There’s not a worse feeling than sending a PDF off to the printer, then finding a typo moments later. Or a formatting issue. Or missing information. Or you accidentally uploaded the wrong version. Again.
It’s inevitable that as soon as your student handbook is exported an issue arises, and madness sets in.
The bad news is that school communicators can’t avoid distributing a student handbook — it’s the go-to guide for school policies, school and district codes of conduct, and important family resources. The good news is that there’s an easier way, and it doesn’t involve a PDF.
By digitizing your school’s handbook, you’re not only saving your school and your marketing and communications office valuable time, resources, and sanity, but you’re creating a more user-friendly, mobile, and accessible experience for your school community. And by not printing your handbook, you’re also saving a few trees in the process.
Still need some convincing to move your school handbook into the digital realm? Look no further!
Why should schools digitize their student handbook?
1. Increased accessibility
A PDF is not typically ADA-compliant or accessible. PDFs can be difficult to access on mobile devices and may not be as easily readable as a digital format.
Many PDF files are images of text and are considered inaccessible by WCAG standards, but by presenting the text on-screen, the information can be accessed by screen readers and engage a larger audience. Since the text is accessible on screen, users can even search your site for what they’re looking for.
Also, by digitizing your student handbook and presenting the resource online, the information can be easily accessed by students and staff on their devices, making it more convenient for them to access important information when they’re on the go.
2. It’s easier to update
We all make mistakes
every day from time to time, and with schedules and policies that are often in flux, the moment a handbook is exported or sent to the printer, it’s outdated. And face it — fixing, re-exporting, and re-uploading that PDF is a pain.
When that inevitable typo is found, a webpage can be easily updated in seconds. With a digital version, it can be considered a “living document,” ensuring that the information is always accurate and up-to-date.
Take a peek at Beaver Lake’s student handbook — they’ve organized all the content into a mobile-friendly experience that’s easy for families to navigate and find more about policies, procedures, and important information that are unique to their district.
Using Finalsite’s Posts module, they're able to easily tag and filter categories for browsing, like their academic programs, homework, and library resources.
3. Your community is already digital
Chances are you’ve got your phone on you all day long. Do you carry your student handbook around all day long? A digital handbook is responsive and ready to look great on any device, be it a laptop, desktop, tablet, or smartphone.
4. It’s cost-effective and environmentally friendly
Schools can spend thousands of dollars in printing and mailing costs for every handbook, but with an online version, you can reallocate and reinvest that cost in other areas of operations.
Digitizing your handbook is a more sustainable option — digital ink costs nothing while a single ream of paper (about 500 sheets) will use about five percent of a tree! Poor trees!
5. It’s a better user experience
PDFs are primarily a static format, which means that they don't support interactive elements such as videos and forms. This can make the handbook much less engaging for your families.
Rather, a website simply has the potential to be more engaging. There are tons more options on a website vs. a hard copy or a PDF for how the user can experience your content.
Your community’s preferences for information are varied. Digital handbooks can provide access to other resources, like linking within your school website or library resources and including visuals like video, images, slideshows, GIFs, and more.
Now, your users can share your content and you can engage with them through polls, surveys, and calls to action. In the section about your parent association, you can link out to volunteer opportunities, or in your annual fund description, link to your giving form.
Grand Rapids Christian Schools still offers a PDF version of their handbook, but they’ve also provided a digital version through Posts, making it easy to search the student and parent handbook topics by keywords, by school, or by category. What’s great is that it’s so easy to access on a mobile device, too!
6. Better analytics and tracking
PDFs don’t provide analytics on who is accessing the handbook, which pages are being viewed, and how long it is being viewed, which can be useful for the school administration. If it’s a 50-page PDF, you have no way to know what content is being consumed.
Since it’s on your website, you’ll have access to analytics like which pages are being viewed, how long they’re viewed for, and insights into user engagement. Now, you can make data-driven decisions that no printed version can match.
7. You can enhance your handbook's content
Support your (let’s face it — dull) handbook content with photos, links, videos, and more. You can’t easily get that with PDFs.
8. Language support
PDFs are usually in one language, so it's not easy to provide support for multiple languages. If there are changes needed, it means that an edit will need to be made multiple times.
With an on-page translation service like Weglot, digital handbooks can support multiple languages, making them more inclusive and accessible to non-English speaking students.
Eden Prairie Schools has a comprehensive digital student handbook for its schools, nicely organized with accordions for easy browsing. And since it’s digital, the entire handbook can be translated into multiple languages, like Icelandic, for example.
9. Easy distribution
Send an email, link it from your portal, and bookmark it in your browser — going digital provides so many ways for families to access the handbook again and again.
Best Practices for Digitizing your Student Handbook
Moving your handbooks online may be easier than you think. By using Finalsite’s content management system, Composer, and the Posts module, it's as easy as 1, 2, 3.
Step 1. Create a board — You’ll want to create a “Student Handbook” board to hold all your sections.
Step 2. Create your posts — Each section, or topic, will be created as its own post. Add a thumbnail image to make the page display a little more exciting and easier to identify. An icon can work well.
- Tag and Categorize. Be sure to organize your sections in a way that makes sense, perhaps by the school, division, codes of conduct, or policy.
Step 3. Create the page — add a page on your site, and use a Post element and Post Tools elements to connect and display your content.
Handbooks for the entire community are available on The Basilica School of Saint Mary’s site. They’ve created their information using the Posts module as mentioned above, and now all the resources are searchable, filterable, and can easily be accessed from anywhere.
For such an important document, your school’s student handbook needs to be a convenient, readily-available resource for families. At one time, PDFs were a useful format for distribution, but they have limitations when it comes to interactivity, analytics, accessibility, and language support. Your school or district should consider digitizing your digital handbook platform that addresses these limitations and improves the user experience.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Connor has spent the last decade within the field of marketing and communications, working with independent schools and colleges throughout New England. As Finalsite’s Senior Content Marketing Manager, Connor plans and executes marketing strategies and digital content across the web. A former photojournalist, he has a passion for digital media, storytelling, coffee, and creating content that connects.