Sandra Kelly firstname.lastname@example.org Outreach Services Facilitator Kansas School for the Deaf Communication of Information in the Technology World PROBLEM: The 21st Century has been labeled the information age. With the explosion of technology and access to worldwide information it becomes apparent that people can be easily overwhelmed with “too much information”. Families with children, who are deaf/hard of hearing, peer-professionals in the field and the general public often, do not have the time or technology skills to search unguided through the maze of mountainous cyberspace bits and bytes. The component that seems to be missing is communication of this information. Parents especially want information that has relevance to their child, their lives and their situation. Professionals have indicated a desire to collaborate directly with others in the field in regard to specific topics. Many times individuals from the general public may have questions and not know where to start in their search for answers. SOLUTION: We have been creating our website [www.ksdeaf.org] in an effort to address these specific challenges. Three general guidelines have emerged as being crucial in the development of a website that offers communication of information: 1. Easy of navigation: When setting up a website for a multi-component organization, it is very important that the organizational structure be understandable to those who are not part of the organization. What may seem logical to people on the ‘inside’ may not be clear to those from the ‘outside’. We addressed this challenge by presenting our organizational information to an objective person who helped us with designing our site map. General departments that are constant throughout the year are listed at the top [header] of the Home page. Items that are current and continually changing are listed on the side bar. Links to other pages within the site can be very helpful, but the person navigating the system needs to see how to get back. By having the header navigation sites constant on all pages the user can easily find his/her way back. This system appears to have worked very successfully for us. 2. Clear written format: Writing script for websites presents a challenge to many writers, because the style is unique. It has been suggested that written information contained within a single web page be no longer than the monitor screen. Users tend to scroll down for pictures, but not for written copy. The challenge becomes providing sought after information in a way that is neither wordy nor ‘watered-down’, yet ‘user-friendly’ for the wide variety of ‘users’. [Writing for the web is an additional skill that can be taught to students!] 3. Current information: An often overlooked yet very critical guideline is keeping information not only current, but timely. If the user knows that by accessing a specific page, he/she will be able to get relevant information, he/she will visit the page on a regular basis. We have found that our staff utilizes the website as a resource for communication within the school. One person is not responsible for finding all of the information that will be posted. [However, there is only one person that posts all information.] By having many individuals within the school sending information pertinent to their area, they have an ownership of the site. They also have a sense for what their readers want to see and read about. Information on our site changes on a weekly and sometimes, daily basis. IMPACT: Our families have responded very positively to the website. By having the email addresses of staff members available in connection with specific areas on the site, parents have the opportunity to directly ask questions or get more information. We have also heard from prospective families about how helpful our information has been in their search for educational placement for their children. Much of our state is rural. Our peer professionals in the smaller populated counties of the state have commented about the helpfulness of resources they can access on our website. They have also stated that the current information of up-coming activities is greatly appreciated. The number of people around the world that have visited our site constantly amazes us. Many individuals contact us by email, phone and regular mail requesting information and state that they “heard” about us through our website. Our website is still in the stages of infancy. We certainly do not pretend to have the perfect site and are constantly finding mistakes and areas that need improvement. This is a work in progress. However, we have found the website to be a wonderful vehicle for communication with others.
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