… You just opened a can…
Professional, Consistent and Supportable
This is what we are after with our sites. When you are looking at your site and we are looking at 5,000 potential sites, our perspectives are going to be different. This first section, “The Computing Services Perspective” will get us on the same page. The second section, “Pr’tty your site up” will give some ideas for customization.
The Computing Services Perspective
Computing Services is tasked with providing sites that can be used to extend your classroom online. The intent of these sites is to be a resource to your students and improve communication with parents and the community. These goals are served by the functionality of the platform and the content that those using it provide. The visual appearance of the sites impacts our intent in that visitors are more likely to read and enjoy a site that isn’t punishing their eyeballs. With that in mind, we provide a theme that is clean, simple and emotionally neutral.
Your web site likely serves a number of audiences. As you are posting assignments and class notes, You may consider your primary audience to be your students. As you post this content, you may also have in mind that this information helps some parents stay informed and hold students accountable when at home. In this sense, your web site becomes your way to offer a transparent classroom, giving nobody the opportunity to say, “I didn’t know” whether that be students or those encouraging them. In this sense, your site needs to “dress” appropriately for it’s daily job of working with these diverse groups.
Your web site is part of a community of LPS web sites. While it can be personally fun and rewarding to design your page, it is not in the best interest of those visiting your page to have it be different from everybody else’s. Your web site is more friendly when it looks and behaves like other sites in your community. Likewise, you are more able to help others or be helped when you have the same configuration that another educator has.
What can seem like a small decision can be a pretty major one on the support end. Consider adding an additional theme. Here are some of the technical/support questions that have to be addressed.
- Does the browser work in the browsers our users use (Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer-Win v.7/v.8, Safari)?
- Does it support the plug-ins that we have installed?
- Is it compatible with our current themes so that somebody can switch to/from it easily?
- Does the theme look like it has solid development structure behind it?
- Are problems with it promptly addressed?
- Is it made compatible with new releases of WordPress promptly?
- Is the theme compatible with alternative user-agents such as screen readers
While it would be easiest for a while to just install themes/plug-ins for folks, over time it would begin to degrade everybody’s experience as a platform developed that was unmaintainable. The only shot that we have to be successful supporting the system is to limit the system add-ons to as few as possible.
Besides, keeping our system small provides many benefits. As we get feedback about how people are using their sites and what should be changed and improved, we have a clear target for those improvements. It would be much better use of time to make 5 improvements to the one core theme, than 1 improvement to 5 different themes. The new customization feature for example took most of a day to get working the way that we need it to, and will still take some tweaking. If we were running multiple themes, we would be quickly talking about almost a week to do the same thing. It unfortunately just doesn’t make sense institutionally to multiply the time required for every support effort so that some folks can have a site that looks just the way they want.
Pr’tty your site up
Now that that is out of the way and you know where we are coming from, here are some ideas for customizing your site that don’t require us to make changes for you on the system side.