Exploring Web Site Use by Western Australian Schools
Jadanne Heuchan, Sun Microsystems Australia
- Sean McGuire, KPMG Australia
- Jayden Kahl, Fremantle Football Club
- Jamie Murphy, University of Western Australia
This paper uses Diffusion of Innovations (Rogers, 1995) to explore web
site adoption by Australian primary and secondary schools. A content
analysis (Krippendorf, 1980) of features on thirty-nine randomly
selected Western Australian schools found two main uses of the sites --
marketing the school and communicating with the school's community.
The majority of schools -- especially private schools -- used their web
site for promotion, providing brochure-type information to prospective
parents and community members. Fewer schools used their sites for
communication, providing up to date information on school activities
targeted at parents, students and staff. The results suggest that social
pressure and competition -- especially for public schools -- fuel web
site adoption. Schools seem to use their sites in an unstructured
process that fails to consider the web site's role in marketing the
school and communicating with interested parties.
This exploratory study provides theoretical benefits by establishing
benchmarks of web site adoption (Misic & Johnson, 1999) as well as
discussing web site adoption phases (Hanson, 2000) and their implication
for the digital divide (NTIA, 2000, 2002). Practical benefits include a
snapshot of web site features in Western Australian schools and a
comparison of public versus private school sites.
can use the Internet via a range of World Wide Web and e-mail
applications targeted for students, parents, staff, potential students
and the community. Research has shown that the adoption and
implementation of new technologies, however, occurs in stages and levels
of commitment throughout an organization (Fichman, 2000). Of those
schools that have sites, some may have simple stage one sites (Hanson,
2000) that act as a static online brochure while others have a stage two
site with database applications or possibly a personalized stage three
site. Yet, if the school fails to answer e-mail, the Internet adoption
is superficial and incomplete at best (Heuchan et al., 2000).
the schools use web sites to deliver education, the adoption takes on
even greater significance for the school's survival and the student's
learning (e.g. Chapter 8 in Brown & Duguid, 2000). At the same time,
some question if a school's Internet adoption is nothing more than a fad
(Tabor, 1999) or a misallocation of valuable resources (Murphy &
Massey, 2000; Stoll, 1999).
educators and interest groups debate the merits of Internet adoption and
implementation in the US (Segrest et al., 1998; Selwyn, 1999; NTIA,
2000; Gandel, 2000; NTIA 2002) and Australia (Applebee et al., 2000),
about one in seven Western Australian schools leapt into cyberspace by
building web sites. This paper takes a small step towards exploring
Internet adoption by analysing web site content to investigate how
Western Australian schools attempt to use their sites as a marketing and
communication tool with students, staff, parents, prospective parents,
prospective students and the community.
literature review draws on diffusion of innovations to explain
organizational adoption and implementation of technology. Next, the
methodology outlines content analysis, sampling and data collection. The
results and conclusion discuss the study's findings, which are followed
by limitations of this study and recommendations for future research.
early 1999 to early 2002, the percentage of Australians online doubled
to 54% and the percentage doubled in the US as well, to 58% (Nua 2002).
This rapid, albeit unequal (NTIA, 2000, 2002), Internet adoption has
established web sites as a new tool for communication with consumers
(Hoffman & Novak, 1996; Hofacker, 2001). Similarly, educational
institutions use this new medium to communicate with students,
community, current parents and prospective parents.
pages are another measure of Internet growth (Murphy, 1998). Based on
the number of Western Australian schools and school web sites, (http://edsitewa.iinet.net.au/schoolslist.html),
fifteen percent of Western Australia's schools had web sites in August
2000 and the number had more than doubled by April 2002.
of Innovations (Rogers, 1995) helps explain this rapid Internet growth
pattern. Applied to a variety of new technologies, this theory describes
how individuals and organizations adopt innovations over time. For
interactive media such as the Internet, Rogers (1995) suggests that the
adoption rate will increase rapidly until reaching critical mass -- a
majority of the population adopt the innovation.
concept of critical mass coincides with Metcalfe's Law, which states
that the utility of the Internet expands geometrically by the number of
users (Hanson, 2000). An earlier communication medium, the telephone,
exemplifies critical mass and Metcalfe's Law. There was little value in
owning a telephone when few people had phones, but the utility of phones
grew as more people had phones.
Diffusion of Innovations
have subsequently extended diffusion of innovations from individual
adoption to organizational adoption, noting that it is less applicable
for organizations than with individuals (Rogers, 1995; Fichman, 2000).
The five stages of organizational adoption -- agenda setting, matching,
redefining/restructuring, clarifying and routinizing -- occur in
sequence, such that later stages should not be undertaken until the
earlier stages have been settled (Rogers, 1995). Organizations however,
may overlook the requisite planning in steps one and two and
subsequently face implementation problems in the latter three steps (Wildemuth,
radical innovations, such as the Internet, organizational adoption may
be unstructured and unroutine (Rogers, 1995). DiMaggio & Powell
(1983) propose that a desire to improve performance drives early
adopters and in times of uncertainty, organizations imitate group norm
setters. Thus, inefficient strategic choices are common amongst early
adopters (O’Neill, Poude & Buchholtz 1998). Furthermore, bandwagon
theories (Abrahamson & Rosenkopf 1997) argue that organizations
adopt innovations based on the number of adopting organizations not the
innovation's technical merit. As such, organizations adopt innovations
not on merit, but due to the social pressure (Rogers, 1995).
(1988) posits that technical, financial and social uncertainty within an
organization fosters unstructured adoption. This is likely the case for
many Australian schools. Technical knowledge of the Internet provides a
barrier for many teachers, preventing adoption (Gandel, 2000). Financial
uncertainty is likely, due to the resources necessary to set up and
maintain a site without the guarantee of a profitable return on this
investment in time and money (Gandel, 2000). Stories of paedophiles in
chat rooms and inappropriate web site use (Mendels, 1999) fuel social
uncertainty. Due to these Internet uncertainties, schools may be
adopting web sites through an unstructured decision process (Mintzberg,
Raisinghani & Theoret, 1976).
Australian Governments’ push to implement technology in schools also
helps explain Internet adoption by Australian schools. The Western
Australian education departments’ Technology 2000 program (http://www.eddept.wa.edu.au/t2000/)
and Victoria’s Online ACE publication (http://www.acfe.vic.gov.au/publications/online/Online.pdf)
exemplify these initiatives to bring more schools online.
(2001) identifies four possible web site functions -- communication;
selling; providing content; and providing a network
function -- of which the first two seem most applicable for schools.
Thanks to the cost, time and reach advantages the Web has over
traditional media (Hoffman & Novak, 1996), schools can use their
sites to communicate to target markets within and outside the
school community. Private and public schools can sell themselves
to prospective students and parents of students. Given the content on
their sites, how are Australian schools using the web?
analysis, “a research technique for making replicable and valid
inferences from data to their context” (Krippendorff, 1980, p. 21),
was used to investigate the web sites of Australian schools. This
unobtrusive and context sensitive technique can process symbolic forms,
thus making it relevant to the exploratory nature of this study McMillan
August 2000 study examined a random sample of 39 (13 private and 26
public) Western Australian web sites, chosen from a list of 168 Western
Australian school sites. A preliminary review of ten sites and
subsequent consultation yielded a list of 11 common features: under
construction notices, presence of an email address, physical address,
mission/goals, parents and citizens information,
up to date information, enrolment information, external site links,
search function, navigational site maps, and date of the site’s last
researchers reviewed 28 active sites. Explicit instructional training
and pre-testing ensured a consistent inter-rater reliability;
Cronbach’s alpha was 0.9958.
anybody home? Is there a home? Just over forty percent, or 11 out of 26,
of the public school sites were inaccessible due to incorrect URLs or
incorrect page loading. All 13 private school sites worked. Of the 24
active sites, eight percent of the private schools and 27 percent of the
public schools had an under construction sign on the home page. This
poor performance, coupled with little site updating suggests that many
schools developed their sites as a one-off activity and failed to use
the sites on a continuing basis.
features aimed at attracting new students to the school were similar to
an information brochure given to prospective parents. But sites
contained only basic details and were updated irregularly, if at all.
About one of two sites had been updated in the year 2000. Over three
fourths of the schools listed their physical addresses and over two
thirds included school goals or a mission statement.
schools were far more active using the web site for selling. Six in ten
private schools included enrolment information on their site, but no
public school contained this information. Private schools included their
street address more often, 92 percent versus 67 percent and mission
statements were more common in private schools, 77 percent compared to
60 percent. These results make sense, as public schools are free for
Australian students. Still, fee-paying overseas students can attend
public schools as well and public schools do compete, albeit informally,
for gifted students.
to facilitate school communication included e-mail, P & C
newsletters, links to external sites and search tools. These features
seemed aimed at existing parents and students, rather than towards
prospective parents and students. All active sites had email
capabilities. Just over one in five sites included a P & C
newsletter and three in five included external links. Only three of the
24 sites included a search function or site map. Public and private
schools showed little difference in their web site use for
one in seven Western Australian schools had web sites in August 2000
compared to almost one in three by April 2002. This compares to about
40% of the Australian population online in August 2000 and 55% of
Australians online in February 2002 (Nua, 2002). It seems safe to
conclude that more Australians will turn to the web for school
information and that more schools will go online
the sites surveyed in August 2000, private schools used their sites more
effectively than public schools. All surveyed private school sites
worked compared to only three out of five public school sites. While
most schools used their sites for communication, private schools also
leveraged their sites as a selling tool. Private school's better use of
their web sites may lead to a "digital divide" between the
online images of private and public schools.
links to external sites, email addresses and P & C information were
common, advanced features such as search functions and sites maps were
less common. The absence of staff email addresses, class work and online
enrolment forms on almost all sites suggest that schools are in the
first of Hanson's (2000) three web site stages. This lack of features
combined with sites that fail to work, suggests that schools take an
unstructured adoption process and have yet to integrate their sites into
and Directions for Future Research
research used a small sample of West Australian schools. Future research
should utilise a larger, stratified -- primary and high schools --
sample, drawing from all Australian schools sites to increase
generalizability and examine the use of technology across different
levels of schooling. Similar research in Asia-Pacific countries such as
Singapore, Indonesia or China could explore cultural differences (Hofstede,
1980). Comparing school sites in these and other countries could explore
the role of Internet penetration in a country (Nua, 2002) as well as the
Internet's role in socio-economic development (Madon, 2000).
behavioural measures merit further investigation. A longitudinal study
could examine how school technology use evolves over time. What changes,
if any, have occurred on the web sites? The use of email by teachers,
students, parents, and prospective parents should shed light on how
different school audiences use the Internet. Server log files, which
track visitors' web site behaviour, could show navigational patterns,
popular pages, landing pages, referring pages, etc. (Murphy, Hofacker
& Bennett, 2001; Randolph, Murphy & Ruch, 2002).
are there digital divide implications in the adoption of technology by
private and public schools? Selwyn (1999, p. 229) argues that if left to
commercial market devices, "then education Internet use may well
run along more profit-oriented lines while, at the same time,
marginalizing educational interests . . . such developments will
increase educational inequalities between institutions, students and
teachers." The US Department of Commerce found that for
lower-income students, schools are the main means for going online (NTIA
2002). For example, future research could investigate what impact a
schools' web site -- or lack of a site -- has on student perceptions of
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and Citizens or P & C resembles the Parent Teacher Association or
PTA in the United States
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