One of my big projects over the last month, aside from taking care of a c-sectioned wife and new daughter, was rebuilding our district's website in Joomla. The short-term goal is, of course, to just make our web presence far more user-friendly and attractive. The long-term goal, however, is to create a unified platform for all of our schools to be able to share and post content easily.
I'm actually a bit late to the Content Management System (CMS) party. As I noted about a month ago, many of our students might be well-served learning these tools which enable average users to manage rich sites. Joomla, WordPress, and Drupal are well-known examples of such systems and the entire ZDNet site runs on WordPress. Many businesses, blogs, schools, and clubs have turned to such systems (all of which have at least free components or versions) to create really classy sites without investing in expensive software (or expensive developers).
Not me, though. Oh no. I was going to just code it up. What a fun project, right? The problem is that I'm a pretty mediocre programmer and a dismal designer. Project management, training, and systems design are my strengths. Programming the latest slick web technologies? Not so much.
The bigger problem, though, is that even a mediocre programmer is probably far better able to create web pages than 99% of the users in our schools. Sure, many of the younger staff can probably pimp their MySpace or create a wiki, but actually building and maintaining a lot of web content is probably well outside their comfort zones (and certainly outside their job descriptions). And yet a school's or district's website should be an open (if somewhat moderated) tool for a variety of staff to use. Besides, who has the time to create a new page every time the cheerleaders want to post a fundraiser notice or a teacher forms a new club?
Enter Joomla! (I'll refer to Joomla! specifically here since that's been occupying my time recently, but any CMS will do the trick). Content management systems empower users to, well, manage their own content (duh). Who can actually hire a full-time webmaster anymore? Of course it would take a webmaster to keep up with the needs of a district full of staff wanting to share and communicate with students and parents.
With a CMS, a geeky sort like me sits on the backend and creates a structure that reflects the needs and business rules of the organization. With a minimum of training then, users can easily start updating and creating content. Most are organized after a blogging site (keep in mind that ZDNet runs on a CMS and all of us submit and edit our posts through a simple WYSIWYG editor), but that can certainly serve the needs of educational institutions quite well.
The real key is that users are maintaining content; us geeks just have to make sure that the web servers and software are properly configured and users are properly trained. Empower those users, folks. Set up a CMS for them and let them go to town. It will make your job easier and will make their transition to the content-oriented 21st century a lot smoother.