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The IT Crowd

Web Site Nirvana? Free Content Management


While Web site technology has improved and it's easier than ever to build a functional Web site, schools still face the challenge of finding someone to do the actual work.

"How can we expect a teacher to handle his or her regular work load and also keep up the campus Web site?" That is a question many schools and districts face. What individual can do his or her regular day job and also be responsible for bringing people together to maintain the organization's Web site? Yet, in many schools, dedicating funding for a full-time technology person -- especially one dedicated to Web site design and maintenance -- is perceived as a waste of funding. The solution, however, is not centralization, but rather, distribution of responsibilities to those people most passionate about the site's content.

TECHNOLOGY SOLUTIONS FOR EDUCATION

Few users are happy with a static school Web site that merely provides contact information for the campus, a calendar, and other content that gets updated once a year -- usually with a welcome letter from the principal. As I shared in my previous column, however, anyone -- and everyone -- can be a content creator and producer. Administrators, teachers, students, and parent liaisons all can have the ability to update their own content when they believe it is necessary. Given the authority, publishing content becomes a function of a fundamental need for information sharing.

A variety of powerful content management systems enable you as technology director to support those efforts. Depending on your level of expertise, you can jump into online publishing with your own district-supported content management system. The rewards are great -- and the savings are enormous. Commercial content management systems can run up to $10 per student; the cost of a district-supported content management system is much less.

Taking on the work of a content management system requires three things:

  1. An introductory understanding of PHP/MySQL;
  2. A willingness to learn how to customize, if not author, cascading style sheet (CSS); and
  3. A desire to empower end-users to share their content online.

You also might need to be willing to find help online, and take on supporting your own solution.

Some helpful links to get you started:

  • Set up your own PHP/MySQL/Apache Server.
  • Pick one of these content management tools:
    • Blogging Tools
      • b2Evolution enables you to control/moderate comments, set up a "master" blog with multiple sub-blogs (each with its own RSS feed) inside, easy user management and assignment of permissions, and more. This is the solution my district uses for managing publication of online student writing and blogging.
      • WordPress is another powerful platform you can use to set up individual blogs.
      • Movable Type
      • Blogger offers free and easy Web blog solutions.
    • Content Management System
      A long list is available online, but these two are excellent ones to start with and once installed require no real technical expertise. In addition, many custom templates are available for free or very little (under $100) so most of the work can be taken out of the process of getting your school's site up and running.

TALES FROM THE FIELD

Dr. Tim Tyson, the Mabry Middle School principal who created his campus Web site out of more than 100 instances of blog software (WordPress), wanted his site to be kept up to date. In listening to him speak via podcast, I was struck by something he said along the lines of, "By the time teachers are done learning how to use File Transfer Protocol, Web page creation software, and site organization principals, the enthusiasm for updating content is gone." Using a content management system like b2Evolution or Joomla, end users can take ownership of their Web pages. More importantly, those content management systems enable readers to subscribe to content using Real Simple Syndication (RSS), making it easier for readers to keep up with changes.

CONCLUSION

Districts increasingly are turning away from traditional approaches to school Web-site design, as well as from commercial content management systems. Instead, school technology directors are embracing tools they can use in their own districts. Content management tools like Wordpress and Drupal can facilitate Web-site management, especially for organizations like schools. Perhaps more importantly, distributive control of Web-site maintenance allows end-users to use online tools to achieve organization objectives. If heaven is defined by a system that is easy to maintain, and that other people take responsibility for maintaining, then school districts might indeed achieve Web-site nirvana.

About the Author

As director of instructional technology for a large urban district in Texas, past president of the state-wide Technology Education Coordinators group in one of the largest U.S. technology educator organizations (TCEA), Miguel Guhlin continues to model the use of emerging technologies in schools. You can read his published writing or engage him in conversation via his blog at Around the Corner.

Miguel Guhlin
Education World®
Copyright © 2008 Education World

06/07/2011