Achieving Web Site Nirvana - Content Management Systems

Copyright 2008 Miguel Guhlin




“How can we expect a teacher to handle their regular work load and keep up the campus web site?” This is a real question that many schools—and districts—face. Who can do their day job and also be responsible for bringing people together to maintain the organization’s web site? Schools often confuse their needs, mixing up their need for an up to date web site with the desire for one person to maintain a web site.

In schools, dedicating funding to a full-time person simply for technology needs, especially web site design and maintenance, is perceived as a waste of funding. The key is not centralization, but rather, distribution of the responsibilities to the people most passionate about their content.

TECHNOLOGY SOLUTIONS FOR EDUCATION

As I shared in my previous column, every one is a content creator and producer. There are a variety of powerful content management systems that enable you, as technology director, to support those efforts. Few are happy with static web sites that provide contact information for the campus, a calendar, and other content that is updated once a year, usually with a welcome letter from the principal. Instead, principals, parent liasons can 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.

Depending on your level of expertise, you can jump into online publishing with these content management systems. Taking on the work of a content management system requires 3 things: 1) An introductory understanding to 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 may also need to be willing to find help online, and take on supporting your own solution. The rewards are great, and the savings enormous (commercial content management systems can run up to $10 per student). The cost of a district-supported content management system are much less. Some helpful links to get you started:
  1. Set up your own PHP/MySQL/Apache Server - http://tinyurl.com/2cx2fc
  2. Pick one of the following 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.org: Another powerful blog platform you can use to setup individual blogs.
      • Movable Type: http://www.movabletype.org/opensource/
    • Content Management System
A long list is available online (http://www.opensourcecms.com/), but these are two excellent ones to start with.

TALES FROM THE FIELD

Dr. Tim Tyson, the Mabry Middle School principal who created his campus’ web site out of over 100 instances of blog software (e.g. WordPress), wanted his campus web site to be kept up to date. In listening to him speak via podcast, I was struck by something he said. It went something along the lines of, “By the time teachers are done learning how to use File Transfer Protocol, web page creation software, site organization principals, the enthusiasm for updating content is gone.” Using a content management system—whether using something like b2Evolution or Joomla—the end user can take ownership for their web pages. More importantly, these content management systems enable readers to subscribe to content using Real Simple Syndication (RSS).

CONCLUSION

Districts are increasingly turning away from traditional web site design approaches to school sites, as well as commercial content management systems. Instead, school technology directors are embracing tools they can use in their own district. Content management tools like Wordpress and DrupalEd can facilitate web site management a lot easier, especially for organizations like schools. Perhaps more importantly, distributive control of web site maintenance allows the end-user to use 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 may indeed achieve web site nirvana.