It’s common knowledge that if your website isn’t listed in Google’s search index then you’re invisible to most of the Internet. But a recent experience with Google highlighted for me how differently many teachers and students experience the online world.
Our school website has just had a big redesign which resulted in us being delisted from Google for a brief period. We have links to our site from our Intranet home page, so I didn’t think much of it, but the process taught me a surprising amount about how our users navigate the Internet.
The school website was still live throughout the transition process, it just wasn’t showing up in Google. Despite this, we started to get emails — primarily from teachers — saying things like, “why is the website offline”, “when will email be back on”, and, “the school website doesn’t exist anymore.” My favourite was when a teacher brought in their entire home desktop computer because they “couldn’t access the school website from home.”
This demonstrated a fundamental lack of understanding of how basic systems that we use every day work and interconnect. More importantly it also informs us how we can better serve our users.
We use Google Apps for our email service, but helping our users understand the relationship between the school and Google is difficult. To get to their email account one teacher was going to Google.com, searching for the school website, then clicking the “school email” link which took them back to Google to login to their email account. For many the idea of typing in a URL doesn’t come as a natural step, and in a lot of cases we found that teachers didn’t even know the URL of the school website.
Is this an educational failing on our part or just a natural result of technology becoming consumerised? It’s exceedingly difficult when technology has been a focus for most of your life to understand that not everyone has the same range of technology knowledge. I am continually surprised by things that I take for granted which the users I support struggle to understand, and being able to recognise this is essential to being able to educate and provide effective support.
Could your students and teachers navigate the web without Google? And should this influence how we teach IT in the classroom?