So I have started to evaluate the digital gateways which I create for my students.  This post explains how my journey went and why I made the alterations that I did.  Yet I have to admit to a feeling that I have only just scratched the surface and really need to consider more research based information on this topic.


In 1997 Jakob Neilson first wrote about “How user’s on the web” and clear stated the requirements for a scan able text which should be represented on the web as having:

  • highlighted keywords (hypertext links serve as one form of highlighting; typeface variations and colour are others)
  • meaningful sub-headings (not “clever” ones)
  • bulleted lists
  • one idea per paragraph (users will skip over any additional ideas if they are not caught by the first few words in the paragraph)
  • the inverted pyramid style, starting with the conclusion
  • half the word count (or less) than conventional writing

Now in the context of school I am not required to produce a true website but I do use our intranet (the portal) as the gateway to teaching and learning resources for my students for each unit of work I teach. I do very much see these to be act like the contents page of the units book and have endeavoured to keep them as such uncluttered and effective.

My old car safety unit portal page

A basic structure would be 1) a title followed by some additional useful additional links, 2) A list of assessment tasks, and 3) A table breaking down the content into topics and the related resources.

So now I need to reflect upon this format with respect to the student.  Does the typical student really care about the additional websites and options that I identified?  Now even if a student was interested in these hyperlinks it would still not be an every lesson occurrence so clearly these need to be moved further down the page.  What students care about is what do I have to do now – lesson content – and what am I going to be assessed on.  So I am going to bring the lesson content table up and follow that by the assessment tasks.  Considering my audience is a digital generation I am less concerned that to access those additional resources will involve some additional scrolling especially if I can use this model with all my classes.

My old portal content

Now I look at the more subtle features.  Typeface can be used to highlight points so in turn this means consistency in typeface is important.  I read an article about “Which fonts do children prefer to read online?” which shows that research indicates comic script.  Yet this is not an option within the editing page for the portal so I just set everything on Arial font.   I was also informed that a font size of 14 is also preferable and again this is not a built in option.  So the bulk of the text is set at font size 12.  I do recognise that with a bit of cut and pasting I could fix both of those problems but that really does not feel like a good use of my time. The sub-levels in my contents table are all meaningful as they highlight the relevant topic.  Yet I can improve on this by setting them in bold and aligning them to the left.  I have also removed all underlining – using font size or bold – to highlight points and to save confusion with hyperlinked options.

I also spot the opportunity to consolidate my key learning objectives with visual prompts under each of these topic headings.  Is this beneficial for my students?  I have to do some more research on this feature.

So I have tweaked my first portal page with a greater consideration for my audience.  I will endeavour to adjust all my portal pages with the student in mind.  I wander if anyone will notice?  And feel that an even bigger change is required.

New portal structure