The General Services Administration is working on helping federal agencies beef up their Web sites through the Web Manager University.
The school has trained over 1,500 Web managers since its inception in 2005, and registration has already begun for the fall, 2009, semester.
Sheila Campbell is team leader with the Government Web Best Practices Team at the Office of Citizen Services and Communications at GSA.
She spoke with Amy Morris on Monday’s Daily Debrief about the fact that the school isn’t just for feds — state and local employees, as well as contractors, are also eligible to sign up.
“It’s been a hugely successful program. We offer close to 30 classes every year from a whole range of topics, including social media and also on all the four competencies that someone needs to know about in order to manage a government Web site: writing for the Web, usability and design, search with metrics and general requirements for federal Web sites.”
The overall of the philosophy of the school is that better Web sites equal better government.
Campbell said that sites are often the primary means of communication between the agency and the public, which is why Web development is so important.
“Government agencies have a mandate to improve how they manage their public Web presence. Many agencies are managing these massive legacy systems that have been around for many years and these Web sites have become very large and so it’s really key for Web managers to have the practical tools that they need to manage a huge amount of content online.”
Campbell said better management of such a massive amount of content is the biggest challenge.
This is why the school offers classes such as “Managing Government Web Sites 101″ and plain language writing classes.
“I think there tends to be a tendancy still sometimes at agencies in certain cases to post large documents — these huge pdf’s — that sort of fill in the publication mode. So, we’re trying to work with agencies to reorient their Web sites to be more focused on citizens’ top tasks to make sure that people can get a quick answer to their question.”
In addition, the University also offers classes in areas such as search engine optimization in the hopes of helping agencies rewrite and reorganize their content to be easily found by commercial search engines.
“A lot of the guidance we provide is really basic, common sense tips that anyone can easily apply to their Web site. It’s things like . . . using the terminology that average people are using. It’s even stuff like using the word ‘jobs’ instead of ‘careers’.
Federal Web managers also need to know what’s going on in the overall online community. Campbell said this is why the University also offers social media classes.
“What are people talking about on Twitter. What are they talking about on Facebook? What are they talking about on YouTube? What are the big topics that people are looking for there — and then ensuring that government Web sites are then responding to those content needs by the average person.”
The University is unique because it is geared toward federal employees and the government audience, Campbell said.
“When we talk about how to use social media, we make sure that we put it in the context that’s important to government folks. For example, Section 508 and accessibility for people with disabilities is a requirement for us — it’s a really key part of what we do — so when we talk about how to post a video online, we need to give people the tools to make sure that they’re providing captions and transcripts. So our classes are very targeted to a government audience. They’re very practical.”
Fall enrollment opened July 27, but Campbell said those interested should sign up soon because classes fill quickly.