- General Best Practices
If your faculty are the heart of your school, the curriculum is the bones keeping everything in tact. Parents assume schools are teaching the right things in the right order, but they are often uninformed, harkening back to their own schooling as a point of reference — which is far different than the dynamic course options being offered today. Prospective families also need help differentiating schools based on their curriculum, and because it’s not easy to get into the level of detail during a conversation (if at all), the website plays a critical role.
To effectively showcase your school or district’s curriculum offerings online, you’ll need three key parts within your website’s academics section:
- A User Experience that Frames the Curriculum
- Online Course Catalog with Compelling Course Descriptions
- Storytelling and testimonials
Let’s dive into each of these key parts in a bit more detail.
Part 1: A User Experience that Frames the Curriculum
Green Farms Academy places the information about its upper school curriculum in a broader context. Opening with a handful of key infographics, the page then spells out the dichotomy of academic/intellectual and social/emotional, but there’s a bit of tongue-and-cheek to the formal presentation — the two are very interconnected even though parents may think of them as separate. GFA is clearly saying it “gets it” and welcomes users to learn more.
The innovation on this page continues. Just below is a video about the curriculum with a CTA alongside that encourages visitors to learn more — not about just “courses” — but rather about “inquiry-based projects”, which is exactly what parents want to hear.
Testimonials follow with a simple interactive set of thumbnails to the left.
The page continues with access to the curriculum. In this case, GFA is linking to an interactive e-Book, a solution that can work in a pinch but in this case complements a page full of high-value content.
Below the guide, are extremely well written summaries of the subject areas, quick snippets that tell you a lot:
For prospective families who spend time on this page, they will leave informed in more ways than one — inspired by video and images, educated in how the school thinks about its classes, and provided opportunities to discover more.
Part 2: Department Overviews
Since some visitors organize and structure information from “whole to part” (they want to understand the big picture before being sidetracked with details) and others “part to whole” (they want specific details and then back into how it all fits together), it’s important to attend to both — and ensure they are connected within your site map.
Woodward Academy’s Arts page, within the Upper School area of their website, provides access to the details about curriculum and courses related to the program, but also has a full overview leading to two great videos for Visual and Performing Arts.
Likewise, for colleges and universities, academic degree pages are essential and should be rich with content and information. Fisher College has a page for each program with lots of useful content.
Part 3: Online Course Catalog with Compelling Course Descriptions
The online course catalog anchors your curriculum pages, and if you’re a large school, a technical school, or a school district, you want to make sure it’s easy to isolate classes, subjects, and grades.
If their children are inclined towards science or the arts, parents alike will be keen to understand what those courses look like; and prospective students will be no different, particularly the high achievers eager to know what the advanced classes look like.
This means you need to go beyond a PDF list of course offerings. Think of your curriculum guide as a way to bring what’s happening in the classroom to life on your Digital Campus.
Brentwood School, in this example, implemented this toolbar for zeroing in by subject or grade. The online course catalog is powered by Finalsite Posts, a robust content management tool that makes categorizing, tagging, and searching easy.
Maret School opens its curriculum page with a Page Pop to make sure parents become familiar with how the school sequences classes.
Maret’s curriculum page itself is also notable, using a graphical interface to filter.
What’s more, a user can peruse all of the classes, which in turn pick up the visual cue back to the subject area.
Clicking on a class provides a visitor more information without leaving the page:
Together, the filtering and graphic nature of approaches like this also serve up details when needed, making this page accessible, interesting, and very practical.
But let’s take a look at that last piece a bit closer: class descriptions. The most boring of boring, right? Wrong! While schools struggle continuously to pull this content together, this is a huge — and often missed — opportunity to set your school apart. Lucid, creative course descriptions can make a big difference in distinguishing your math or science or PE class from everyone else’s.
The Hun School of Princeton not only has a filterable curriculum guide, but most of their class descriptions have eye-catching titles and in some cases video. For those interested in Biology, this example has a perfect amount of content, including a video to help it come alive.
How you present your courses is important, too. Haverford School uses a combination of stunning photography and Composer’s accordion element to present interesting English Department electives, each with its own description.
De Smet Jesuit took the unique approach of calling out specific courses on its Departments and Curriculum landing page. Rather than expecting parents to cull through the dozens of offerings, many of which will be fairly traditional, they display those courses which are particularly distinct, such as Forensic Science or 3D Printing.
There is more than one way to “crack the nut” with a curriculum. It can be a tedious and challenging job gathering the information, but it is more often than not a missed opportunity. By spending real time improving this area, you can have a large impact on what visitors come away with. After all, curriculum is what makes a school and a school. Dig in and get inspired!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Angelo graduated valedictorian from St. Paul's School in Baltimore, MD and from Princeton University. Despite getting his degree in creative writing and English Literature, it generally takes some doing to keep him from programming and breaking websites. Just after graduating, he started Silverpoint, and grew it to over 300 schools worldwide before merging with Finalsite in 2013.
- Digital Campus
- Website Redesign