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Monday, March 29, 2010

School-e Awards Semi-Finalists Announced

Thirty school district Web sites were selected as School-e Awards semi-finalists today, based on the number of nominations they received. The School-e Awards contest, hosted by AllofE Solutions, showcases the best K-12 district Web site design and strategy.

“Nominations were gathered to identify districts where district stakeholders care enormously about the district and its Web site,” said AllofE K-12 product manager Stacy Schwind.

Semi-finalists’ sites are now being evaluated by an industry expert panel comprised of educational technology experts Ken Royal, Shelly Terrell, Tom Whitby and Steven Anderson.
The panel will evaluate the sites using a broad set of criteria to identify the top 15 district Web site finalists that follow best practices for web design and content, Schwind said.

The 15 finalists will move on to the voting phase.
This final phase will elicit the feedback of the general web audience. Anyone with a valid e-mail address will be able to vote for a school district site starting April 5 by going to the contest Web site.

District employees, students, and community members should go to to vote and find out more information about the contest.

1.Beaufort County School District

2.Blue Springs School District

3.Brownsville Independent School District

4.Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School


5. Center School District

6.Clear Creek Independent School District

7.Easton Area School District

8.Fayetteville-Manlius Schools

9.Fergus Falls Public Schools

10.Frenship Independent School District

11.Friendswood Independent School District

12.Godfrey-Lee Public Schools

13.Hurst-Euless Bedford Independent School


14.Keller Independent School District

15.Leavenworth Unified School District

16. New Castle County Vocational Technical School


17.New Milford Schools

18.Orange Schools

19.Paris Independent School District

20.Penncrest School District

21.Pine Tree Independent School District

22.Pleasanton Independent School District

23.Polk County School District

24.Southwest Independent School District

25.Spearfish School District

26. University Academy Charter School

27.Van Meter Community Schools

28.Wakulla County School District

29.West Fargo Public Schools

30.Zachary Community School District

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Monday, March 22, 2010

"Death is Only the Beginning"

I’ve found that life is always more interesting when you can relate it to either KU basketball or a good movie. And since my last blog was in relation to March Madness, and I am feeling completely disgraced to be a Jayhawk right now, I will relate my point to one of my all-time favorite films, the 1999 remake of The Mummy, starring Brendon Fraser.

The part of this film that I’d like to focus on is when Evelyn awakens the mummified high priest, Imhotep, by reading the words “death is only the beginning” from the book of the dead. After saying this single phrase, the mummy awakens and is more powerful than anyone else in the world, even though he once was dead. So, let’s recap: someone that was seen as dead, awoken and proved that he was far from dead, but actually incredibly capable of literally anything, even things that nobody else in the world could do.

This particular moment in the movie came to mind when I came across an article today that was entitled, “Is This the Year the Propriety CMS dies?” If you are someone who believes this, or is even asking this same question, then clearly you haven’t been using the right propriety systems. If anything, this article should read, “Propriety CMS Mummified, but Resurrected and Back with a Vengeance.”

It is true that open source systems have found a special place in the hearts of several web developers throughout the nation, but that isn’t to say that propriety systems are dead. In a tough economy, choosing the open source route may seem like the more attractive route to take, but there can be a lot of hidden costs and extras that don’t appear right off the get-go. Also, something people tend to consistently forget is that an open source system and a propriety system are NOT the same thing.

The article uses the phrase, “selling your milk when the cow is free” to describe propriety systems against open source, but that couldn’t be more wrong. To make that phrase apply correctly it would have to say, “Selling your Häagen-Dazs Triple Cherry Chocolate Chunk when the cow is free.” Meaning that, yes, you could probably find a way to turn your cow’s milk into that fabulous ice-cream flavor if you were a total expert in that field, but even still, probably not get the exact results you’re looking for. A propriety CMS, if it’s the right CMS, isn’t just milk, it’s a one of a kind frozen dessert that can never be duplicated.

People working for propriety companies are complete experts at what they do. They can customize a CMS to exactly fit the bill for what a school is looking for. They can do all of the behind the scenes technical work, so that the design and all of the fun stuff is left to the university employees (even those with NO technical experience). Ross Morrone, a developer for Youngstown State University and user of ContentM by AllofE said, “I am in love, not only with the CMS but the idea that I can now get back to what is fun about design, I have fallen back into care free mode when it comes to coding because I don't have to do it. I have more control over the look and creating a great user experience rooted with rich media.” How man users of open source systems can say the same?

If you think the propriety CMS has died, remember that death doesn’t always mean the end. If there’s anything we can learn from society’s current obsession with vampires and mummy’s, it’s that some things may surprise you and come back more powerful than anything else out there.

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Monday, March 1, 2010

March Madness

It is officially March 1st, which may not mean much to most of the world’s population, other than the select few individuals who are convinced that March 1st is the first day of spring, simply because their first grade calendar was covered in grass, flowers, and rainbows. But those who are employees at colleges and universities across the nation know that once March approaches, the fun begins.

Nationwide, several college application deadlines begin in March and go through May. So for the next three months high school seniors will be pouring themselves into the Web-o-sphere, searching through a multitude of collegiate Web sites to find a school that just might be the perfect fit. Some students have one school in mind and one school alone. An individual that is a fifth generation Jayhawk and grew up watching Kansas basketball before they were even old enough to know what basketball was, probably won’t have to do much searching. But a student living in the Midwest that can’t wait to get away from the drastic seasonal changes, the flat terrain, and above all, her parents, may just type in “Colleges in California” and pick one purely based on the Web site, without having any previous knowledge of the institution.

Imagine you are this student. Someone that doesn’t know your debate team won the national tournament last year, or has no idea that your school’s biology research program is the best in the country; just an everyday, average, American teenager looking for a new place to call home for the next four years. Would your Web site appeal to this person? Would someone with no prior knowledge of what your institution has to offer, be intrigued enough to sift through the countless number of pages and resources? If at this point you are shaking your head and biting your fingernails, that probably isn’t a good sign.

The good news is, if your application rates significantly decrease, you know why, and it isn’t a hard problem to fix. Even doing something as small as looking into a new content management system can help turn things around, and if it’s the right CMS, the process should be not only painless, but fun. If your site is one of those that doesn’t even take up the full screen, but sits partially in the middle with a sea of blank color surrounding it, it’s probably time to start the redesign process. If your site is one that is overloaded with bland content and a few pointless pictures, then it is DEFINITELY time to start the redesign process. Why? Because other schools out there have caught on to this trend. Students have begun choosing schools whose Web sites are loaded with gadgets and revolutionary technology.

Biola University in La Miranda, California did not miss a beat when it came to Web site innovation. Their site is packed with virtual tours, blogs, videos, social networking, and even video chat with admissions counselors via AIM or Skype. At first glance, this appears to be a trendy, hip, educational facility that anyone in their right mind would be interested in attending.

But if all else is fails, and redesigning the Web site or implementing a top notch CMS is entirely out of the question, you could always try to make the Sweet 16 in this year’s NCAA tournament. According to Jaren Pope, a professor at Virginia Tech University, making the Sweet 16 cut can increase the number of students who apply by 3 percent, and winning the tournament can generate a 7 to 8 percent increase in applications. So with that being said, let the madness of March begin.

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