Building a Platform for Communications – Gracefields Kindgergarten

Building a Platform for Communication Introduction With the proliferation of internet as a source of mass communication media, many organizations see the advantages of creating a platform in the cyberspace to reach out to its “casual and intentional visitors” (Tubin & Klein, Fall 2007). Gracefields Kindergarten is one such organization. The principal, Mrs Joyce Teo, is keen to explore websites as their tool in the cyberspace to promote the school as well as to improve teacher-parent communication (personal communication, February 4, 2010).

Giladi (2004) referrred a website to be akin to the window for the school’s culture (as cited in Tubin & Klein, Fall 2007) and “the website should represent the company in a meaningful and positive light” (Levis, Helfert, & Brady, 2008). In this technological age, “Companies around the world use the internet and design sophisticated and attractive websites to promote and sell their products online to a larger spectrum of customers.

This trend is becoming increasingly popular and is now highly used. ” (Vrontis, Ktoridou, & Melanthiou, 2006). “Singaporeans are becoming more sophisticated internet users” and “the proportion of Internet users among Singapore’s resident population rose by 25 percentage points” between 2000 and 2005 (Lee, 2006). Therefore, it has become even more pertinent that organizations have a presence in the world wide web and having a website is one way to increase web visibility.

This white paper attempts to discuss what a website is, how we can create a website using web host services and the benefits and limitations of a website. It further discusses the situation at Gracefields Kindergarten and a proposed solution. About the organization Gracefields Kindergarten has a history of about 16 years, with 2 schools in Singapore at Gilstead and Teck Whye. For the purpose of this white paper, references are made to the school at Gilstead.

The school aims to provide all round development of a child through its graded program. The school does this through (Joyce Teo, personal communication, February 4, 2010) – • Providing a conducive environment which responds to the children’s need to be nurtured in the process of learning to find out and discover knowledge for everyday living • Focusing on Cognitive (Intellectual) Self Development, Social and Moral Self Development, Creative Self Development, Emotional Health Development and Physical Development. Ensuring teaching staffs are qualified teachers who are registered with the Ministry of Education and who share the common mission to assist the child in realizing his/her maximum potential for growing and learning. To achieve this, class size and number of children per teacher is kept to an acceptable level. • Offering quality, comprehensive, practical and reliable child development program in a supportive and stimulating environment.

The school continuously works towards attracting more students into its cohort and the principal, Joyce Teo, believes that an existent of a school website would enhance their marketing efforts on top of the usual print media. The website would also facilitate better teacher-parent communication, the other objective of the effort (personal communication, February 4, 2010). What is a Website? “A web site is essentially information in the form of text and graphics which may be extended with other media such as sound, stored electronically as files on a hard disk.

The hard disk is located in a computer known as a web server connected to the Internet. Files on the web server are therefore accessible via the Internet or on an internal network (intranet)” (Baggott, Nichol, & Watson, 1999, p. 105). Additionally, Baggott, Nichol, & Watson (1999) states that “a web site can give you access to an almost infinite range of information including academic and teaching materials in a form that you can either use unaltered, or adapt to your own particular needs. ” Unlike blogs, websites are more formal and less self-opinionated. It is organisational rather than individual focused.

Despite its differences, the two can still work hand in hand to provide visitors with more insightful knowledge of the organisation. How to create a website? Before we jump on the websites bandwagon, below is a list of decisions to be made prior to getting the website up (as cited in Anderson, 2009): • “do some research on websites and web hosting. Choosing a good web host is very important! ”; • choose a “web hosting plan that fits your needs and budget”; • choose a portable domain name; and • select a host and a hosting plan On the note of choosing a web host, organizations have an option of using a free or paid web host. Free web hosting – For budget constraint organization, this option seems most cost effective although not without its limitations, for example, limited storage space, uses the host’s domain name, less professionally looking, advertisements that may not reflect well on the organization’s image or culture etc. Furthermore, during my research, most if not all the free web host are based overseas (usually in The United States of America). That could pose a support issue due to the time differences. Given the characteristics of free web host, it is best used for personal websites and non-business related organizations.

Here are some examples of free web hosts, who also offer paid services as upgrades: o www. webs. com – enjoyed 5 years of steady growth o www. yola. com – recipient of various awards in 2008 o www. wix. com. – with flash capability o www. weebly. com – TIMES’ 50 best websites of 2007 o www. 110bm. com • Paid web hosting – The cost ranges depending on the company and the type of services selected. Using a paid web host allows the organization to have a custom domain name, have larger storage space, better customer service support, greater speed and consistent server uptime, just to name a few.

Here are some examples of paid local web hosts (top five extracted from www. sghostcompare. com, a website that compares a list of web hosts): o http://www. cyberaxis. com. sg/ o http://webhosting. on. sg/ o http://www. usonyx. net/ o http://www. hostsg. com/ o http://www. iwi. com. sg/ What then makes a good school website? In Tubin & Klein (Fall 2007), they cited a few authors’ opinion of what a quality school website would look like: • structural robustness, functional utility, and aesthetic appeal-that impact user satisfaction and loyalty (Hong & Kim, 2004); • richness of the contents (Leping & Johnson, 2005); the website’s usefulness and ease of use (Selim, 2003); • serves as an extension of the school, offering a learning environment that enhances individualization of teaching and learning, and improving teacher-student communication (Cumming, Bonk, & Jacobs, 2002) and lastly, • props up the school’s high positioning and image, both for accountability and marketing purposes, especially in a decentralized and competitive environment where demands for accountability and parental choice become an important factor in the school’s survival (Oplatka & Hemsley-Brown, 2004; Bush, 1999; Marks & Nance, 2007). Getting started Software/ hardware

As long as the organization has a working computer with internet access, it can register for an account with the web host or to make the necessary purchase online if it chose to pay for the web hosting. Organizations do not need to purchase nor maintain any hardware and in most cases, no extra cost for software either. Skills requirement of user As most of website builders are created with the masses in mind, there is no necessity for the organization to be well-versed with any web programming language. The website can be created with simple drag and click actions. However, the organization does need to bear in mind that the appointed web dministrator has to be comfortable with the use of computer and internet and web content contributors have good writing skills to portray the right image for the organization. Cost As mentioned earlier, cost of using free web host can be zero if the basic package suffices the organization’s needs and if using a free web host is appropriate. Should organizations require additional payable services, they can be upgraded at very affordable prices. If the organization has yet to acquire the necessary hardware, i. e. computer, it would have to take that into the cost consideration. Labor is the other cost factor to consider.

Given that some web builders are easy to use, the organization can save up on hiring expensive IT experts. However, they may have to invest in training the appointed web administrator to get him or her accustomed to the use of the web builder. Benefits of a website Below are some benefits organizations can enjoy if they have a website: • Cost – In comparison to print media, websites are a much cheaper way of promoting and advertising the organization and far more flexible. • Convenience – users do not have to travel or to make calls to the organization to enquire about products or services.

With the availability of a website, visitors can retrieve information at their own time and comfort. • Improve credibility – when an organization has a well developed website, people tend to trust the organization more and know that it means business! • 24/7, all round the year – other than any downtime faced by the server, the website is ‘opened’ twenty-four hours, seven days a week and through the year. • Growth of business – potential investors can be directed to the website to get more understanding of the achievements of the company and what it can achieve in future. Limitations of a website

Tubin & Klein (Fall 2007) cited the following: • it needs a webmaster to run it. If the webmaster falls behind in updating or responding to questions, the website becomes outdated and impairs accountability efforts. • the website needs content contributors; without them, the website becomes stale and may affect the number of visitors. Other drawbacks include: • misinterpretation and wrongful use of website information • it can only be accessed if one has a computer with internet access • downtime may put off visitors and create a negative impression for the organization The case of Gracefields Kindergarten Teacher-parent communication

Presently, the school does not have an official website. Teacher-parent communication is primarily done via printed letters or phone calls whenever necessary. Letter communication is definitely not eco-friendly at all even though it is working well for the school. With the introduction of a website, it is hoped that non-time sensitive messages to parents can be communicated via the school website. We can also explore tools such as RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds, Twitter or Facebook to stay connected to parents, and an add-on feature to send instant short messages from the website to the parents’ mobiles for quick and important updates.

Prospective parents and students A school visit is one of only two ways to learn more about the school for this group of people. The other mode is through teleconversation which does not help in presenting the visual aspect of the school environment. The principal is the default person who would entertain this group of visitors and although she carries out her duty with much enthusiasm (I personally attest to it), having a school website will, without doubt, help lighten her load. If prospective parents are able to find answers to their queries in the website, that may cut down telephone enquiries and time spent during on-site visits.

Compatibility with other system During the interview, the principal has also expressed interest in establishing an online student database whereby parents can have access to their child’s progress report in school. Although this is beyond the scope of what a website would offer, we have to bear that in mind when selecting a web host – which would eventually allow the school to upgrade or to port it to the next system, such as a portal, for such function. Cost consideration Preschools in Singapore do not get additional financial assistance from the government.

Apart from school fees collected, some preschools may receive additional funding through their association with community foundations, religious bodies, social organisations and business organisations (Joyce Teo, personal communication, February 4, 2010). Gracefields Kindergarten is fully funded by the school fees they collect. As such, the school has to work with a tight budget to get this website up and running. Maintenance and security issues- Maintenance cost of the website should be kept to a minimal and ideally, without the need for a separate IT specialist as the budget would likely not be able to accommodate.

The principal is also concerned with security and privacy issues. Proposed Solution Since local web hosting sites are in abundance for selection, for ease of customer support sake (that would address the concern for maintenance of the website), the website will be hosted on a local web host. As such, by default, free web host would not be solutions. At $5 per month, the school can enjoy a list of services for the website from Singapore Host (www. singaporehost. sg), one of the top five web hosts reviewed by www. sghostcompare. com. Singapore Host is also able to Conclusion

In today’s online world, a Web presence is a veritable necessity ((Renfroe, 2005). The first thing that crosses people’s mind when they need information is to consult the World Wide Web. A quick web search and it returns a list of results, almost instantaneously! Visitors form an impression of the organization when they visit its website. “A successful web-based marketing can indeed be achieved by defining a website’s main objectives, designing a website through applying principles of best practice usability, tracking website visitor activity, and maximizing the site’s visibility. ” (Vrontis, Ktoridou, & Melanthiou, 2006).

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