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Weaving a Secure Web Around Education: A Guide to Technology Standards and Security
Home
  Table of Contents and Introductory Material
Chapter 1
  The Role of the World Wide Web in Schools and Education Agencies
Chapter 2
    Web Publishing Guidelines
Chapter 3
    Web-Related Legal Issues and Policies
Chapter 4
    Internal and External Resources for Web Development
Chapter 5
    Procuring Resources
Chapter 6
    Maintaining a Secure Environment
Conclusion
Appendices
Glossary
PDF File (1,119 KB)

Contact:
Ghedam Bairu

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Chapter 2: Web Publishing Guidelines

QUESTIONS ANSWERED IN THIS CHAPTER:
  • Why does an agency need web publishing guidelines?
  • What are content guidelines?
  • What might an agency examine when considering advertising that is available on the web?
  • What technical guidelines are useful when developing a web site?


Introduction

Because basic web sites are not difficult to program, schools and individual students are creating their own Internet sites. Since any site associated with an education agency will reflect on that agency, it is important to develop policies that will ensure consistency, while not stifling creativity. This chapter discusses the guidelines an agency should consider to present a functional site that reflects its mission. Guidelines might include who will decide the content on the site, the "look and feel" of the site, and what procedures will be in place for updating and making changes.

Guidelines that incorporate procedures and regulations in the areas of content, technology, and usability are effective in developing a foundation to maintain an effective, user-friendly, and secure site. Education agencies need to be aware of privacy rights, factors that affect how web pages are displayed by different browsers, and especially the many security issues related to Internet and web access in the schools. Agency guidelines should be made available to the people who develop or post content to the site.


Content Guidelines

Many times, the first impression the public has of an agency is its web site. In addition to reflecting the agency's mission and containing appropriate and useful content, the site should be attractive and well organized. A district, for example, may decide to include a page on its web site about employment opportunities. If the application procedures on the site enhance the ease of applying and contain useful information about employment in the district, the site may help the district attract new teachers. A disorganized web site will likely create a poor impression of the district and may turn prospective teachers away.

Regardless of the sophistication of the site, basic rules apply. First, the site should be organized so that a novice can navigate easily from one section to the next. A good rule for any but the most extensive sites is that the user should be no more than two clicks away from any important information. Links to other sites should be clearly marked. Clean, individual pages should be designed; a cluttered screen makes it difficult to find the content. Each page should be checked periodically to ensure that all graphics are loading properly and that all links are active. If the organization does not have the resources to support a sophisticated site, it is better to start with a simple site that can be kept current and operational than to have a site filled with "under construction" graphics and/or outdated information.

In many cases, education agencies perceive the web site primarily as a vehicle to inform personnel and the public about their activities and goals. There are other reasons, including the delivery of instructional content, for establishing a web presence. To administer the content on the agency's web site effectively, content policy and procedural guidelines should be established as a component of the agency's technology plan before moving forward with web site development.


Build on a simple start. Prepare for the future.


Guidelines for Posting New Content

The first step, before any programming begins, is to determine what the agency needs and wants the web site to do. Beautiful sites can be created with flashing icons, dynamic colors, and interesting text. However, if the content does not meet the needs of the agency, the value is, at best, limited.

Everyone has visited a web site where navigation is impossibly difficult, where one has to spend a great deal of time "clicking" around the site, or where links to other sites do not work. Without guidelines and a quality control process, problems like these are inevitable.

The agency should develop a clear process for deciding what and how new materials are posted to the web site, including whether an approval procedure is needed for new sites and pages. The procedure may be as simple as a request for space on the agency's server, or it may be a more complex approval process involving a committee review.

It is important for the agency to distribute the guidelines for posting new content and to make sure that staff are aware of the process. Posting the procedures and content guidelines on the web site for easy access can accomplish this task. Additionally, it is imperative that the staff understand the procedures and guidelines.

Local coordinators and students may develop some of the most innovative school web sites in-house. While the agency will want to support such innovation, guidelines need to be followed in all areas of site development. As the district is ultimately responsible for the content on school web sites, it may be in the district's best interest to have a representative (e.g., a school site coordinator or webmaster) at each school who understands and is able to support district guidelines and regulations.

Where the district is unable to assign a site coordinator or webmaster, every effort has to be made to ensure that there is a person familiar with district guidelines and other regulations at each location where content may be posted.

What Should the Content on a Web Site Look Like?

The web site design should present a consistent look and feel for a sense of continuity across a site's pages. One way to accomplish this is with the use of style sheets that are embedded or linked to the site within the programming design. Style sheets, or templates, define the format for each page in terms of such elements as typeface, margin width, heading specs, spacing, and layout.

This does not mean that all pages need to look the same. Not all web pages on a site will use style sheets. The purpose of style sheets and other formatting tools or guides is to create consistency, not stifle creativity. However, each style sheet should contain:

  • a home button that returns the user to the agency's home page with one click of the mouse;
  • the name, address, and telephone number of the agency;
  • the agency's webmaster's e-mail address;
  • copyright notification; and
  • a privacy statement.

 
What does ?free? really mean?


Advertising on the Agency Web Site

The agency should address the issue of advertising on the web. Advertising of products is allowed in some schools and districts; for example, at athletic events. Other agencies do not permit advertising. Policy decisions regarding web site advertising should be consistent with other agency policies regarding advertising.

Agencies should be wary of Internet service providers (ISPs) that offer "free" disk space, or other services, in exchange for the right to display advertising on the site. Some of these services will run banner advertisements or pop-up ads while the user (in the school's case, a student) is online. Some ISPs even profile users and sell their names and access information to other service providers or advertisers. While this process is commonplace on the Internet, it may be inappropriate for school or district sites.

Some agencies have determined that it is in the best interest of the students and staff to limit web site access to government and other research sites that do not carry any commercial endorsements or allow "pop-up" advertising. This is accomplished by using a program to filter (see Chapter 3) out unwanted sites.

Situations exist where the vendor who programmed the web site or the donor who funded the web site programming might request that the agency place an "icon" on the home page of the web site to advertise their contribution. If the agency agrees to place an icon of this type on the web site, many more requests may follow.


Agency Web Site Disclaimer

A disclaimer statement should appear on the agency's web site acknowledging that the public has the freedom to browse the site. The statement should include information about copyrighted material and may include language disclaiming responsibility for some Internet activities. The agency should consult with its attorney about the specific language and content of the disclaimer. To view an example of a web site disclaimer, visit West Virginia's State Department of Education site at http://wvde.state.wv.us/disclaimer.html.


 
 
 

 
Create consistency by establishing procedures for changing web sites.


Allocation of Space, Maintenance of Files, and Web Development Policies

Technical Guidelines

There are several technical guidelines the agency should employ when web pages are created. If the agency's web site is to be maintained and updated by more than one person, an established set of procedures for accomplishing these tasks will assist in ensuring dependability and consistency. The technical guidelines developed by the agency can serve as the procedural handbook for implementing policies governing web use. Aspects to consider when developing technical guidelines include:
  • compatibility of guidelines with recent releases of the major web browsers, as well as with older browsers;
  • optimization for different web browsers;
  • load time of the web site using a variety of modem speeds;
  • use of approved file extensions and directory structure;
  • use of an Internet-friendly color palette (see chapter 3, "Accessibility Guidelines");
  • content of meta tags-information inserted into the "head area" of the web page-to improve access to the agency's web site by search engines from outside the agency;
  • removal of unnecessary HTML tags;
  • use of standard navigation bars and icons throughout the site; and
  • determination of whether to use, or prohibit, frames.
Contractors who develop sites for educational agencies should be subject to the same organization guidelines concerning web site development as would an in-house developer. While a contractor may be able to select appropriate technical guidelines, the organization still must be responsible for content, accessibility, and style. Accordingly, there should be clear standards and procedures in place when the contractor is selected, and the contractor should agree to abide by all of the standards before the organization signs a contract.



Don't tape that password to the keyboard or onto the monitor!


Password Security

The use of passwords is important for securing the privacy and confidentiality of student and personnel information. Passwords can also assist the agency in monitoring access to mission-critical applications. All agencies that maintain a web site, including schools, should consider policy issues related to password security. These procedures should be written and distributed to all members of the agency.

Some password-related issues include the following:

  • A password should consist of both alpha and numeric characters.
  • The agency should require that passwords be of a sufficient length (e.g., eight alpha and numeric characters).
  • The agency should establish procedures that require passwords to be changed frequently (e.g., every thirty to sixty days).
  • Passwords should not be shared or "loaned" to another person.
  • Passwords should not be written down.
Password security procedures should include a help desk, or an automated process, for staff to contact when a password is forgotten. Password restoration procedures should include a method to verify the identity of the person calling the help desk. This could include recalling the staff member's social security number, mother's maiden name, or some other item that will identify the person requesting a new password.


Summary

  • Agencies should establish guidelines for posting content on a web site.
  • Web site content guidelines should address consistency without stifling creativity.
  • Agencies should develop procedures to deal with advertising on the Internet, especially if the agency uses an outside ISP to host the web site.
  • Technical guidelines are necessary for password protection.


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National Center for Education Statistics - http://nces.ed.gov
U.S. Department of Education