Maine Department of Education – Online Needs Analysis
This spring, I began working with the Maine Department of Education to analyze its public online communications, help envision a more effective DOE online presence, and begin turning that vision into reality.
The Internet is a critical component of 21st century learning, so our primary question was: how can the Department transform its own online communications in this rapidly evolving Internet ecosystem?
Research and context
We began by studying current practices, surveying strengths and weaknesses, and developing a scope and goals statement, which was approved by the Commissioner of Education, Stephen Bowen. Then, we defined a set of principles that could be used to evaluate all of the DOE’s online properties.
Online experiences should be:
- Dependable – Just work: always, anywhere, anytime
- Accessible – For a full spectrum of users, on many devices
- Intuitive – No manual or helpdesk required
- Usable – Easily find what you need, and interact effortlessly
- Personalizable – Subscribe to, and keep up with, your own interests
- Welcoming – Respectful in language and tone
- Collaborative – Supportive spaces to work together and excel
- Inspiring – Showing how educational innovation change lives
For the next step, we catalogued where people interact online with the Department, from the official “core” website, to Department and Association portals, to forums and listservs, to external wikis and blogs. We also identified plans for future initiatives, including online assessment tools tied to common core standards, portals into educational data, and tools to organize OERs into digital textbooks.
So, within this clear context, we focused on two primary areas where the Department can make the greatest improvements to its online presence.
Core website overhaul
First is the core website, where Department staff publish information about programs, services, people, schools, calendars, professional development, rules, and data reporting. The consensus is clear: the current core website is long overdue for an overhaul to improve the organization, usefulness, and findability of all official content.
To help raise awareness of how an effective publishing platform can follow the principles we outlined, we built the Maine DOE Newsroom, created the Commissioner’s Updates e-mail service, developed a graphical identity system, and configured and launched Twitter feeds for news updates and for the Commissioner.
We built the Maine DOE Newsroom, created the Commissioner’s Updates e-mail service, developed a graphical identity system, and configured and launched Twitter feeds for news updates and for the Commissioner.
David Connerty-Marin and Matt Stone have done a stellar job of writing, editing, and curating timely posts – news, dispatches, and administrative letters – from a variety of sources and making them available to educators and administrators around the state.
Now that those services are in place, David and Matt are now working with the state InforME group to apply those same principles to a new core website. I recommend the U.K. Central Information Office’s Web standards and guidelines as a innovative model and clear process for moving that project forward.
Online knowledge exchange
The second major initiative is focused on professional collaboration. We know that there is great interest in exchanging collective knowledge about transformation in districts around the state, to help reduce the time spent accessing, understanding, evaluating, and implementing innovative programs.
Currently, we are all using numerous forums, listservs, and blogs to support our community of practice. There is no single online space where Maine teams of education professionals can sustain professional relationships between workshops, seminars, and conferences, and easily exchange their knowledge for the common good, while retaining content ownership and while maintaining archives in perpetuity. (There are very few non-proprietary services available that respect professional ownership and history.)
We know that there is great interest in exchanging collective knowledge of what works in districts around the state, to help reduce the time spent accessing, understanding, evaluating, and implementing innovative programs.
Such a platform would allow us to integrate many styles of collaboration all in one space. Each practice team could use its space to:
- Conduct threaded discussions (forum features)
- Curate and embed links to recommended resources and repositories (blog features)
- Create shared documents (wiki features)
- Post digital files (file sharing features)
- Share upcoming professional development events (calendar features), and
- Receive e-mail updates for one, some, or all of the activities of interest
Although membership in each practice team would remain consistent, their spaces would be transparent to the public, so colleagues, parents, and community members could all better understand innovations in our schools. Also, each practice team could choose to welcome moderated commenting for deeper public input.
The model for this work should be the U.S. Department of Education’s Connected Online Communities of Practice initiative. Its advisory board includes Etienne Wenger and Michael Horn, leaders in the fields of communities of practice and blended learning.
The current proposal is to prototype an integrated professional learning exchange this summer by selecting several practice teams to help us identify and test the most intuitive and most useful functions. Pilot teams may be focused on: a standards-based content area, an innovative district-wide model, and/or a professional development strand.
In this discovery phase, we would model connected learning by investigating existing knowledge, exploring options, testing a prototype, and sharing our learning. The prototype would be publicly-viewable and feedback would be actively sought. Throughout, we would be asking our colleagues: how would you use an integrated collaboration platform to support professional practice? What should it look like?
With this shared knowledge, we would then be prepared to seek, select, and implement a long-term solution.
Next: Direction and charge
- Maine DOE Newsroom (launched 4/2011)
- Legacy Maine DOE site
- Project review – 6/29/2011b
- Project: Maine Department of Education – Online Needs Analysis
- Executive sponsor: Commissioner Stephen Bowen
- Communications director: David Connerty-Marin
- Communications team: Peter Bernard, David Connerty-Marin, Steve Garton, Wendy Lounsbury, Jeff Mao, Jennifer Pooler, Brian Snow, Matt Stone
- Online media consultant: Jay Collier, The Compass LLC
- Funding: U.S. Department of Education EDFacts