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Great Online Classrooms Don't "Just Happen"


Defining Audience & Goals | Usability Conventions | Website Interface

The birth of your "live" website: Defining its Goals & Audience

When a new website begins the development process, it must first undergo consideration for the website owner's goals and any possible audience accessibility issues. Only with this thoughtful effort at the very beginning of development, does every website have the opportunity to be the best online experience for the majority of its audience.

Unlike a book going to press, a website is never finished. It is constantly in development as new information is posted, as computers and connections evolve and as audiences give their feedback. With ongoing "usability studies", targeting specific audiences, a wise website owner continually improves their live website environment.

Before we ever begin to design/code a website, we must first define the following criteria:

Goals: What are you trying to convey with your website?

  • Do you soley communicate with this website as an online course?
  • Is your classroom a "hybrid" online course? (mostly online - with occasional face-2-face lectures)
  • Is your website meant to supplement your classroom materials?
  • Is your website a "required" element for your students to successfully complete your course?
  • Learning Styles - Will you be incorporating a smidgeon of each learning style [Kinesthic, etc.]
  • Will your students expect to find lectures and exercises posted on a daily, weekly basis?
  • If your student has a question and submits an email (or uses a contact form you might supply on your website) what is your expected "turn-around" response time (Some students often assume you're connected 24/7 when you have a website)


  1. (Goals) What are you trying to convey with your website? Do you need to soley communicate with it or do you only want to supplement your classroom materials. Will it be a "required" element for your students to successfully complete your course?
  2. (Accessibility) All websites (especially classrooms) must adhere to hearing, visibility and mobility issues. Review these ______ guidelines
  3. (Computer Skill-level) Does your audience know how to navigate the Internet, launch embeded movies, download and save word documents, etc?
  4. (PC or Mac) Which platform does your audience use?
  5. (Processor Speed) If you're using streaming video, what might be the processing capability of your audience's computer be?
  6. (Browser and Version) There are a lot of browsers and varying verions of each (Internet Explorer, Netscape, Firefox, Opera, Safari, etc...) used. What does your audience use?
  7. (Media PlugIn) What plugins might be required of your audience, if you're using Flash, Movies, Sound, etc.
  8. (T1, Cable, 56k Modem) Which is slowest possible connection your audience will encounter when connecting to the Internet?
  9. (800x600 or 1024x768) Which monitor setting does your audience use to view your website?

"Usability Guidelines"

Years of studies prove users "scan" the web, rather than read. Use these basic guidelines as proven conventions for successful website usability:

  • Name your Navigation simply and keep consistent throughout a website
  • Using Page ID's on each page assures the user they're reached their destination
  • Paragraphs should not be more than 4-5 lines (rows) tall
  • Break up your text with images to give the user's eyes a rest
  • Use no more than 2-3 different font styles on a page
  • Using columns greatly helps a users read/scan an subject/article for information ... using columns provides "Active White Space" is a long-used layout term used to get your audience to successfully follow where you want them to go while providing rest for weary Internet eyes.

"Website Interface"

The Internet feels a lot like driving in a new unfamiliar country. To orient ourselves we require signs, milestone markers, maps and the occasional friendly gas station :)

However, even when a new town does provide signs, they're not always understood by "out-of-towners". For instance, if you have an old car and go to Canada, do you know how to convert your MPH into metric measurements or do you just drive 80 KHMs and hour?

Providing extremely clear website direction/layout features produces a successful experience for your out-of-town Internet guests.

To determine the best layout/navigation your audience requires, consider the following:

  • Are they from the MTV-Remote-Control generation and suffer from a limited attention span?
  • Do they only visit traditionally laid-out websites?
  • Do we have a learning style that benefits from images as opposed to text?
  • Do they prefer their text large or small?
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