Direction and Charge
Maine Department of Education – Online Needs Analysis
From Commissioner Stephen Bowen
This is a time of monumental change, in that we’re moving beyond a 100-year-old model of schooling. As we’re moving to an outcome-based model, all districts are confronted with knowing whether a particular learning product signifies that a student is meeting standards.
There is a tremendous amount of interest out in the field for a clearinghouse to share ideas and learning resources. Districts are desperate to have a way to share knowledge amongst themselves. They are asking us to help them work together on this.
How do we build a website that allows people to share blogs, post videos, talk about what they did and what rubrics they used, tell us about success stories from within their schools?
How do we break down barriers between districts, such as Massabesic, which is looking to see what has worked for other schools as they implement standards for the next grade level?
Right now, all of our listservs come from many directions. How do we create a site where these can be in one place and link to standards like the Common Core?
This need has been reinforced over and over from the field, and it’s a key piece. Although people are interested in data, they really want a user-driven platform to share back and forth, where they can post, where they can comment.
We want to avoid having every school reinventing the wheel. This also shouldn’t be a capacity issue for us. We don’t want curriculum people to vet all materials, but provide a platform for sharing that requires less staff involvement.
From Communications Director David Connerty-Marin
After several years of analysis, review, frustration, and preparation, we have formally engaged in a process of redesigning the Maine DOE website. I am happy to report that we have started the process with the hiring of a consultant, Jay Collier, who will assist us with Phase I – analyzing our website needs and identifying solutions to those needs.
Jay will be meeting with many people in the Department and everyone in the Department will have an opportunity by one method or another to offer suggestions about function, format, and other elements that should be included/considered in our new website. You will see Jay mostly on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and occasionally other days. He is sitting in the south end, amongst the regional representatives/content specialists. Jay comes to us with considerable web management experience; he ran and oversaw significant upgrades to both the Dartmouth College and Bates College websites, among other projects.
He has been hired through the staff augmentation process through OIT, and the project is being paid for with funds from an EDFacts grant from the U.S. Department of Education, since such a large portion of our website involves to the presentation of data.
If you are interested in learning more about the project, read on. Otherwise, just watch for Jay and for opportunities to share your feedback on our current site, our future needs, and the future website.
A brief overview of the Maine DOE website redesign project
The Maine DOE website was at one time at the cutting edge – or at least in line with web technology and protocol of the 1990s.
Currently, the site suffers from several deficiencies, among them:
- The website is difficult to navigate – it’s hard for visitors to find what they are looking for
- Information and data are poorly presented, and in many places
- There is often little explanation of what content is available, or what a particular link will provide
- Formatting is varied throughout the site.
- Many pages and much data are outdated
- Nowhere do we tell visitors what we as a Department are up to, and that we think they should be interested in
- The site portrays an agency that is regulatory, not supportive, innovative, or focused on improving learning.
What we need is a redesigned website that is in line with the Department culture we wish to portray: one of transparency, support, collaboration with districts, and innovation.
There are numerous possibilities for using the site to improve user experience, help relieve burden on MDOE staff by providing easier-to-access information online, and even to save money for the Department and for the field, through smarter use of webinars and other online tools to provide information and professional development electronically.
A new website will likely include more interaction, better navigation, integrated calendar features, customized delivery of news and information as requested by users, more video, and a number of other features. It will be fully accessible to the visually and hearing impaired. It will almost assuredly be built on a content management system (CMS) which, for those who know about these things, allows for far greater ability to manage content, and to do so without specialized software, meaning that anyone can update the information they are responsible for without any technical savvy and information can be “repurposed” in multiple ways (on the web in more than one location, automatically inserted into e-newsletters, pushed to social media, etc.)
However, we have not predetermined the outcome of Jay’s work with us in assessing our needs and finding the right solutions. Jay has already begun interviews and will continue with one-on-one and small group meetings to learn from us about our needs and to guide us in determining what will best fit our needs. He will also meet with some website users from outside the Department, and is already helping us to organize the many aspects of this project.
Often, organizations will approach a project such as this by issuing a Request For Proposals and seeking a (probably large) firm to handle the entire project, involving needs analysis, solution design, and implementation.
We have chosen a different approach.
In Phase I, we have hired Jay to help us with “needs assessment.” Because we are splitting up the job, Jay is free to explore all possible solutions. He will be able to provide us with the blueprint for a design that is built entirely on what we need and want, not on what a firm has done before, or will be easiest for them to implement.
Phase II, which will be concurrent with phases I and III, is content review. We will be engaging in a review of all content on the website, in conjunction with each of the teams and sub-teams. Jay will be assisting us in developing a plan for doing this based on best practices, but he will not be assisting with the content review itself; we plan to do that internally, as the experts in our areas of work.
Phase III is the implementation. This could come in the form of issuing an RFP. Or it may be that the solutions proposed by Jay and accepted by the Department will be so clear and defined that we can hire a designer or two to design and code the new website. Jay will be helping us to make that determination based on what we come up with.
A Communications Team made up of Peter Bernard, Steve Garton, Wendy Lounsbury, Jeff Mao, Jennifer Pooler, Brian Snow, and me has been exploring these issues for a long time and we are guiding the initiative, in consultation with the commissioner and the leadership team. We have begun discussions with the prospective commissioner, as well. In addition to the formal opportunities to discuss with Jay and others of us on the team, do not hesitate at any point in the process to offer your suggestions or concerns, or to ask questions, of any of us.
As mentioned earlier, we will host several small group meetings, one or two large group meetings, and provide opportunities for feedback online, as well. We also plan to keep the Department updated on our progress.
Well, it took us a long time to get here, but now we want to move as fast as possible, while still being thoughtful and comprehensive. We anticipate that Jay will work with us through sometime in April, at which point we will have a clear and detailed picture of what we need/want. That will be followed by implementation, which will likely mean either issuing an RFP or hiring people temporarily to help with the design and coding of the site and its features. Either way, this could easily take several months. Concurrently, we will be working to update and better organize content all across the website. Some of these content changes will be ready in time for the new site’s unveiling. Some will be ongoing for months afterward. The Department website has close to 10,000 web pages (seriously!) and so it can’t all happen at once.
Meanwhile, we anticipate having a new commissioner in early March. To reflect this and to update visitors on some of the work of the Department and because we just don’t want to wait six months to improve the visitor experience at least a little bit, watch for a handful of changes to the home page and several top-level pages on the website. The format will look largely the same, but at least the initial “landing” on the Department’s website will be cleaner and make it easier for visitors to not only find what they are looking for, but also to better understand the work of the Department and how it all connects.
Lastly, we are also working to finalize in the coming weeks a weekly Commissioner’s Update to replace the current Administrative and Informational Letters process. Watch for more on this in the coming days and weeks. It will mean an easier process for DOE staff to get items out to the field, while reducing email “clutter’ for administrators and others. And it will provide an opportunity for us to share information that we have not been able to share easily in the past because of the stringent requirements on “letters.” This new Update will be incorporated into the website’s “newsroom,” and will likely undergo a small transformation again when the new website is unveiled.
Formal project charge
Assist DOE in preparing and organizing project by developing an understanding of the business needs, budget requirements and resources.
Role and responsibilities
1. Consultant will have a strong understanding of:
- Website development project management
- Web programming
- Site architecture
- Database interface
- Content Management Systems, including Sharepoint
- Web accessibility compliance for deaf, blind and hard-of-hearing
- Web feed formats
- Applets as determined to be essential to realizing DOE website goals
- Best practices in ongoing maintenance of web content and other web content policies for large organizations
2. Consultant will help prepare and organize the website project by developing an understanding of DOE budget requirements, resources, and needs.
3. Consultant will work with DOE in analyzing the current website situation, appraising our needs for navigation, content, technology, content maintenance, and oversight and help us execute a plan to reach our organization and technology goals. This will include meeting with internal stakeholders as well as some external users.
4. Consultant will help DOE understand the technology process, and better qualify us to make difficult technology decisions during the project lifecycle, including providing suggestions for ways in which technologies such as RSS feeds, social media, CMS, media galleries, and others can improve the web experience for DOE constituents and create efficiencies for the Department by reducing redundancies and simplifying web technologies for content managers in the Department and allowing more people with fewer skills to be content managers.
5. By helping DOE understand the department’s website needs, consultant may be called upon to assist in writing an RFP so we get specific, reliable proposals, and choose the right vendor.
Consultant will deliver written reports and verbal presentation in the following areas. Some or all of these may be part of one report or presented as separate reports:
- Analysis of the Department’s website needs, including what the website should make available to meet user needs
- Recommendations for website structure/organization and navigation
- Recommendations for technology solutions and tools to meet user and Department needs, including: Content Management System, calendar functions, social media, web feeds, etc.
- Recommendation for process of hiring web design firm and writing an RFP.
- Recommended best practices for organizations our size for web content maintenance and web policies and protocols (who can update content, when do web updates require sign off and by whom, etc.)
Next: Scope and goals
- Direction and charge – Approved by Commissioner Stephen Bowen – 5/6/2011b
- Project: Maine Department of Education – Online Needs Analysis
- Executive sponsor: Maine DOE Commissioner Stephen Bowen
- Communications director: David Connerty-Marin
- Online media consultant: Jay Collier, The Compass LLC
- Funding: U.S. Department of Education EDFacts