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The shape of things to come: student information systems edition

Student information systems help guide students by communicating vital information.

We’re a full third of a year into the CoViD-19 pandemic, and academic institutions are starting to get a good idea of what remote learning will look like in the long-term. New virtual classroom routines are being established, and students the world over are already getting used to them. If this is how schools are going to conduct business from here on, then a long-term strategy needs to be decided upon. If it’s not already on your summer to-do list — it should be. And if it is, then you’ve come to the write right place.

It’s important to remember why optimizing your student information system is so crucial. It helps manage data, both public and private. That data holds sensitive things like student records. Student records hold information like when students go academically astray. Between holding info on class schedules, grades, and test results, student information systems exist to help guide students. They also help communicate vital information, like updates on how school operations have been affected by COViD-19.

A student information system’s chief goal is to aid school communication of news and announcements between students, teachers, parents, faculty, and staff. So what, then, is effective school communication? The answer to this question is relevant whether you’re a student information system software producer, or you’re a school administrator who oversees your institution’s own homebrewed solution. Both have the same goal: a student information system that optimizes communication no matter the situation.

Below, we establish three main pillars of school communication: web presence, communication, and honesty and transparency. After explaining what the pillars are, we provide some friendly pointers and approaches for maintaining them. We argue that real-time collaborative writing with rich-text editing features can aid school communication efforts. CKEditor looks at the world and sees how these technologies can help produce content that’s true to the intent of communications teams everywhere.

Our findings do not make a strategy in itself, but you’ll be able to see what student information systems need to do to make the long-term, sustainable, remote operation of a school possible.

# Web presence

A solid public relations strategy is key to helping an educational institution navigate a crisis. A school’s homepage is central to that strategy. It’s the go-to source for people to get information on school operations. Unfortunately, the bulk of a school’s faculty isn’t well educated in HTML, code, or web design. A shift in perspective of what web presence means can help come up with new approaches to maintaining it. “Your school website is not a technology project. It is a communications project,” writes Bonnie Leedt, CEO of School Webmasters. “If not done well, it can do more harm than good for your public relations, branding, and reputation. It shows the public what you believe in, or possibly what you don’t.” For faculty, staff, students and parents, the content matters more than the code.

To communicate clearly, DON’T underestimate the importance of formatting text. As the saying goes, “the medium is the message.” That also applies to large amounts of text. In sending out news, it is not pleasant for the receiver to be hit with a wall of text with a uniform font and size. A lack of formatting makes reading tedious and makes readers less likely to take your news briefs seriously. It’s a problem that you can avoid with a little tweaking of the text.

How? Simple. DO format your text cleanly. Having a rich text editor built into student information systems can help. Staff and faculty in charge of producing, moderating and monitoring school content can choose from a wide family of fonts, adjust size and color, and use proper headings. As such, nobody has to be a designer to organize information and make a school’s content more presentable. Clarity of communication is a way a student information system expresses a school’s visual identity.

# Communicating news

Sometimes, the message is also the message. There are certain external things that school leadership decides to let parents, students, and the general public know. Certain pieces of information, then, are for internal use among faculty. In any event, student information systems can disseminate info through mailing lists, newsletters, social media, and portals. How can a student information system help administrators see communication as an essential leadership capability rather than a set of techniques?

Let’s focus on school community newsletters, which are indispensable tools to inform, promote, and educate. Governmental bodies such as the New Zealand Ministry of Education advise on how such newsletters should be composed and what sort of information should be included to the benefits of its audience. Organization is chief among them, and the use of templates is key to text organization. To comply with these guidelines, a good student information system includes features like text alignment and auto-formatting to speed up the process of creating templates. Also, our spell and grammar checking features help fill a template with clean language, all to use when time is of the essence.

Nobody likes breaking developments and not being able to get information about them, so DON’T wait until disaster strikes to work on your school’s communication. openSIS is a student information system that enables email blasts to make announcements to pre-selected individuals and groups, as well as message tracking. With improved communication features like text alignment, autoformatting, and spell/grammar check, news can get out to the public that much quicker.

With that said, it’s a no-brainer: DO have a strategy ready to go. The ability to make templates with speed can lead to an improved style guide, wherein lengths of paragraphs, styles of address, and use of school- or locally-specific terms can be set in stone. Taken together (along with some good proofreading!), these are the building blocks of a school’s communication strategy. A student information system should help deploy that strategy.

# Honesty and transparency

Schools rely on technology to communicate with students, parents, faculty, and staff. At the end of the day, though, it’s as much about the technology as what you use it for. A school’s communications department should always ensure its content reflects key messages, values and beliefs. If we return to the idea of creating a style guide — and hence the concept of shaping internal policy — there is a lot at stake.

DON’T keep faculty in the dark about decisions. As with any workplace, there are internal politics that can greatly affect a school’s community if faculty and staff are left out of decision-making processes. These decisions could be an alteration of sick leave policy in the wake of the ongoing pandemic, or even drawing up a new school charter that reimagines how a school will function in the wake of lockdown measures. Student information systems such as the aforementioned openSIS and Classe365 contain the ability to create internal portals for staff communication. If a technology already exists, there’s an evident need to serve. So…

DO encourage open, honest communication about internal policy. All the better if it can take place within drafts of policy documents written with the aid of student information system software. Its writing tools would do well to include comments and track changes features. The former would enable staff and faculty to discuss passages and even details at the point of appearance in documents, and the latter would promote collaboration in turning out important documents. Permissions can be set to let certain members comment without being able to edit based on the delegation of responsibility.

# In conclusion

Student information systems have arrived at a point where their communication needs to be as crisp as ever, so the right technology is needed. Schools look for software that helps them achieve their goals and build their reputation. Communication is among those goals, because faulty communication could lead to uncertainty, a potential loss of support, and undermining the school’s brand. Student information systems with support for rich-text editing and collaboration features will help sharpen communication and develop schools.

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