K-12 Web Systems: A Descriptive Web-Crawling Report on Idaho Schools

University of Idaho
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To understand and support large-scale innovations with technology for K-12 education, it is essential to understand the practices, needs, and interests of K-12 institutions.  Web-based information systems are of particular interest, because schools and districts use such systems to support a variety of functions ranging from instruction and classroom management to communications and reporting.  Since K-12 institutions may utilize a variety of technologies to meet these needs and systems do not exist to track institutional use of web-systems from year-to-year, this report utilizes web-crawling of K-12 school websites to determine which web systems schools are using and categorizes them in terms of function, cost, and openness.

Results from this study reveal that Idaho K-12 schools utilize a variety of web systems to support local needs.  The most prominent systems identified in terms of school adoption include: Google Sites, PowerSchool, Blackboard, Wordpress, SchoolLoop, and Blogspot.  Each of these systems is adopted in accordance with either a top-down pattern (i.e. school adoption is led by the district or region) or a bottom-up pattern (i.e. district and regional adoption is led by individual schools).  Blogspot is a clear example of bottom-up adoption, while Blackboard is a clear example of top-down adoption.

Each of these systems may either serve a generic purpose (e.g., hosting web content) or be designed for education-specific functions (e.g., reporting attendance).  Of schools with identified web systems, 44% utilize generic systems and 76% use education-specific systems, with 20% using both.  Web systems also have varying costs, ranging from systems that are very expensive to those that have no cost.  44% of schools use a no-cost web system and 75% use a purchased system, with 19% using both.  Schools that only use no-cost systems primarily use generic systems, and openness does not seem to be a major factor in system adoption.

Implications of these findings for decision-makers include the following: a single web system solution or set of solutions for all schools seems problematic at best; top-down attempts at scaling innovation could benefit from recognizing which systems have grassroots support; the lack of adoption of open-source systems may reflect lack of local capacity to adapt web systems to support local needs and represent a hurdle to large-scale innovation; and regional differences in adoption exist and may help shed light on region-specific challenges to technology integration.

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