A New Chapter of D8 Innovation in Public Education
Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) is the largest school system in the Commonwealth of Virginia and the 10th largest in the United States, with more than 200 schools and centers serving 186,000 students in preschool through 12th grade, and employing 24,000 full-time staff.
The FCPS websites are a vital source of information for students, parents, teachers, employees, the community, and the general public. This massive, multi-site web presence gets more than 30 million visits and serves up over 23,000 pages each year – plus it translates content into eight languages.
Over the past year, FCPS has embarked on an effort to modernize its brand with an updated logo, tagline, and visual identity that reinforce its position as a forward thinking, inclusive, creative, dynamic, compassionate, and responsible organization that enriches and empowers students, both in and out of the classroom.
As part of this extensive brand refresh, Forum One completely reengineered and redesigned the FCPS.edu website in Drupal 8, with a focus on making it easier for all users to find what they need; making it more efficient and cost effective for FCPS to maintain its large web presence; and creating a flexible platform that can serve as a central communications channel for multiple, diverse audiences. We are working with our infrastructure partner, Pantheon, and our language translation partner, Lingotek, to realize this vision. The end result of this multi-year, phased project will be a web starter kit each FCPS school can use to redesign its website to serve its unique audiences while staying on-brand.
Studying Up to Re-Think the Experience
To redesign a site of this scale that serves such varied needs, Forum One began by gaining a nuanced understanding of FCPS’ target audiences, the expectations they have when coming to the site, which devices and media channels they prefer to use, and their top-requested content. We devised and led a series of in-person workshops to prioritize audiences, explore the paths they take to find information, and understand FCPS’ processes for creating, translating, publishing, updating, and archiving content.
In these workshops, we also looked for ways to improve internal FCPS content governance processes to make it easier for the school system’s more than 300 web curators to create, edit, translate, and publish content in the new CMS.
Taking Notes to Ace the Content Strategy
A persistent theme that emerged from our strategy discussions was the importance of creating engaging content that better tells the FCPS story. The team also discovered that we needed to organize content in a new way to better reflect how actual users would search for it, find it, and use it.
Form One worked side-by-side with the FCPS redesign team to create a new content structure for the main FCPS site, as well as new structures for each type of school site (elementary, middle, secondary, and high school). Working closely with FCPS, the team developed or revised each page to fit the new structure in the GatherContent tool, which we used to assign each section to a specific FCPS content owner. The FCPS team reviewed, developed, edited, and finalized each new page, and we then worked with them to migrate more than 2,000 new and updated pages into the Drupal 8 CMS.
And with the integration of the Lingotek Drupal module, all of this work translates seamlessly into multilingual content that speaks to each audience.
A Great User Experience: The Best Kind of Group Project
Since more than 50% of FCPS’ web traffic comes from mobile devices, we took a “mobile first” design approach to turn our site structure into a responsive design that is beautiful to view and simple to use on any device. Our team of UX, creative, and technical experts worked together a create and implement a design that is not only fully responsive, but accessible in compliance with Section 508 and W3C standards. We reviewed and refined the design and front-end development in tandem by showing FCPS stakeholders responsive site prototypes in Webflow.
We took a modular approach to the site structure and the visual design system, creating reusable, flexible, and scalable elements FCPS can apply site wide. This gives FCPS greater design consistency across all of its school sites, while giving schools more options to customize their individual sites. FCPS also has a solid foundation in place to scale and extend to new pages and sites in the future.
Drupal 8 = Teacher’s Pet
Before the new CMS, each FCPS school and office website was managed and maintained separately, by a staff that not only needed to be excellent content creators, but also proficient in HTML coding – all on top of their normal day-to-day work activities.
To resolve these issues, Forum One worked with FCPS to redesign and develop the site in Drupal 8, taking advantage of the latest version’s improved capabilities. We created standard, pre-configured templates, workflows, site functions, security standards, navigation menus, and layouts to make it easier for FCPS to update and maintain their sites. We also implemented the Drupal Workbench module, making it possible for more FCPS staff to contribute content while also allowing FCPS to have a smaller core group of editors review and publish content that stays true to the overall brand.
Building a Public Education Website That’s In a Class By Itself
With the launch of the redesigned main FCPS.edu website for the 2016-2017 school year, the Forum One team is moving into the next phase of our work with FCPS to move its 200 school websites into the Drupal CMS.
Our technical team is architecting a single Drupal Install Profile that will allow FCPS to spin off fully functional Drupal websites for each of its schools and education centers. Global updates made once to the install profile will push out to all of the sites, allowing FCPS to implement system-wide updates, improvements, and new features more easily and cost effectively than ever. At the same time, each school will be able to choose from a preconfigured set of templates, layouts, color options, and starter content to personalize and tailor their individual sites, while giving all site users a consistent experience that reinforces the FCPS brand.
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