Web Site History
During the summer of 2003, the California Department of Education (CDE) kicked off its Web Redesign Project as part of the Department's on-going Web maintenance program. Among its goals were to:
- Reduce the number of Web pages and documents from approximately 25,000 to include only those pages that are regularly accessed by users.
- Establish a common look and feel sitewide.
- Reorganize the site to be easier for users to navigate and find information.
- Develop a staff-supported content management system that relies on state-of-the-art technology.
- Achieve ongoing cost savings and a boost in productivity.
The current CDE Web site went live on April 26th, 2004. The total number of Web pages and documents was reduced from 25,000 to about 7,000. The CDE Web Team developed a complete content management system from scratch using Active Server Pages (ASP) and Microsoft SQL Server. The new site was very well received. In fact, the CDE Web site was selected as the 2004 first place winner of the Center for Digital Government and Education's ninth annual Best of the Web contest (K-12 state Web site category).
The CDE Web site was developed from the ground up using state-of-the-art technology. A full-blown content management system was created using ASP, SQL Server and Macromedia Contribute software. This system consists of:
- A dynamic, topical navigation structure that is entirely managed through an internal Web-based application.
- Functionality that manages the internal Web document approval and posting process electronically.
- A database back end that captures detailed information about every Web document on the site.
- Navigation elements such as a dynamic site map, a dynamic A-Z index, dynamic breadcrumbs (navigation hierarchy allowing users to go back to a previous level) on every page based on the page's location in the directory structure, and a unique page identifier for every Web page allowing users to quickly go to a specific page.
Other innovative features of the CDE site include the use of templates, server-side includes (SSI) and CSS, which allow us to make sitewide changes instantaneously. As an example of our use of CSS and dynamic content, a page's color scheme and navigation menu are dynamically generated based on the location of the page in the site. Proportional text sizing is used throughout the site, allowing visually impaired people the ability to increase the text size.
To make the job of creating Web pages easier for CDE's 100 Web content contributors, the CDE site provides additional tools. For example, an internal, one-click html validator (W3C) and link checker are provided on all templates. Also, content contributors have access to an online, dynamic broken link report, which provides the exact location of broken links for their pages.
The site employs industry best practices regarding page layout and structure: Web accessibility standards (W3C Level One and Section 508), scalable font sizes, search engine optimization, optimal use of white space, limited use of images and the 256-web safe color palette, and the use of dynamic code to minimize the number of templates needed. But the most impactful of the site's page layout technologies is the widespread use of CSS technology for page layout. Using CSS for page layout allows users to view the site's pages on a vast variety of computers and other devices, such as portable and handheld devices. Additionally, CSS page layouts vastly improved accessibility for disabled site visitors.
When the current CDE Web site was designed, both internal and external stakeholders were surveyed to determine their needs regarding site design, general requirements, content relevance, functionality, and the overall look and feel. Much of the functionality that was built into the site resulted from this input:
- The site's page layout and design standards ensure fast loading Web pages on multiple operating systems and browsers, at various connection speeds.
- The site's directory structure provides the site visitor simple and short URLs, which encourage ease of use.
- The site is completely topic-based, and provides dynamic breadcrumbs, site map, A-Z topic index, and metadata that allow users to easily navigate the site. The dynamic metadata guarantees quality search results. The topic-based structure encourages users to intuitively navigate through the site to the desired content. The overall site design allows users to reach their desired content with the minimal possible clicks.
- Through the use of CSS, SSI, and templates, a consistent look and feel is enforced; ensuring users always know they are at the CDE site.
- All page content is reviewed at several internal levels to ensure users are able to easily obtain relevant and accurate information. All images require alternative text and are restricted at lower levels. Adequate white space provides a crisp, clean look.
- "Skip navigation" for screen reader accessibility was implemented to allow users of screen readers to bypass repeating navigation.
- Each page has a text size adjustment feature that allows site visitors with or without visual impairments to enlarge text size very easily.
- All Web pages are valid according to W3C standards, which provides users of various browsers the ability to view the information correctly.
- Content level pages provide site visitors the ability to print the page using a dynamic printer friendly version, which utilizes its own unique style sheet. Visitors have the ability to print a clean, content only, version of any page. This saves user costs for printer ink and paper.
- There is a dynamic "Last Modified" date on every page to let site visitors know that the information they are accessing is current and relevant. Additionally, there is an internal mechanism in the content management system that ensures every page is reviewed at least once a year.
- Web site visitors are provided with a number of features and tools that allow them to meet their needs in the most effective and efficient way:
End User Features and Tools
- Feedback/Contact Us - A link is provided on all pages to a feedback form that allows Web site visitors to voice their comments, questions, or concerns about our Web site. The feedback is stored in a shared, central e-mail account where incoming messages are addressed several times daily. Another link on all pages is the "Contact Us." This form allows site visitors to submit general questions, comments, and complaints to the Department about specific programs. The messages are forwarded to the appropriate program area for a response.
- ListServ - Many program offices within the Department have established mailing lists for their respective areas. By allowing site visitors to sign up for these lists online, users can receive communications pertaining to the program. This feature has dramatically enhanced our communications with target individuals and organizations.
- Internal Page Identifier (ID) - The ID feature permits easy access to certain pages. Internal staff can provide site visitors a specific page ID that they can type into the search engine or at the end of the URL. For example, if the Department mails a letter to local educational agencies regarding the Academic Performance Index, rather than provide a long URL similar to http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/ac/ap/apidescription.asp, site visitors can enter the Web address plus the ID in the Web address box of their browser. For example, http://www.cde.ca.gov/105110.
- Newsroom - The Newsroom provides a single entry point for users to obtain a variety if information regarding CDE press releases, speeches, statements, biographies and other Department information.
The Department maintains many important Web applications on the site that consistently receive thousands of hits per year. Some of the more intuitive and interactive ones include:
- DataQuest - Reports for accountability, enrollment, graduates, dropouts, course enrollments, staffing, English Learners, and test data.
- Standardized Testing & Reporting (STAR) - Information for schools, districts and county offices of education.
- Academic Performance Index (API) - Measures the academic performance and growth of schools using student test score and demographic data.
- Funding Opportunities - The CDE centralized all funding opportunities into a one-stop shopping location on the new site for site visitors to determine their eligibility and to access forms needed to apply. It is managed through the internal content management system and a Web application, which is fully standardized and streamlined. The automated Funding listserv system allows visitors to sign up to receive e-mail regarding new or updated funding opportunity information as soon as it is available.
- Other Web applications that enhance user interactivity
The CDE Web site utilizes a fully automated topic-based content management system with redesigned processes and standards. Security is a priority; all Web pages are created/modified in a staging environment and electronically posted to the primary Web servers after all approvals have been obtained. Internal content contributors no longer need extensive technical expertise to post Web documents, which saves significant time in the development of these pages. This allows employees to be more efficient and focused on their program areas and assisting their customers. These processes ensure quality content and fast turnaround.
The CDE content management system provides automated tracking of all pages and allows internal users the ability to look up specific details about the site, Web pages and metadata, including Web page counts, status reports, hit reports, and ad hoc reports.
The Department has an effective operational recovery plan in place to protect the new Web site in the event of a disaster.
Web site visitors are able to find their information easily through the topic-based site design. Also, due to the complete metadata collection through the content management system, both internal and external search engines return relevant results. Site visitors don't have to travel all over the site for information.
If site visitors have questions about the content on the site, every content level page displays a contact person or program, phone number and/or e-mail address so that visitors can request additional program information.
The funding opportunities system on the CDE Web site allows site visitors to easily view all sources of state and federal educational funding that are available, in one central location. The content management system now ensures that every funding opportunity is fully reviewed prior to final posting. The information is highly reliable and standardized.
The Department's content management system was developed entirely in-house with existing resources. No external contracting was needed. The system is flexible and fully scalable to accommodate any future needs. Enhancements and modifications to the system can be easily accomplished and integrated through in-house expertise. Typical proprietary content management systems with similar functionality can cost anywhere from $20,000 to $2,000,000 for one-time costs. Due to the proprietary and inflexible nature of most systems, oftentimes contractors must support these products at an ongoing additional cost, which can easily range from $10,000 to $200,000 or more per year. The annual costs for the CDE Web site is under $7,000.