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Friday, January 29, 2010

The Future of Technology: From Robots to Jump Shots

This spring NASA is retiring their space shuttle. When I first heard this news, I wasn’t too alarmed, “Out with the old and in with the new,” right? There’s just one small flaw in that equation, there isn’t a new. After the rocket retires we have to begin relying on Russia to give us a lift to the newly built space station. Now, if you take a look at a timeline, we haven’t always had the strongest bond with the Sov’s. Maybe we should take it a little easier on them in the winter Olympics this year just to ensure a healthy relationship; they do love their figure skating.

But seriously, how is it possible that the leading pioneer in space exploration is to be without a space shuttle? In 1970 space experts projected that we would have people actually living in space by now, and going to Mars wouldn’t seem like an impossible feat, but a daily routine. Clearly that is not the way of it.

Have you ever seen Back to the Future II? I’m assuming so, but for those who haven’t, it’s a 1989 film where Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) travels to 2015 to save his future son. In this flash forward flick we see skate boards that float, cars that fly, movies in 3D, clothes that reshape themselves to fit an individual, and waitresses are replaced by robots. Granted it’s only 2010, and ok we have 3D movies, but I think it’s safe to say those other things aren’t going to become reality within the next five years. So why is it that people 20 years ago had such high expectations for us, and yet we have failed to uphold our part of the bargain?

There was a time when technology was continuously evolving, and kids, even at the earliest ages, would become ambitious to build and invent new things. Putting a man on the moon, colored TV, music recording devices, video players, compact disks, computers; if they could dream it, they could do it. But childhood ambitions have completely changed. Our generation is primarily comprised of what people are calling the “lazy crazies”. Instead of wanting to become astronauts and inventers, kids are striving to become athletes and actors. In the 70’s astronauts were celebrities, not hotel heiresses. Neil Armstrong was on the “Got Milk” posters, not Snoop Dog. Kids wanted to be like these bright, ambitious people, but not anymore.

Interest in STEM education (science, technology, engineering, math) has rapidly declined. There aren’t enough computer engineers and scientists to go around, and the few that exist are going to hip, trendy places like Google and Amazon. In other words, Web site design and construction has become more important than space exploration and rocket ship building. And more importantly, becoming ESPN anchors and professional athletes has taken appeal over practical, necessary careers, thus NASA is struggling and not at all where it should be.

We need to begin inspiring kids as young as ten-years-old to continue in math and science. I’m not saying shove flashcards and a science kit in front of them, but maybe asking how they think their Nintendo Wii was created, snorkeling in the ocean and talking about all of the fish and coral you saw, or buying them a telescope for star gazing can make a small difference in the way they view science.

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Value of Branding in Education

by Eric Sheninger, Principal at New Milford High School located in Bergen County, NJ.

The following is a guest blog post that I did for Trish Rubin's EdVentures in a New York MINUTE. Trish wanted to know my thoughts on whether or not branding has a place in education. Below is the entire blog post with Trish Rubin's comments italicized:

Several months ago, I posted an article about a New Jersey principal named Eric Sheninger whom I had seen on the CBS news conducting the business of "BRAND ed" in his school by introducing social media to his History curriculum. I've followed him through the social media, and learned so much from watching him in that element. I asked him to be a guest blogger today on the topic of Branding as a strategy for educational leaders to improve culture and student performance. I will meet with Eric next week to see his school, meet him in person and continue the Brand Conversation as I develop my book. With thanks to this dynamic leader, here's Eric's response to a few initial questions I posed regarding his understanding of branding.

What Does "Brand" Mean to you?

To me a brand promises value through the evolution of a unique identity that relates to a specific audience or stakeholder group. Value can be defined in many ways. Some brands promise durability, health, style, safety, taste, convenience, or savings. Brands are designed to stand out and ultimately influence the consumer in a fashion that builds trust in the product. Sustaining a sense of trust is an integral component of a brands ability to promise value.

(I like that and see the key words as TRUST/PROMISE to be as important in schools as they are to business!)

How Do you see its Value in Education?

In the field of education schools are considered a brand. They promise value to residents of the district in terms of academic preparation to succeed in society. Many families will chose to reside in a specific district if the schools have a track record of academic success. Specific variables that are ultimately embedded into an educational institutions brand are state test scores, curriculum, teacher/administrator quality, number of AP courses, college acceptances, and extracurricular activities. By establishing a school’s identity or brand, leaders and other stakeholders can develop a strategic awareness of how to continually improve pedagogical and management practices that promise, as well as deliver, a quality education to all students. As a high school principal I feel that it is my responsibility to continually develop and enhance my school’s brand through innovation, risk-taking, building of relationships (students, teachers, parents, community stakeholders, institutions of higher education, businesses/corporations, etc.) and a commitment to the community. In my opinion this vision can assist all educators in establishing a brand for their respective schools that not only promises, but delivers value to residents of the district.

(Nice! This response speaks to starting the conversation, to introducing the concept, and sharing the language and processes that will put BRANDING in the center of a school reform plan!)

Do you have a Personal Brand?

I think everyone has a personal brand, but either does not realize or take it seriously. What you do in your professional and personal life does have an impact on how you are perceived and if you can be trusted. As a principal, I feel that my personal brand should reflect my commitment to the academic success and social/emotional well-being of the students of New Milford High School. It is equally important the my “brand” reflects to my staff a determination to cultivate positive relationships. It should resonate with them idealistic principles such as support, modeling, listening, innovation, shared decision making, consensus, risk-taking, and life-long learning. I do my best to lead my example and sustain a personal brand connected to these principles. For more on this please see my latest blog post entitled “Innovation Through Effective Leadership” on The Educator's Royal Treatment. Communication is extremely important in establishing one’s personal brand and social media has become the premier outlet for packaging and creating an identity. My personal brand from an education standpoint is constantly on display for the world to see. In my opinion, these outlets clearly illustrate my commitment to professional growth, learning, innovation, and student success. Listed below are some of the social media sites I utilize:

The Educator's PLN Ning
ERT Blog

(Great point. Eric knows about using the BRAND concept as a part of management plan. Integrity is part of that, and Communicating that through a personal brand is part of developing as a leader.)

Could Schools use this Brand model?

Schools can definitely use this brand model in order to focus efforts that continually address ways to improve teacher quality, curriculum, instructional practices, facilities, and professional development. All of these factors play a crucial role in increasing student achievement and engagement. The bottom line is that all schools should ultimately be able to promise value in terms of delivering a quality education while adequately preparing students for success in the 21st Century. A brand model can help to achieve this noble goal.

(I couldn't have said it better!)

I would like to thank Trish Rubin for the opportunity to share my thoughts. You can follow Trish on Twitter @TrishBIH.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Going Green with a CMS

And this one is for the environmentalists or anyone that cares about our Earth, trees, natural resources for that matter. We are always looking at the functionality and features of the CMS that are labeled “Web 2.0” because that is the current buzz word for what you need in a good CMS. So we focus on Videos and Blogs and Podcasts. And while those are all great, why don’t we take a moment to look at the ways a school district can “Go Green” with their CMS.

Hot Off the Press! Get Your News and Announcements Online! What better way to deliver the most up to date news and announcements to students and parents than the web site. Some CMS’s even provide functionality for e-Alerts that can be delivered via email or text messaging. In addition to the daily news, many school districts are publishing their newsletters online. This makes the process simpler and definitely cheaper than printing which allows a district to even generate newsletters more frequently.

Don’t Forget Your Homework! With online homework dropboxes, students and parents don’t have to worry about forgetting homework or even printing it for that matter. Students can simply do their homework on the computer and upload it to the classroom web site.

What Did You Learn in Class Today? For parents with kids that cannot remember what they learned in class today, a classroom web site serves a great purpose of refreshing their memories by allowing teachers to post presentations and resources related to classroom topics. So instead of printing out those Powerpoint slides, simply upload them to the site.

Rules, Rules, and More Rules. A school district and a classroom must have rules and those rules have to go into some type of really long document. Now imagine a classroom of 20 students with a classroom policy guide of 5 pages and a school or district policy guide of 30 pages. That is 35 pages per student equating to a total of 700 pages for one classroom. Then take that to an entire school level and then a district level. That is a lot of trees. Why not post it online and even have a web based form that verifies the student or parent received it and read it? Sounds a little more efficient and earth friendly to me.

Well this covers a few ways that schools can use their CMS to “Go Green” and “Save Some Green $”. Anyone else have ideas? I know there is a way to even use the Web 2.0 tools to save on paper and definitely time.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Choosing the "Best" CMS

David Aponovich is a web CMS strategy consultant at ISITE Design in Cambridge, MA, and co-authors The CMS Myth blog, and he wrote a really great post on choosing the right CMS in 2010. I think it has some great insight, so I felt compelled to share it.

You say 2010 is the year to find a new web content management solution? No pressure there. It’s only the success of your online marketing and corporate web presence that hangs in the balance. But before you go mad in feature spreadsheets, spend weeks pecking through vendor websites or go cross-eyed from too many demos, take a more reasoned approach. Clear you mind and consider these ideas before choosing a web CMS in 2010.

Think about strategy first, technology second. Web CMS has a notoriously high rate of failure. But it’s usually not the software’s fault. It’s usually due to poor planning, poor implementation and a lack of vision for how to harness a CMS to achieve web goals. Before you search for a tool, first define the problem, why it needs solving and how best to solve it. Don’t just throw software at your website. Web CMS is not a silver bullet.

Bury the CMS feature matrix. Hundreds of rows of feature check boxes? Does it really help now that most (mainstream) CMSs offer near-identical core capabilities? Sure, vendors are scrambling to add tools marketing, social media, personalization, measurement and more-–it’s changing daily. But, with today’s flexible platforms you’re just as likely to get certain functions outside the CMS. Instead, conduct initial vendor sorting by focusing your criteria on a few high level differentiators that matter most based on your real world needs.

Don’t expect to find “the best” CMS. With commercial, open source, and on-demand web CMS solutions numbering in the hundreds, there’s no single “best” answer. But is there a good-better-best ranking aligned to your requirements and priorities? Probably. Choosing a CMS usually involves heavy requirements gathering, priority shuffling and feature trade-offs. Aim your search at finding a shortlist of two to three choices. Then ask: What will life be like with each of these systems based on what I prioritize?

Measure against key fit factors. Another way to make a CMS search more manageable and to achieve success is to take a holistic look at how CMS fits into your organization and align technology to key business processes and marketing strategies. On our blog the CMS Myth, we term this the six CMS fit factors; they cover the technical, cultural, process, feature, marketing and vendor “fits." Read more about the benefits of this approach here.

Tap the community for validation. Social media has made transparency a wonderful thing when researching a purchase--whether a new car or a new CMS. Are customers happy or not? Can you call a real user you found online? Is there evidence of a robust developer or user network? Check social networks, Twitter, blogs, developer and marketer forums and elsewhere to conduct primary research on prospective CMS choices, and to validate your shortlist and eventual selection.

When in doubt, ask the experts. There are a lot of people who’ve been there, done that, and answered CMS questions for all sorts of organizations. Find a web CMS expert, a qualified independent consultant, integrator, interactive agency with CMS specialty or someone else who’s been down this path before, and who can take an agnostic view toward your situation.

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Schoole Awards Update!

We have decided to open up the nominations for the Schoole Awards ahead of schedule!

Due to such great feedback over the past week, we wanted to have nominations open long enough so that every school district gets as many nominations as possible! So nominate away and e-mail me if you have any questions or problems -

Voting will still open on April 2, 2010.

Go to and click on the red button, "Nominate your district," and fill out the form to make you nominations!

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What makes a college or university so appealing? Some might say how many times a school’s basketball team makes it to the Final Four. Others may argue that an astounding reputation in academics or having parents with alumni status is the most important factor when choosing the right school. Heck, some might just go wherever is close and affordable. However, for the average person, choosing a college can be rigorous and tiresome. With so many choices, in all different types of locations, at a wide variety of prices, that all have something unique to offer, it is almost impossible to make a decision that you can proudly stand by for four years.

Most colleges are well aware of this fact. They are so aware of it, in fact, that they try anything and everything they can to set themselves apart. There are many ways to go about “being different”, but this is 2010 and you can’t just settle for appealing flyers and posters. No, now it is all about the Web site. Without a good Web site you might as well kiss your enrollment totals goodbye.

But what makes for a good Web site? Well if you’ve been following our blogs at all or just didn’t happen to be born yesterday then you should know the answer to that question – Web 2.0 of course. Videos, blogs, podcasts, social media, that’s what makes a site stand out. But there are two problems with this theory:

1. Features like this can be incredibly tricky to add to a site without proper web programmers or an awesome content management system (and believe me, both of those are a lot harder to come by than you’d think.)

2. Even when some schools do figure out how to add all of these great features, they are clueless when it comes to content (even at some of the most prestigious universities in the world).

My thoughts of this were inspired this morning when I had this awesome idea to one day attend graduate school at Brown University in hopes of befriending Emma Watson, who also goes there (for those of you who don’t know, that is the actress that plays Hermoine Granger in the Harry Potter series). While searching the site I noticed a video called “A Review of Brown”. It was a little under ten minutes and had several interviews, graphics, and statistics about the school and the city of Providence. It was a very informative and attractive video; however, they made their school seem like little league instead of Ivy League.

Parts of this video talked about them drinking, partying, and smoking marijuana. It said that if you wanted to you could take every class as pass/fail, you can create your own classes, and that most of the campus is comprised of hippies. Haven’t you ever heard your parents talk about how crazy they were in the 70’s and all of the trouble they used to get in? Yeah that’s because they were hippies. Thus, any parent that watches this video will think that their child will make the same terrible mistakes that they did while smoking weed and drinking all the time. I don’t know about you, but my parents wouldn’t let me set foot in that school, and it’s BROWN for goodness sake. Parents are supposed to jump up and down with excitement when you get admitted to Brown, not lock you away in your room and ban you from ever leaving. Brown, is that really the image you are pursuing?

I guess what I’m really trying to say here is don’t just use Web 2.0 functionality for the sake of being hip and trendy. The use of video can be extremely beneficial for giving a tour of the campus, showing a production the school put on, or doing testimonials. Things like that can really make your site stand out and give the viewer a more in depth look at the school. But highlighting the parts that make parents cringe probably isn’t the greatest idea.


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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

What Makes a Good School?

I went to Washington D.C. this weekend to visit my best friend from high school (and college for that matter). I booked my flight too late so I had to fly into Baltimore and have a car take me from BWI to D.C. The driver of the car was this wonderfully friendly young lady from Pakistan. She told me about her life, how she had moved here with her husband 10 years ago and how he had left her to raise their 8 year old daughter alone. She was driving for this car service at night so that she could provide a better life for her daughter. They had recently decided to move to Dallas, TX because the cost of living was a lot cheaper and she was looking for a warmer climate. After telling me this, she asked me an interesting question: “Do you think that my daughter will not get as good of an education in Texas because the schools there do not rank as high as the schools here on standardized testing?”

I thought, “well it is funny you ask” because most people think that standardized testing is a good indicator of a quality education but I do think differently. Then I was reading a blog related to the same question. And I think what Marni Goltsman is saying has a lot of truth in it. What makes a good school really is the teachers and staff that love what they do and parents that get involved in their children's education. But these two things almost have to coexist in order for a school to be really successful. One will not thrive long without the other. And as for standardized test scores being a reliable indicator of a good education - no, it is not. I grew up outside of Little Rock, AR (where schools did not rank very high in test scores). I moved to a school district in Kansas my Junior year of high school that ranked very highly in its test scores. As for what they were teaching - they were teaching what I had already learned the previous year in both Math and English. So I would have learned more by staying at my low test score ranking district in Arkansas.

But back to the lady from the car service – This part is so much more IMPORTANT than any test a child can take. I told her about my experience and my thoughts on the matter and she agreed. She said that she thought it was more important that she teach her daughter to be KIND and LOVING to others and to treat them with RESPECT and like human beings. It would be this knowledge that would make her successful and happy. I had been told this before by a very wise friend and even though it sounds straight forward, it seems that people are forgetting this simple truth.

And the last thing I thought about was all the school districts we work with. Some of them do rank very high on standardized testing and others not as high. But all of these schools, I have seen, have some amazing teachers that truly love what they do and that makes all the difference in the world. So we should all take a moment to appreciate those teachers that put in the extra effort and are dedicated to educating our children.

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Getting My "Tweet" Wet

I’ll be the first to admit it; I was not a fan of Twitter. Actually, there is no way I am the first to admit that. Surely people all over the world could not figure out the point or logic behind “tweeting” constant updates about your life to complete strangers. I tried everything. I bought a book called Twitter for Dummies, I designed my own fun little background, I even followed by life long idol Britney Spears, and yet I could still not see the light behind this social networking God called Twitter. I mean, do people really care about my petty tweets that read, “I’m going to cut my hair like Kate Gosselin tomorrow” or “I hate snow”? Surely not.

But then I began working in the real world, and come to find out, Twitter does serve a purpose beyond simply stalking your favorite celebrities or the cute guy next door (and his pestering girlfriend, but details are relative). No, actually it can be a highly effective source for sharing and receiving information. For example, after I post this blog entry, I will tweet about it, thus generating more readers. But seriously, Twitter is like a dream come true for businesses. Who would have thought that such a wide variety of information can be conveyed in 140 words or less?

For example, I work at a computer software company that specializes in custom and complex projects for major universities, Fortune 500 companies, government organizations and leading K-12 school districts, but my area of concentration is our latest content management system for higher education. I thought Twitter may be of some use to me, not so much to sell the product, but just to connect with others and see what people are saying about the current CMS market. Come to find out, I was dead on. It’s amazing how many people actually tweet about CMS.

Today, however, I came across a tweet that was disheartening, yet admittedly, a little exciting. Jstepka is a man I have never met. I don’t know what he does, where he’s from, or what his interests are. But I do know that approximately 16 minutes ago he tweeted, “Every CMS, ever, sucks ass.” Tweets like this tell me two things: 1. He has obviously never tried out our product – POTENTIAL CLIENT (just kidding) and number 2. There is obviously a very ripe market for a quality content management system.

This man seems to be what I would call a “twit”, which is my new hip term for people that tweet their innermost thoughts and opinions at least once a day. Now, I do believe that he would not have posted that “every CMS sucks” unless he truly meant it. Obviously something so astoundingly awful happened between him and his CMS that pushed him right over the edge. So as a marketer, I now know that at any given moment people are experiencing this loathing for their CMS, which boosts my confidence for the next time I pick up the phone to talk about a quality content management system.

At last, I have discovered a meaningful purpose for Twitter. Now I can rest this weekend.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Schoole Awards Contest for Best District Web site

Recently, we launched a Splash page to promote a contest for the best school district Web sites, aka, The Schoole Awards. You can view all of the details about the contest at Here's a quick run-down of the contest:

What is it?
  • The Schoole Awards will give us a chance to recognize school districts that deserve to be recognized for the best Web site practices.
  • We want to show how technology can be used to enhance information sharing and communication.
  • We want to show how design plays in the role of building an effective Web site.
  • We want to provide a place where districts can show off their Web sites, and get rewarded for them.
  • We want to showcase school districts that are using technology to the best of their abilities to the benefit of those who need it most: students.

How will it work?
The contest is comprised of three phases, beginning in mid-March.

  • Phase 1 will be the nomination phase, where anyone can nominate a district for the best district Web site. Districts may be public, private or charter. Only one nomination per valid e-mail address will be allowed.
  • Phase 2 is the selection phase, where our panel of industry experts will select the top 15 school district Web sites. Using a rubric, the district sites will be ranked, so that the top 15 go to the next phase.
  • Phase 3 is the voting phase. Only one vote per valid e-mail address. The school district site with the most votes is the winner!

Why should I nominate or vote for my district?

  • The top two winning districts will receive donations for the department responsible for managing the district site, along with plaques commemorating the achievement for the top three districts.
  • The top three winning districts will also receive exposure through key media outlets, including social networking sites, feature stories and press releases on, and more.

Have questions?

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Why a Web Application?

A question that a lot of people may wonder about us is: why build a website instead of a desktop application? Most of the important work educators do on computers (e.g. student management, lesson planning, etc.) is done through desktop applications. Why would they want to switch?

There are three important aspects of web applications that give them an advantage over desktop applications: portability, maintenance, and accessibility.

Portability is one of the hardest parts of an application to have. A normal desktop application has to be tested under multiple systems with multiple configurations. If the application needs to be run in different Operating Systems, a new application has to be written, often in a different language. Keeping all of these messy parts together and working is a task by itself.

It is a lot easier to have portability in a web application. All web applications are viewed by a browser like Internet Explorer or Firefox. In order for a web application to be portable, the application must display consistently in all browsers. Because the focus is on the browser, not the system running the browser, portability can be achieved by testing the application in multiple browsers, which is much easier to do than testing it on completely different computers. The beauty of it is that there doesn't need to be completely different code that runs for one browser versus another; they all share the same code.

Having to maintain different versions of code can be a nightmare. Imagine you're a painter. You've made 50 paintings of the same fruit basket, and given out your paintings to galleries. Then you realize that the painting would look better with an apple where the orange was. If you want to implement your upgrade, you would have to go to every painting, erase the apple, and draw an orange. Spread that out over 50 painting and that painter has a very, very long weekend.

Instead of each gallery having the same copy of the painting, the painter's upgrade would have been easier if there was only one copy of the painting. Instead of the gallery having a copy, they simply have a way to view the one painting. That is the beauty of web applications. No matter how many people need to use the application, there is only one copy of it. If the application needs some new features, a patch doesn't need to be applied by every user for their individual copy; instead, only the one version of the application needs to be updated. The centralization of web applications make maintenance much easier.

Every gallery being able to view the same painting is the basic principle behind the last advantage of web applications: accessibility. No matter what building you're in, no matter what state you're in, as long as you can access the Internet you can access the web application. Also, clients, potential students, etc. are all able to access all of the content you post.

The importance of the Internet increases every day. Applications built for the Internet can take advantage of portability, maintenance, and accessibility that it provides. Web applications are truly the next generation of applications.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Machine is Using Us

This is a video that was done by a professor at Kansas State University. It kind of puts Web 2.0 in a different perspective, while at the same time defines a lot of what Web 2.0 is all about. Being a Jayhawk myself, I can't help but to give credit to a neighboring university where credit is due.

What are your thoughts? Has social networking made it to where we cannot even turn away from technology? Are we constantly relying on the use of facebook, twitter, blogs, and chat to have even the simplest of conversations? Does the machine know us better than we even know ourselves?

Hollywood certainly thinks so. With movies like iRobot, Surrogates, heck even Wall-E, we see an increase in the belief that one day machines will take over man, and we are the ones that made it happen. Does this seem too extreme or perfectly possible?


Monday, January 11, 2010

CMS: It has some serious issues

What is the number one recruiting tool for colleges in the country? I’ll give you a hint: It’s not guest speakers, cold callers, word of mouth, pamphlets, flyers, school counselors, posters, or handouts of any kind. Give up? A study done by E-Expectations in association with The National Research Center for College and University Admissions concluded that prospective student’s turn to the school’s Web site as their main source of college information.

There’s just one small problem – many schools are lacking the technology to create the Web sites they desire. This may seem like no big deal, but let’s look at it from the bigger picture. What if one school had a phenomenal top of the line Web site with the works: videos, podcasts, slideshows, RSS feeds, photos, intricate design, blogs, and live chat. What if that school was your biggest competitor and your site had some bland text with a couple of pictures and a messy lay out that was impossible to navigate through? Do you see the picture?

Luckily, content management systems (CMS) exist. CMS, if it’s a good CMS, allows non technical users to create advanced, consistent, attractive Web sites in no time at all. However, like everything else in the world today, there’s a catch. Most content management systems on the market are hard to understand, require days or sometimes weeks of training, and can barely get you through the basics let alone add in all of the bells and whistles. The point of a CMS is to make creating Web sites easier and to enable the majority of the staff to work on the site, not just IT people. But if learning the system requires days of training, then doesn’t that defeat the purpose? Odds are that people will become frustrated or just blow off the training entirely, therefore, never learning how to operate the technology.

If you walked into a room full of collegiate web masters and asked how many of them crave an easy to use, top of the line CMS I can pretty much guarantee that almost all of them would raise their hand. Right now there is a major market for a quality content management system that is focused on the unique needs of the higher education sector. Granted a commercial company may put you in a better position than a homegrown outdated system, but most commercial companies are currently stuck. With so many clients it’s impossible to concentrate on upgrading your product.

Too many clients can also lead to a vendor-buyer relationship, one in which you never hear from the vendor again after the product is sold, leaving you alone and confused. Problems can also arise with using open source systems. It may sound cost effective and FREE, but in reality the bill can really start to rack up by the time you find the staff and training to make it work.

Unfortunately there are schools out there that for one reason or another end up with a mediocre everyday CMS company, and these schools are what I would call “Yankee fans.” It seems like mostly everyone is a Yankees “fan” because every eight years or so they’ll win a World Series, and following them is usually a pretty safe bet. It doesn’t matter that the Phillies might be AMAZING that year, you’re just choosing to play it safe and stick with what everyone else is doing.

Playing it safe isn’t always the best option, especially when looking at CMS, because playing it safe usually leads to a boring, average, outdated Web site, which in turns leads to a poor image for your university and low enrollment totals. It is an exciting time for content management systems because the paradigm is shifting and allowing non technical end users to do amazing work with collegiate Web sites. Start looking at what else is out there, take chances, do some demo’s and find a fit that truly works for you and your university.

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Friday, January 8, 2010

The Past, Present, and Future of Content Management Systems (CMSs)

It wasn't long ago that everyone connected to the Internet through a dial-up modem. The familiar beeps and various noises were widely accepted as part of the Internet experience; the speed, or lack thereof, was also commonplace. Web pages were extremely primitive. Being on the Internet still had the feel of playing Oregon Trail: it was a new frontier.

Slowly but surely, the next major phase in the Internet came with DSL and Cable Modems. Suddenly a web page took less time to load than a cup of coffee to brew. What was once a labor intensive task became easy. It was like finding a new shortcut to work, or a new tax deduction. Almost over night, everyone had a computer in their home that was connected to the Internet.

Since speed was no longer an issue, the presence of the Internet in our daily life became cemented. The only real hurdle that remained was making quality web sites. Unfortunately, speed had increased faster the ability to design; web pages were delivered quickly, but satisfaction was still lacking. Its legs had grown too quickly for its feet.

That time was truly the adolescence of the Internet. As we became more familiar with our newly found tools, solid design principles came into the place. No longer were web sites designed exclusively for Internet Explorer or for Netscape navigator. No longer did it matter what vehicle a client used, only that they saw the same thing that everyone else does. The goal became delivering content with consistency.

Right now, the Internet is at the threshold between adolescence and adulthood. The transition is ultimately being driven by two forces: the user's needs, and the user's more powerful computers. People want more flexibility, usability, and functionality. Though that has always been the case, it is only recently that computers have become able to fill that demand. Faster processors, more RAM, better monitors, etc. have all helped bring into fruition the ability for websites to become more than static text.

This change is shaking the fundamental model of web site development. Most web sites use a CMS to create and update their pages. There are as many CMSs as styles of music, but only a few can produce symphonies. They need to be robust but functional, flexible but secure. They need to provide tools, not just cleverly disguised fill in the blanks. Future CMSs need to move from a simple, one-sided producer/consumer model to a client/server model.

By placing more complexity on the client side, future CMSs will free up the server from its current backbreaking work. In the current model, the server is like a vending machine: though you may put some work in by inserting a coin, the machine is the one doing the real work. Users need tools to produce content, not slots to fill in.

This is where tools like Easy Pages come into the picture. Instead of simply being given small, minuscule parts to arrange, users are given a multitude panels to choose from and configure. The content as well as the look and feel can all be managed efficiently and effectively. Unlike a complicated fondue kit, they have been made to be easy to use without sacrificing functionality or expressive power.

Future CMSs like ContentM will allow people with any technical background to create web pages that are appealing both in look and in content. From a technical as well as functional standpoint, ContentM and Easy Pages are amazing systems. Both of them have been an amazing experience to help develop. Thanks to their success, our products will definitely leave a lasting mark.

Best Practices for Collegiate Web Sites

Each week (usually Fridays) Bob, from Bob Johnson Consulting, does a blog pertaining to the topic of college and university marketing, where he will add a link to what he feels is a superior collegiate Web site. For the year's overall best he chose The University of Maine, for its unprecedented approach to increasing enrollment totals. According to him, this Web site screams “APPLY!” and after viewing it, I would even take it a step further. Not only does it scream apply, it shouts “ATTEND!” College Web sites are currently the top recruiting tool at the higher education level, and if you have honed in on the best practices for designing and creating your site, then you will undoubtedly become a force to be reckoned with.

One important key to creating a solid collegiate site is highlight your primary goal. In other words, make sure your page is targeting who you want. Is your top goal boosting admissions? Then give admissions top place on your site.UMaine did EXACTLY this. They wanted to boost enrollment totals and therefore set their admissions box at the top of the page next to an attractive picture slide show with an enticing description of the university and a link clearly marked “Apply Now!” right beneath it. I am only a semester away from completing my four year degree and even I was tempted to apply; I can only imagine how an excited high school senior would feel. Beneath this the page stretches on, but for a brief moment in time, it’s just you and the admissions box, alone and in love.

There are several criteria for best practices in university Web sites, and the UMaine site does a great job with a lot of them including: getting students involved, social media strategy, and promoting special events. However, its the dawn of a new decade and technology is constantly seeing new trends and phases. Does UMaine have the greatest collegiate site of 2009? Maybe. But it's 2010 and anyone can take over. Take advantage of the technology that is out there and allows users to create revolutionary new Web sites so amazing that you easily could be the next 'top' name on Bob's list.

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Monday, January 4, 2010

Using Web 2.0: Just Like Show and Tell

Some of the best memories we have of childhood education must include three simple words: show and tell – a day when you could bring in anything you wanted to share with the class, whether it be a picture you took during an awesome summer vacation or a painting you did at church camp. What made show and tell so great? The answer is obvious. For a short part of the day your eyes were directed away from books and text and suddenly you were looking at fascinating pictures and images. Isn’t it sad to think that once you hit higher education the days of show and tell are over? Well don’t think that way, because the truth is, show and tell doesn’t disappear at the higher education level, it only gets more elaborate and limitless, and goes by the name of Web 2.0.

There has been a lot of talk as to what Web 2.0 really is, or if it is anything more than technical jargon used to make a sale. However, it is a concept that really isn’t too difficult to understand. Just like grade school show and tell, Web 2.0 is a way for everyday ordinary people to show a video, slideshow, or photo album and tell others what they think via comments, blog, or chat.

During show and tell, the teacher would stop talking, and you became in charge. Web 2.0 is no different. Dan Gillmor, author and journalist, calls the world of Web 2.0 “we the media” because the people decide what is important and where the story is almost as frequently as news organizations. The main stream media actually think of individual blogs as competitors, as well as the blogosphere as a whole. YouTube has also been a huge tool for empowering the people. Videos of literally anything can be posted by anyone at any time. A video of you excitedly opening a toy on Christmas day could generate 11 million views.

At recess you could have spent the full thirty minutes telling your friend about the Grand Canyon, but it wasn’t until show and tell when he saw the picture that you took while you were there that it really became impressive. This is a lesson that is still important today. The use of videos goes beyond making someone laugh or highlighting someone’s unfortunate blooper. Videos can be used to turn a simple bulletin into something exciting, and really make it sink in. For example, Nichols College in Dudley, Mass. used a video to illustrate to new students the proper way to check in on the first day of college. The use of the video will be much more effective than an ongoing list of ‘first day’ tasks.

Imagine if every first grade teacher made show and tell a part of their weekly agenda, except one. Odds are that not many students would want to be in that class. There are some trends that you just need to follow, and Web 2.0 is one of them. If every collegiate Web site has Web 2.0 functionality and yours is seriously lacking, it isn’t going to reflect well upon your college or university, which may lead to a lack of potential students. At the higher education level it is important to remember that students don’t want you to simple tell them how great your school is, they also want you to show them, and Web 2.0 functionality is the best way to make that happen.

Don’t be the teacher that doesn’t let show and tell happen. Make your school’s Web site all that it can be with Web 2.0, because investing in high tech functionality is investing in your students, your reputation, and the future of your school.

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