Let’s assume for a moment your school board office or school website only had to account for a single visitor: the parent. How would this change the priority of information? What information would you exclude from the site? How many third-party applications or mobile applications could you eliminate from the parent experience by aggregating all information together into a single experience? What about privacy? Adaptive Identity Design proposes hiding information that has no relevance to a particular audience ultimately improving their user experience by reducing the quantity of information they receive. A reduction of irrelevant information makes it easier to prioritise and emphasise the most important communication. When we design a communication, particularly messages of importance or where misunderstandings are likely, it is important to consider the identity of the recipient. Adaptive identity design allows us to share the same piece of information using multiple presentation formats: it allows the language and vocabulary, or visual elements to be different based on whether you’re sharing this with a student, parent, or staff member. There are two layers to adaptive identity that should be considered: Generalised Identity and Individual Identity. Generalised identity allows us to make high level content and design decisions based on whether a visitor is a student, parent, staff member, a member of the public, or perhaps a combination. Individual identity allows us to know the specific person visiting by name: for example we know the name of the visiting parent, their children, their children’s grade, the schools they attend, and all other key pieces of private data that would be normally found as part of the student information system. Generalised identity empowers a website to change or adapt communications to a wide audience base. For example, you may choose to have two hiring campaigns in the form of a banner on the website: one for internal candidates who want to apply for a vice principal position, and another banner that occupies the same geographical space on your website that is designedthe for parents and the general public. Individual identity design allows us to present personalised information through secure channels. For parents, we can share information about their enrolled children, their most recent report cards or scores on recent homework assignments, attendance information, or forms and waivers that require signing. For staff, this could be details about how much professional development funding they have left in their personal spending account or requests that have been made to the central office for special activities they want to lead such as ski trips.
The most difficult part of creating an incredibly personalised, singular user experience is the integration and aggregation of many school information systems. To effectively incorporate adaptive identity design at both layers requires integrating with a directory service, student information system, human resourcing system, and possibly many third-party vendor applications used for student planning, student portfolios, consent forms, payment systems, and more. The speed, performance, and customizability of the data being aggregated must also be carefully considered to ensure a beautiful, lightning fast user experience that conforms to the standards inherited by the rest of the sites. It also requires identity management and single sign on for parents. While students and staff are assigned email accounts and login information by the school board, it becomes much trickier to manage parent identities. Recent services like Microsoft Azure Directory Business to Consumer (B2C) allow for the storage of parental identities within Azure Directory but even that isn’t without its challenges: mapping parents who sign in using a Facebook or Twitter account to a student information system requires immense security and custodian of data considerations. As well, avoiding duplicate accounts from parents who may hold multiple single sign-on identities also becomes a challenge. Student information systems and human resourcing systems are also generally inadequate at tracking changed data: it’s difficult to know when new information is available, when older data was updated, or how many versions of data exist. These things are essential to building a unified and highly personalised experience for students or parents.
New enterprise, cloud-based computing services make the extension of directory identity and the aggregation of many different data systems far more realistic today than it was ten years ago. Moreover, with the speed and performance of many of these modern technologies it becomes possible to provide the necessary security and responsive requirements to serve up highly personalized data. It’s time for school websites to become school web applications that meet the expectations of a technologically cultured visitor. Ultimately, this will provide a dramatic improvement in user experience not through trivial website design refreshes, but by improving the way school boards communicate with their target audiences and for allowing a much more personalized conversation through their network of school sites.