Carroll schools unveil new Internet site Pages designed to offer more and easier links

November 23, 1998|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

Six months ago, Carroll County school officials debated whether to take their once avant-garde Web site off the Internet.

Instead, they decided to redesign the site, and last week they unveiled what some believe will become a model for school systems throughout the nation.

What sets the Carroll site apart is that it helps users find information quickly and easily -- information that could benefit every Internet user.

The Homework Helper section, for example, provides links to home pages on the World Wide Web.

Parents of preschool children, for instance, will find links that will help their children get started with language skills and arithmetic.

What they'll find

Each link contains a description written by Carroll teachers, telling Internet users what they will find at each site.

The Kids Space link, for example, tells viewers the Web page contains a "picture alphabet with links to other sites" and that "this child-safe site will also talk to the child by naming the letters that the child selects."

Some links, such as the description of a Leonardo da Vinci page, offer caveats. The description tells users that while the site is "an excellent summary of Leonardo's artworks, scientific investigations and life," it "is only for the really patient." The problem, Internet users are told, is that the site "contains many illustrations which unfortunately slows it down."

In order to find valuable links for the school system's home page, the board of education paid teachers to work an extra one to two weeks searching for, reviewing and evaluating Internet pages.

Strict guidelines

"There were very strict guidelines" about whether to provide a link to a given page, said Eric D. Conway, a former Sykesville Middle School science teacher who designed the school system's new Web site.

"Hundreds of people contributed," he said. "It is one of the more valuable services" offered.

"I'm really excited about the possibilities," said Scott Reinhart, the county library's assistant director, who is responsible for automation, support and technical services. The Carroll library is the school system's Internet service provider.

"I think they've done an exceptional job," Reinhart said. "If it's not the best public school system Web page in the nation, it's got to be among the best."

Conway and Reinhart expect the site to grow in popularity, but they don't think it will tax the library's ability to provide Internet service to individuals and clients.

"I don't think this would overload the system unless they had thousands of graphics," Reinhart said. "We're already handling 70,000 to 80,000 hits a day."

A "hit" is when someone visits a Web site.

Last Tuesday, a day after the school system unveiled its new page, it received 613 of the 80,222 hits recorded on the Web sites serviced by the library.

Glitzy graphics were not what Conway had in mind when he designed the site. A lot of sites are designed to "knock you in the head," he said, but those visually stunning effects slow the process of drawing the page.

"We wanted a good design that was easy to work with and easily structured. Every single thing on the page has a purpose," Conway said. "Our goal was to make the [school] site service-oriented. We want to bring people back to it. We were talking about taking the site down if it could not be redesigned and reorganized."

Many sections, such as Homework Helper, were on the schools' earlier Web page but were hard to find, said Conway, who also helped build that earlier page.

'More professional appearance'

"We wanted to have a more professional appearance and to get rid of a lot of worthless, unusable stuff" that had crowded the former page, Conway said. "We filtered out all the junk from the past three years. We redesigned it so that it can be easily added to or expanded."

Meanwhile, visitors can view a number of special pages. A page for parents, for example, provides information about Internet safety, how to help children succeed in school, and how to handle parent-teacher conferences.

Parents, relatives and art lovers may want to visit a page showing the work of students at four elementary schools and three middle schools. Visitors can see the entire exhibit in thumbnail size and click to see individual works enlarged.

Also available for viewing are student-created Web pages on subjects ranging from astronomy to medieval weaponry.

Student-created sites

"Every [student] site was done by one of my students" Conway said, referring to the students in his eighth-grade science class last year at Sykesville.

Conway -- who resigned in June to develop computer programs -- would give his students a choice of writing a report on a subject or designing a Web page about it.

The topic had to be something they previously knew little or nothing about.

"I wanted them to take pride in performing a task they had never done before," he said.

Conway taught his students how to use HTML -- the basic programming language used on the Internet -- and enlisted 60 or 70 of them in helping design the school system's Web pages. His wife, Christina, an information systems programmer, helped program the site.

Conway plans to give more Carroll schools a presence on the Internet and to update the home pages of those that already have sites. Using a school handbook, a recent school newsletter and a few photographs, he can put together a simple Web site for any school in the county, he said.

Not everything on the site is lofty. Students wondering about what's on next week's school lunch menu can visit the site and find out.

The school board's Web page address is http: //www.carr.org/ ccps/.

Pub Date: 11/23/98

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