you get along.



  Forum Editor 18:43 02 Mar 04


1. Decide on where the site will be hosted.

2. Decide on and buy a domain name.

3. Discuss the purpose of the web site - what is it required to do? This discussion will, in itself start you all thinking about the site's size and architecture.

4. Draw out (on paper) the site structure - this can be a challenging and rewarding process for beginners, as they begin to realise how tricky it can be. The aim is to design a site so that you can go from the home page to any page on the site in no more than three mouse clicks - and back to the home page in one.

5. Work out how you intend to place the content - make sure that you don't end up with dozens of pages when six or seven will do.

6. Delegate responsibility for various section content - set fairly strict guidelines about the length of text sections - nothing too long.

7. Now (and only now) start discussions about the look of the site - visit other school sites and see what they've done, and ask for input from everyone. You'll be surprised at the difference in the way that people think about design.

8. Once you have the look agreed upon, stick to it. Whatever you do, don't allow all kinds of different design ideas to filter in and spoil the cohesive look - more sites fail on this one factor than almost anything else.

9. Get everyone involved in the site construction, and use a simple WYSIWYG program - NetObjects Fusion is perfect for this. Later on if some people show an interest in HTML and other technologies you can tweak the site, but to begin with keep it simple. That way you'll have a site up on the internet before people start to lose momentum - and consequently interest.

The single biggest problem you'll face is working with a group - everyone will have their ideas and some people will exhibit leadership tendencies, they'll want to take over. It isn't easy - I've done four school website tuition projects, and on each occasion I spent a good deal of the time handling the group dynamics, rather than getting on with the job in hand. It's all worth it in the end however, when you see the site online.

Good luck Stuart - come back to the thread if you need more specific help.

  Taran 18:44 02 Mar 04

Interesting article which, although USA based, holds a lot of water for your situation:

click here

  Forum Editor 18:46 02 Mar 04

at the same time!

  Taran 18:49 02 Mar 04

And a good UK document on school sites and many of the considerations you should take into account:

click here#

  Taran 18:52 02 Mar 04

We certainly were. We covered much of the same ground too.

Maybe we both need to get out more.

I always just thought it was me...

  Stuart Leyland 19:11 02 Mar 04

Thank you all very much for your comments. From what Taran and FE have said, it would appear that I was going along the right lines but obviously missed some points out.

With regards the program to be used, I am hoping to use FrontPage. I am fairly certain that at least some of the computers on our school network have this program installed, if not, there's a problem straight away but I shall cross that bridge if the need arises.


"at the end of the day you can't teach a bunch of kids how to make a website and they will suddenly be making professional websites so it isn't going to be great. To be honest i feel sorry for you as they seem to be expecting something which just isn't going to happen!! :)"

I know! I'm hoping that at the very least everyone will be enthusiastic about this so we can get it up and running. The problem then comes of keeping it updated.


You've got a good memory! We've been here in a similar situation with regards it being about school but that time I was working alone with only the content being supplied by the school.

Our school already has a intranet and so we don't want this to be the same as it, and hopefully, it won't but we'll see as we go along.

"Accessibility issues are a very serious consideration. From a design standpoint the site should meet with accessibility standards as a matter of course which will entail code considerations and validation at some stage."

Unfortunately, the problem is that I will be the only one out of 13 who know what Opera or Mozilla are and how to make a webpage display correctly in those browsers and how to make it compliant with standards. This raises the problem of how do we address this issue from the beginning without bambozling people? Obviously one option would be for me to sort the pages out in my own time but with this being my GCSE year, I doubt I'll have time to do that. Any ideas would be extremely useful and this also applies to the problem of dealing with CSS and images.

"Working on a collaborative project is a whole new ball game and you're in for some interesting times ahead."

Can I give up now? ;o)


"Decide on where the site will be hosted and decide on and buy a domain name."

This won't be an issue because, as far as I'm aware, the site/pages will either be hosted on my own websever (favourable so that I can easily access them for changing) or on our school webspace.

"Get everyone involved in the site construction, and use a simple WYSIWYG program - NetObjects Fusion is perfect for this."

Unfortunately, as far as I'm aware, we do not have NetObjects Fusion at school and for a project like this, I cannot see it being bought. Hopefully FrontPage is available and will be managable. This is my editor of choice (Notepad is close though :oD) so I'm quite accustumed to it which would be easier when I get asked: "How do I do...........".

As for the rest of your points, I will be printing them and Taran's out and making use of them before we meet on Friday so that we can set out our aims.

Thanks for everyone's help - it sounds like I'll need it!

  Taran 19:46 02 Mar 04

Any of the mainstream WYSIWYG editors are useful in that you either apply templates [a la Dreamweaver] to those pages you link to the template file or you can use templates or themes [FrontPage] or styles [NetObjects]. The output is broadly similar although the road to it is different in all the programs.

If FrontPage is available it makes sense to use it and all is not necessarily lost when it comes to code compliance.

You can turn the plain vanilla HTML that FrontPage produces into fully blown XHTML fairly easily in versions 2002 and 2003. Third party code converters are available for older versions to change the HTML output into valid XHTML.

You can also design a template page and use it as your site basis to create all further pages from, giving you instant layout control over everything but the body content. This, in turn, can be linked into CSS if need be.

You did know that you can apply a theme in FrontPage and select the option to apply it using CSS ?

Doing so produces a folder in your web root called _themes\name_of_theme and in it there will be the graphics and CSS file for your theme.

You can modify an existing theme and use your own graphics and all other elements of the theme may be customised to suit. Formt your theme, design your template, apply the theme to it and save the template file. All future pages created from that template share its layuot.

If you place the FrontPage web in a network share or give everyone a working copy of the web root folder you should all be working to the same standards, from the same templates whic can be formatted using CSS if applied.

Things suddenly become a bit easier...

Deciding what is going to go into the web site will probably be far more of an issue than how to make it and what it should look like.

I'll certainly be following this one with interest.


  Stuart Leyland 19:58 02 Mar 04

Cheers Taran.

I think I might have to play with FrontPage and it's themes tomorrow night (after checking that we do have it installed at school) and see what I come up with. Tinkering with them may limit what the design of the site turns out to be.

I'll find out whether or not school have got FrontPage and what options are available for sharing the web folder, etc, etc.

As has been said, this will be interesting.....

Thanks for the help :o)

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