Redesigning the Shropshire Learning Gateway
Wondering what we’ve been working on recently? One of the big ongoing projects for the team at the moment is a replacement for the Shropshire Learning Gateway (SLG), a portal for the authority to communicate information to staff in schools.
The current SLG contract was coming to an end and we were asked to come up with an alternative solution. It made sense to use Umbraco given the experience within the team (have we mentioned that Dale and Lewis are now Umbraco certified developers?) and we knew we could build something with Umbraco that would be an improvement on the current site, which was built by an external company on the Sharepoint 2007 platform.
We started off with a round of feedback gathering about the current SLG, attending meetings with school staff who use the site a lot, setting up a short, electronic survey and sifting through the minutes from some School Governor meetings, in which they had been asked a few questions about their use of the SLG. We also made use of a survey of headteachers which had been done by the Education Improvement Service.
The upshot of all the feedback seemed to be that while the idea behind the SLG – having all the information in one place for school staff to access – was great, in practice there were a few problems. The main gripes were the navigation being extremely difficult to understand, as well as being actually difficult to use because the drop down menus would pop up unexpectedly and people would click on things unintentionally. Compounding the navigation problem, the search would return huge amounts of irrelevant items but seldom what was being searched for. SLG users needed a username and password to access the site and another common issue was people forgetting login details and not being able to access the site at all.
Some attempts to remedy the navigation problems had been made with the inclusion of an audience based layer of navigation – a button each on the homepage for heads, teaching staff, administrators and governors. This was something which the people we spoke to found very useful and so it was incorporated into our design for the replacement.
Another big decision was to make as much of the site as possible public, rather than have to log in immediately. There will still need to be bits where a login is required, as some areas of the site will carry services covered by SLAs, or contain sensitive information. However, with schools being more able to buy in services from places other than the Local Authority there was also a need for services to be able to ‘sell’ themselves, both in Shropshire and elsewhere, something which isn’t currently possible as all the information is hidden behind a login page.
This was an interesting project as there were many things which differentiated it from our usual work with websites. The audience for the SLG are quite specialised, so where we would normally be trying to cut down on the complex language on a site, in this case the audience of headteachers, teachers, school administrators, governors and other professionals working in education, were familiar with the terminology the site used, something which is reflected in the structure and the content.
The site itself posed a certain amount of difficulty when it came to analysing it – to say that in it’s current form it’s a sprawling behemoth could actually be an understatement! My attempts to map out a new structure ended up looking like something from CSI (although I’m not sure whether the papers covering my wall looks more like the investigator’s work or the psychopath’s!).
A big part of replacing the site was going to be ordering it in a more logical and accessible way and for inspiration we looked to our friends at gov.uk, who have done an awesome job of making a user friendly site covering many different services.
We recently ran a workshop with some of the services who have sections on the SLG, which went well and proved very useful.
Hopefully we were able to show our reasoning behind the design plans we’ve made so far, as well as gaining a deeper understanding of how the services operate. We have made a start on setting up a replacement site on our development server and we’re working through all the complexities of the site bit by bit, so watch this space for further developments!