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HEA: concerned members want stalled website

UPDATE Feb 2020: At the end of January the 2019 HEA committee lost its NCAT case regarding the website. A petition that included signature by 5% of membership required to call a special general meeting asking for NCAT action to be dropped was rejected by the 2019 committee, the action went ahead with the HEA losing. Unfortunately costs were determined to be met by the individual parties involved, which meant that the web developer was left considerably out of pocket even though he was determined by the court to have met his obligations to the association.

........

You'd think that after spending $22,000 on a you-beaut gem of a fully functional website it would be live, launched and in use, right? Apparently not.

Frustrated and concerned members of the Home Education Association (HEA) are wondering why the new website has not been installed. 

It's sitting patiently on a server waiting for the committee to finish loading and editing content, import the membership database, and do a final test run before launching to the membership and public. An important note to remember: the web developer's work is complete and delivered, it is the 2019 HEA committee that is stalling on this project.

According to the Sydney-based web developer that built the new site, "the HEA now has the same resources as any school or university of equal size".

The HEA was listed as 'in dispute' by the NSW Office for Fair Trading in May 2018, leaving it without a functioning committee for a whole year, causing the roll-out of the last stages of the website to stall. 

A committee was finally elected in May 2019. However, rather than continue and launch the site members have already paid for, according to reports on social media, they have decided instead to start from scratch and build a different one. 

The currently stalled website has the capability to be an interactive place for members to get to know each other, work together, and share ideas in a secure and private internet space.

As a public landing page for anyone wanting to know more about home educating in Australia, it has the ability to offer up-to-date information, as well as advice for those families needing an immediate alternative to school-based education.

Key features of the already built site members are waiting to use include:

  • Improved, state-of-the-art internet security, privacy and data protection;
  • A new up-dated brand identity for the association;
  • A customised 'shopping cart' to help with recording and processing memberships, subscription discounts, etc.; 
  • The ability to automatically update information as needed, keeping members in touch with association business and matters relevant to home education across Australia;
  • All new and improved access to member subscription discount offers, enabling members to quickly find and sign up to resources that will better help them meet their children's learning needs, and which includes a call to action for public viewers to help raise membership levels;
  • Secure, on-site forums for members which can be easily viewed on mobile or desktop devices; 
  • Secure, on-site storage for association documents, with appropriate back-up facility; 
  • A simplified event notification process for insurance purposes;
  • Provision for members to have individual or group 'pages';
  • New communications systems, including Zoom; migration of email systems resulting in continuity of information and knowledge; and enabling much needed support and training of HEA volunteers;
  • Separate state and territory pages, encouraging greater participation and connection.
  • A regular members' e-newsletter.

These requirements were in the design brief given to the web-developer in 2016.

In addition to fulfilling these requirements, the web-developer, in consultation with the committee, was able to organise accreditation with Google Education , a platform that members can use as an online virtual classroom where they can create, upload and share learning activities, courses, lesson plans, home-made resources, and work together and help each other learn. 

This is already available and includes the provision of individual member @hea.edu.au email addresses, enabling access to previously restricted  educational discounts and services. 

The web-develop also made provision for a geo-location directory, a powerful tool members can use to promote and share events, content, images, links and other information about activities. 

And assisted in updating 1300 inquiry phone line support, a popular and much used volunteer provided service to members and non-members.   

Re-doing all this work doesn't make sense. 

The idea of creating a new website had been kicking around for a long time. Volunteers and admin were increasingly frustrated by various problems and flaws of the existing site. The HEA website is more than the public face of the association, it is the interface between members and the committee, and serves as the association's virtual office managing the member database, insurance register of group and work experience activities, as well as the growing number of member subscription discounts. 

For over a decade the HEA had outsourced most of its day-to-day management tasks to a contracted admin person after it became apparent that a number of key tasks were becoming too onerous and overwhelming for volunteers. This served two purposes: to improve efficiency and provide a continuity of experience and expertise. The committee came to trust and rely on its admin staff. 

In 2016, the HEA's admin went to the committee strongly suggesting a need to redevelop the website and virtual office. She had obtained a quote from a Sydney-based website developer which she recommended to the management committee. 

Although the quote was considerable, it was decided that the expense was reasonable given that a re-build would provide a more effective and functional office environment. It would also include a number of stream-lined features and allow for future expansion of services and benefits to members. The company was hired by the 2016 committee.

An in-person 'toolbox' meeting attended by members of the 2016 committee and the company established a working relationship consisting of a committee member working closely with the company to flesh out a site suitable to meet the HEA's needs. Major decisions were referred to the committee.

In addition to web development skills, the company's business management expertise added value to the build. 

A significant bonus was securing and installing the Google Education's G-Suite service. It is the HEA's vital communication area. 2017 committee members and volunteers were trained how to use it as the association's virtual office and 'filing cabinet'. This was an important and necessary step in ensuring good record keeping and continuity of information. The ability of the HEA to know its own business and for efficient sharing of the workload among volunteers was a key requirement in the designing of the new website.

A key task by the web-developer included rolling roll out @hea.edu.au member email accounts, first to 2017 committee members and volunteers. The @hea.edu.au email accounts were poised to be rolled out to the entire membership, anticipated by mid 2018. This email extension will enable home educating families to obtain discounts available to school teachers and students. 

Management forums in G-Suite were established to facilitate communication between volunteers, relieving the need for the association to use insecure off-site platforms such as Facebook. 

A regular e-newsletter was established and provided content to members and non-members, thus enhancing the association's ability to attract and sign up new members. The newsletter promoted new and existing subscription discounted services as well as updated members on association news and matters relating to home education.

The redevelopment of the website also included an HEA YouTube channel for promotion of information videos already in production.

The web developer also updated and tested the 1300 phone support system, a popular service and benefit provided by association volunteers for many years.  

With the virtual office re-built, functioning and in use by volunteers and committee members, the final step in the redevelopment was launching the public face of the association, its website. Content was moved over from the existing site.  

Through consultation with members, including a photographic competition, a guiding brief was determined which highlighted that home education is a diverse practice, and occurred not only in the home but in the community, with a uniquely Australian context. Using the guiding brief, and responding to input from many members, the website development team gradually pulled together a brand and logo.

The brand and layout were approved by the 2017 committee, despite objections from a handful of volunteers who belatedly disagreed with the direction of the brief, suggesting a complete restart to the project (which would lay waste to 18 months of work).

In early 2018 all that remained to be done was editing and updating of the content on the new site so that it could be published and launched. The 2017 committee had begun to work on this, however the finalising of the content was not completed prior to the AGM in May 2018. The administrative team were tasked to train and up-skill the incoming 2018 committee with the support of the web-developer and some members of the 2017 committee. It was expected that the new website would go live shortly after the election of the 2018 committee. 

Work was halted when the HEA was listed as 'in dispute' by the NSW Office of Fair Trading in May 2018, following an attempt by a group of members to take control of the association.

Members are currently served by the existing website with all its faults and limited features.

Many members want a platform that isn't Facebook that they can use to connect with other home educating families.

They want a website that has the necessary settings to ensure the safety of their privacy and information. The current site doesn't meet current security standards, putting at risk from identity theft, the details of over 6,000 past and present site-subscribers.

Members also want a modern website that is relevant to their needs, is up-to-date, and functions without dead or irrelevant pages.

Such a website already exists: it has been built to meet members' current and future needs and was completed and delivered by the web-developer in 2018. It is the 2019 HEA committee that is stallingon this project. 

They appear ready to redo all of this work: it is, in effect, rejecting the hundreds of hours of work by dedicated and committed volunteers during 2016-2017.

If members want action and desire the current committee to stop stalling on the launching of the re-developed website, which is almost ready for members to start using, they should email the 2019 committee and let them know. They can be contacted: contact@hea.edu.au with a copy to heacommittee@gmail.com.

Information for this article came from loaned documents and from interviews with past and present HEA members.

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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.

Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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