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Friday, February 19, 2010


Apple, not too long ago, released the latest addition to its sleek line of mind blowing technology, the iPad; a high resolution multi-touch screen device that can run almost 140,000 apps, connect to Wi-Fi, is half of an inch thick, and weighs in at 1.5 pounds. This thing is insanely cool, but apparently a lot of people don’t seem to think so. Beneath almost every video that discusses the iPad on YouTube, there are a plethora of comments that say, “This is just an overgrown iPod touch, not that impressive.” Or, “I don’t see what all the fuss is about over this stupid thing.” And what is most sad about this, a lot of these comments aren’t just coming from kids who grew up with a flat screen monitor and an Xbox 360. Negative feedback has come from the mouths of people in their forties and fifties who clearly don’t remember 1987 and the Commodorf Amiga 500. Before continuing on please take a minute to watch this promo video of what was then “innovative, advanced, and groundbreaking.”

Now take a minute to watch the ad for the iPad. My point will make a much bigger impact if these are watched back to back.

After viewing those two, you can’t possibly tell me that the iPad isn’t impressive. Even if it is just an overgrown iPod touch in your opinion (which by the way, the iPad is far more advanced, do some research), that doesn’t make it any less awesome, because the iPod touch is also quite revolutionary. That’s like saying “LeBron James is just a taller Cobe Bryant” and completely writing him off. People have just become so technologically spoiled its unreal. Is HD-TV not cool because it’s just like regular TV only clearer? Are laptops not cool because they’re just like normal computers only more compact? We seem to be so unimpressed with these advances in technology, taking them for granted, and viewing them as small steps forward. I bet people in the 1940’s would have killed to watch Gone With the Wind in full color, on Blu Ray, via a 52 inch Panasonic plasma TV.

Okay, Okay. I’ll admit it, at first I wasn’t that impressed with the iPad either. But after I came across the ad for the Amiga 500 I became really disappointed in myself, thus the cause for my explosion of thoughts on America’s technologically spoiled culture.

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Friday, February 5, 2010

Why a Great CMS Helps Build Your School District's Brand

by Katie Brosious

In response to both Eric Sheninger's post about the importance of branding in education, and Trish Rubin's blog, EdVentures in a New York Minute, about branding in education, I started to think about how, with a CMS, schools can use their district Web site to establish a brand.

The Importance of a Brand in Education

Although I will leave this part mostly to the experts (Thanks Eric and Trish!), I will say a few words about the importance of a brand in education. Education is a service. Education is just like any other service in that it must exude value in the business that it is in, in order to attract new students. In education, school districts must show academic value. Bad or good; clear or not, everything--person, place, or thing--has some sort of brand attached to it. It's what others think and feel about what you have to offer.

Why doesn't education take advantage of this? Especially K-12 school districts! Universities have come a long way, and seem to be working on establishing their own individual brand. However, many school districts do not put their best foot forward...To network, to evolve, to improve, and to show the world what they are accomplishing.

But how would they spread their message? It's not like school districts have the advertising budgets of McDonald's or Coca Cola. They have the label of 'school,' which implies education, but it's extremely obvious that no two schools are the same. Its important for schools to build their brand because school districts, more than any other educational institution, need to stay updated and in the know. Today's K-12 students are tomorrow's leaders. It is essential for schools to have a cohesive mission, a set of values, and a sense of pride within the district, which can be done by establishing a brand.

Branding on the Web

More and more, school districts are using social networking sites like Twitter to extend and enhance their brand. Some Twitter accounts are for the whole district, some just for a school, and some are from teachers, staff or administrators from the district. Each Twitter account is another point of contact for that district. It improves community outreach, makes the district more personable and personal, and helps to spread the district message. Social media sites like Twitter are great. And they're an extension of the district brand. But they just aren't enough. Even if a district has a great media presence, consistency throughout the district all-inclusive WEB presence is key.

Aside from social media, the school district Web site is often the most important point of contact for the school district. If community members want to know what time the football game is on Friday, the district site is the first source of information. The district Web site is like the Encyclopedia for that district. Students, parents and community members expect to have all of their questions answered simply by clicking over to the district Web site. It must support a cohesive brand and mission along with all other point of contacts for that district on the web.

Using ContentM K-12 to Brand your District

The best and easiest way to build a school district Web site is with a CMS like ContentM K-12. Not only will you be able to design and implement your school district Web site with ease, you (or anyone else) will be able to maintain it with a few clicks. You will be able to update your Web site in seconds when you need to (i.e., for snow day cancellations or delays). You can spread the word about your district's overall academic accomplishments. You can show your students' accomplishments. The best Web sites are dynamic and fluid; they are always changing as new things happen. School district Web sites should be no different.

Aside from being able to update and maintain the district site easily, you can use a CMS like ContentM K-12 at any level of your district, including individual school sites, individual classroom/teacher sites, Web sites for the PTA or Athletics, etc., extending your brand through all sectors of your district by keeping the theme and message fluid throughout each site. There's an eSchool News article about a school district that got it right. Recognizing the need "
to leverage our entire digital environment, to bring in tools for all our teachers, principals, and staff to communicate with all our stakeholders, and to provide a way for our stakeholders to engage in communications with us," this California school district implemented a CMS to improve its communications with parents and the community.

After establishing a branding network for your district, you can use all those Web 2.0 goodies that will make your district look great and that students will love to view and create, building their exposure to technology as well as your own.

YouTube, Twitter, and Blogs, Oh My!

These tools are really underutilized and overflowing with potential. Our CMS offers these tools as part of our panel-based technology, so you can easily upload your Twitter feed or a YouTube video you posted. Kids love the Web 2.0 stuff because it's a break from the norm, and so do teachers and administrators, like the ones that I meet every day on Twitter. Instead of having students write a paper, why not create a blog discussion about it? Teamwork is a key skill, and blogs and comments promote it in a fun way. With a CMS, teachers can easily post the blog on their Web site and have their students contribute.

As another example of using Web 2.0 in the classroom, take a video camera on a field trip and interview the kids about their opinions on where they are. If you take them to a museum, what was their favorite part? And why? Better yet, let the kids ask the questions! Putting these videos up on your classroom site is a great way to get students involved in using technology and reaping the benefits, and parents will love it so they can see what their kids do all day.

All of these ideas will show your audience (students, parents and community) that you and your school district have a dedication and commitment to using technology. Even if you only posted these on your own classroom site, a classroom site is simply an extension of the district brand.

Why Build a Brand?

When my family moved from New York to Texas, my mom had to figure out where to send my brother, sister and I to school. However, just by looking at a few Web sites she easily chose a school district for us to attend, because she couldn't get a feel for what some district Web sites were trying to say, couldn't sift through the clutter, or just really couldn't get a feel for the school's goals or values. How else would you choose a school district from 1,000 miles away other than calling the school? I wouldn't want to be the school district to get overlooked based on a poorly designed Web site with no purpose. District Web sites mean more than some may think.

A brand sets you a part. It differentiates your school district from the next. It's an experience. Why not be the best? Your school district works hard to fulfill its potential. Don't fall short because your Web site doesn't perform, become a "Brand-Ed" school district.

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eSchool News Feature

School-e Awards Contest Accepting Nominations to Honor Best School District Web sites

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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Of Google Analytics and Nightmares

The following post was written by Mark Van Tilburg, the executive director of marketing and communications at Youngstown State University.

Before anybody dreamed up the term “Web-too-point Oh,” when having a fax machine of my own and three buttons on my desk phone made me a state-of-the-science communications executive, I carried myself with such great confidence and a kind of light-footed romantic sense of the world that all problems, great and small, were manageable. I slept every night straight through, certain that the next day’s challenges would be easily conquered.

What a lovely dream.

Yes, my days as an Olympic-class sleeper (able to log a solid 9 to 14-hours in nearly any circumstance) are now but a distant memory, lost to the cold sober reality that one of my jobs as a university marketing director is to manage the never ending development and deployment of the university’s website.

I fear that those halcyon nights of yore, will likely never be mine again, because everybody is looking to me to ensure that the institutional branding goals and web content integrity meet their expectations. Every one of our faculty, all alumni, donors and current students (not to mention the universe of web surfers, IT geeks, high school students, parents and grandparents) has 24/7 accesses to monitor our progress.

It’s no wonder, me thinks, that many days I just want my pillow and a couple – seven stiff shots of Black Jack. As John Keats (the greatest English poet of all times, period!) so aptly put it:

O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been

Cool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth,


With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,

And purple-stained mouth;

That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,

And with thee fade away into the forest dim….

Is anyone else out there suffering, even mildly, from flights of fancy and distraction or similar symptoms?

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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Higher Ed the Best/Toughest Job in all the Web

Within the last week or so a lot has been posted on the topic of whether higher education is the best or the toughest job in all the web. Both arguments have valid points and in reality best and toughest do not contradict each other straight on. Perhaps what makes the job the toughest also makes the job the best and vice versa.

If you have missed out on these discussions check out Mark Greenfield’s and Nikki Kauffman’s blogs covering the reasons it is the toughest gig. Then travel to Michael Fienen’s and Mike Richwalsky’s blogs for their point of view on why higher ed is the best gig in the web.

Each article has several valid points and all of those who commented had compelling thoughts as well. I took notes on everything I read, grouped similar comments, and continued to dwindle down until I had a manageable list of both the pros and cons of working in higher ed web. What I found was that those lists had many similarities.

I know this list is narrowed down considerably, but I hope by some stretch you can see where your points fall.

Collaboration and Consensus Decision Making
Sounds like something that could very easily slow down any decision making process. Then once you get the ball rolling, it can be hard to stop if it’s going in a wrong direction. Shifting direction in a team that uses the argument “this is how it’s always been” is not easy. The web is not “how it’s always been” and that mind set can be difficult to change in people who don’t understand evolving web technologies.

However in higher education the fact is, collaboration is necessary. What good can come from this? As Mike pointed out, you get the chance to be exposed to things you wouldn’t ordinarily be exposed to. This can lead to successful new ideas.

Cool Factor
To impress students, universities try to stay on the cutting edge of all technologies out there and use every web 2.0 feature known to man (today). It’s up for debate if all that is really necessary. Could it cause a headache? Yes. Is it fun to experiment with new technology? Some would say so.

Heaps of Content
Everyone across campus in every school, department, organization, or club has content to be added to the Web site. Maybe some of those areas think their site needs a different feel from the rest. Could this too cause a massive headache? Most definitely. Does it have to? No, the number one reason people visit a Web site is to find information; the more content available, the more useful the site.

Student Help
So, initially this would seem like a good thing, cheap labor, someone to do the grunt work, and someone to keep you in touch with what is going on. However, Nikki brings up a good point that students working only a semester or two can fail to see the future value of a project.

It’s not as good as the private sector. Here’s the tricky part to put into hard figures. Everyone places different level of value on access to the gym, tuition discounts, leadership opportunities, conferences, guest speakers, relative job security, and vacation time. For you it may be far worse than the private sector others find that the benefits outweigh the lack of monetary compensation.

One item I failed to find a pro for was the issue of satisfying multiple audiences. Not only does a university’s Web site have to satisfy prospective students, current students, parents, alumni, faculty, staff, state and federal legislators, research-granting organizations, corporate recruiters, and the community’s content needs, but many of these groups may feel they have some ownership of the brand and how the Web site depicts it. This indeed complicates things, making the gig tough, but who doesn’t like a challenge?

With all that in mind, I would like to rack your brain for ways to overcome these challenges that make higher ed the toughest job in all the web? As well as, what could be done to take advantage of the things that make this job one of the best in all the web?

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Profile of a Developer - Zach Gardner

I guess the best way to begin developer profiles is by starting with myself.

How did you hear about AllofE - I've known about AllofE since my senior year of high school. I was in a work study program, so I submitted my resume to several local businesses. AllofE was one of those places. I got a job elsewhere, but ended up at AllofE four years after that.

What got you into developing software - I purchased the video game Counter Strike in 2002 when I lived in California. It was the first computer video game I really got into. I was curious how a lot of it worked, so I began looking up ways to program inside the game. After making a short script that helped me jump higher, I was hooked.

How long have you been programming - My first experience with real programming came in 2003 when I took an introductory level programming class in high school. We used Microsoft Visual Basic to program. I've been doing web programming since 2005; I worked at Allen Press here in Lawrence and helped them develop their internal employee website.

What is your favorite project you've worked on at AllofE - Probably our Easy Pages Panels. Javascript is a really interesting language to use because of its expressive power and flexibility. There's just something about the creative power that goes into each panel that makes me want to keep developing them.

What do you listen to while you work
- When I do have my headphones in, I'm probably listening to People Under the Stairs, Nas, or Atmosphere. I can't really explain why I like listening to hip-hop. There's just something so unique and entrancing about it.

What do you do outside of AllofE - I'm in my fifth year of involvement in the American Legion Boys State of Kansas. I'm a fan of West Ham United FC, and of KU. I also enjoy playing with my family's dog Max.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Asking important questions about content management systems

Don’t you just love technology! Today you don’t have to be a fancy webmaster to create and maintain great looking district websites. Gone are the days of tediously writing HTML to design your website. How, you might ask? Three little letters – CMS, or content management systems.

Content management systems today allow users at all technical levels to effortlessly contribute to your district website and harness the power of communication tool that district websites are trending to become.

As someone who tests our content management system on a regular basis, I find myself asking, will the end user find this easy to use? Will they want to use it? Is it fun to use? It is important for me and my colleagues to ask these types of questions so we can always stay on track with developing and delivering a user-friendly content management system so our clients can have great websites that they can easily maintain.

Easy to use? Content Management Systems are designed with the user in mind, so people with very little technical knowledge can update news stories, lesson plans, home pages and more. Once you get the basics down, the more advanced functionality becomes easy and fun to use.

Will they want to use it? As a web-based application, content management systems provide users with anywhere, anytime access to create, modify, and update content pieces and/or web-site look and feel. Users on the go can work from home, school or just about anywhere with an internet connection. By being able to access your website’s content with a click of the mouse, users will want to update their content regularly so it can stay fresh and up to minute.

Is it fun to use? Web 2.0 tools make creating and updating content on district websites fun and engaging. By using videos, podcasts and blogs, users can creatively let their students, teachers, and community members know about the highlights of last night’s basketball game or about the hot topics of the school board meeting in a new and different way than just plain text.

So when looking for content management systems, consider asking yourself these questions – is this content management system easy to use? Will my staff really want to use it? And is it fun to use? If the answer is yes, then great! You probably have happy teachers and staff updating your website. If the answer is no, then you may want to consider you options. Check out our CMS today at and see what you think.

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