Tag Archive for school

Intranet Portal Version 7

Today, I rolled out a new version of our intranet portal home page to the school. The change was required since our main website gained social community features formerly on this site (blog, forum, directory, carpool map, photo galleries, video publishing, etc.). The site still runs Moodle and a number of custom Perl and PHP scripts, but it no longer runs Drupal or Gallery. I also took the opportunity to make it easier to read. Let me know what you think of the redesign. How do you manage your intranet portal?

The home page still shows different items depending on one’s Active Directory group membership.

My view
20100104-insideCatlin-rk.png

Typical student view
20100104-insideCatlin-student.png

Previous versions

2008-09
20100104-last_insideCatlin.png

2007-08
20100104-newinside.png

2006-07
20100104-oldinside.png

2004-06
20081223-insideUHS.png

2002-03
20100104-old insideUHS.png

Maru-a-Pula Website To Drupal

Just two months ago, I wrote how I was still using Website Baker successfully for two sites. Well, it’s down to one now! I have migrated the Maru-a-Pula website from Website Baker to Drupal. Maru-a-Pula is an amazing school in Botswana that I have worked from the U.S. to assist since teaching there from 1994-96.

Nothing went wrong with Website Baker. The school had just outgrown the basic CMS for its needs. The principal had started to write a news column, and while Website Baker does support news, the Drupal module is much easier to use. We now have several new features the school or I had wanted: RSS feeds sitewide, a blog for any author, actual calendar functionality, and all sorts of future possibilities using modules from the Drupal community.

For the sake of a smooth user transition, I built a new Drupal theme (sub-theme of Zen) to copy almost exactly the old Website Baker theme. The two sites look nearly identical. I have to re-theme the Search form. I have done enough theme work in the last year that I felt very comfortable manipulating template and CSS files to create the desired look.

The site is designed so that local tech staff in Botswana may take over as much administration as they wish. The site has no custom module code whatsoever, and all dynamic content is presented through content types, views and blocks (e.g., main home page photo and three feature columns).

New site
new site

Old site
old site

Contributed Modules
Calendar
CCK
Date
FCKeditor
Filefield
Imagefield
Link
Menu breadcrumb
Pathauto
Simplemenu
Site map
Token
Views

Teen Sex Culture and Technology

Our middle school counselor researched this topic and wrote the following article for parents. I’m interested in learning what other schools are doing in this area.

http://www.catlin.edu/news/middle-school/teen-sex-culture-and-technology

All Kinds Of Minds in action

You may know the whole-brain teaching philosophy called All Kinds of Minds. A majority of our teachers attend professional development days to learn this brain-based approach to teaching students, one part of our approach to progressive education. Teachers learn to construct learning activities that work for different types of learners. Students learn to identify their own learning strengths and weaknesses and appreciate the unique set of qualities that each person possesses. Such an approach gives students responsibility for their own learning. In the following video, second grade students share what they have learned about their own skills and brains.

The video also serves as a fine example of teacher use of technology to share student learning with the school community. This second grade teacher collected media, produced this video, and presented it to parents without requesting any assistance from our IT department. Well done!

Amateur Video On Your School Website

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video must be worth a million. Motion picture and audio better simulate “being there” than a long article or photo gallery. Video may capture the subtle cues of emotional expression and the energy of the moment that help a viewer understand the intangible values of your organization. Now, it is possible to capture video with a small, portable device and transfer it to the web with just a few clicks.

Why isn’t online video more popular on independent school websites? One reason may be the apprehension of some about posting “home videos” on your school website or social network site. Given all the care that we put into our print publications, we may wish to hold videos to the same standard. That would be nice, but It takes many hours (and/or dollars) to create professional-quality video. Perhaps we should hold video to a different standard than written articles. Could a new standard for school website video include amateur content?

Authenticity

In the new web, content has trumped style. YouTube, Facebook, Wikipedia, and Twitter have demonstrated the greater value to users of authentic content over quality of presentation. YouTube is the fourth most popular site on the web. The President of the United States addresses the nation via YouTube. Cellphone reports of political unrest and natural disasters run on major network news broadcasts. At times like these, the value of amateur video is the authenticity of the content, not its production quality.

We may apply the same test to school events, even though they may not convey the same impact as mass demonstrations and natural disasters. Take the following video. I shot this at our annual homecoming event, a varsity soccer game attended by alumni and long-time faculty. It may well capture essential aspects of our school better than highly polished writing in a glossy magazine, especially if you studied with these teachers 20 years ago.

Choose to film school events that naturally capture the special qualities of your institution.

Edit as much as time allows

While you may not have the time or expertise to create professional-quality video, you can still produce video of reasonable quality. Depending on how you learn best, you may benefit from attending a beginner’s training for iMovie or Adobe Elements Premiere. Consider using a tripod to stabilize the picture and an external microphone to capture good audio. Develop a basic sense of composition, and timing. Learn to add just enough transition effects that your clips smoothly link together. Cut at least 90% of your original footage, keeping just the very best scenes.

Track your success

Following the progress of your new videos is essential to inform your own publishing choices and convince others that the experiment is working. Social media websites track the number of views of each of your content items. This allows you to track the number of video playbacks, one potential measure of success.

blip stats

If you use Google Analytics on your school website, check out the “time on page” measure. Larger values suggest that more viewers actually watched the video all the way through.

time on page

Determining perceived quality is more difficult. Comments may provide some clue. If hundreds of people view a video and only one person complains about video quality, then you’re probably on the right track.

comments

Start on your social media sites

You may not want to post your first video experiments to your public-facing websites. Facebook and YouTube are chock full of amateur video, so people will expect to see work of lower production quality there. The community pages on your school website may be another good place to start. Yet don’t stop there. Collect data on these first experiments in order to make an informed decision about whether to extend the experiment to the public-facing pages on your main school website.

On perfection

A founding faculty member at a well-regarded school recently retired. In his farewell remarks, he cautioned the community to resist perfectionism.

We are all under the illusion that we can and should be perfect all the time. If we don’t do “excellent” work everyday, then we don’t “measure up” to [our] standards. An awful lot of us impose these unrealistic expectations on our selves, and it’s not healthy. […] Our school culture unduly puts pressures on us to look perfect in the eyes of everyone else. Stop!

Writing student reports

As I write fourth and fifth grade student narrative reports for the first time, I am enjoying using Moodle‘s activity reports to add detail to each one. From the Participants list, I access each student’s profile page, which includes a tab for Reports. Moodle tracks every time a student views a resource or completes and online activity. I am then able to add comments like, “[student] played two games about online safety eight times!” I can also see what students are sufficiently excited by the website to visit it outside of class time. Our progressive elementary school does not have grades, so I don’t have much use for the grading and summary functions in Moodle. Go Moodle!

participants link

activity reports tabs

activity report detail

Apple laptops not holding up in students’ hands

During summer laptop maintenance, we touch every teacher and student machine to perform updates, change some configuration settings, and fix hardware issues. As of today, we have 40 Macs out for service out of a total of about 200 machines that have passed through our hands. Far and away the leading category of repair is MacBook computers with cracked plastic cases.

I know our kids are hard on these computers, but they also carry them to school, through five to seven periods, to afternoon activities, and then back home each day. We want the kids to use the computers, after all. This repair rate creates hours of additional work for us and days of delays to the students.

Why oh why won’t a computer manufacturer produce a laptop truly designed for highly mobile, high-use individuals like students?

Teacher meetings

I have attended a couple of really valuable start of year meetings with teachers in the last two days. The first was to plan the fourth and fifth grade technology curriculum for the year with those homeroom teachers. I am teaching fourth and fifth grade technology for the first time and really looking forward to it! Our plan is to align technology activities throughout the year with classroom activities taking place with the students’ other teachers, whether in homeroom, arts, languages, or P.E. So far, we have identified the units with which a technology activity seems to fit best — in productivity application use, publishing, research, or other technology theme. We will also give some time to technology as its own subject of study, for example to improve the students’ keyboard skills or develop sequential and logical reasoning skills (a.k.a. programming) using Scratch. Classes begin in two weeks’ time!

Today’s meeting was with three upper school arts teachers who are really keen to further develop the program’s website presence. Given the role of the arts in encouraging students to present or perform their work in a public space, it’s a natural fit for the teachers to explain the design of the school’s arts program and publish loads of student work online. They will be using our site’s new photo gallery and embedded media features to make this happen. We also devoted some time to the possibility of student portfolio publication and blogging, so that students could publish their work directly to the website. When upper school faculty meetings begin, the upper school teachers will give some consideration to this question: what is the pedagogical value of students publishing (or performing) their work to a general, public audience?

Discussing teaching, learning, and technology with teachers. This is some of our IT department’s most important work.

Early Drupal strategies

I am leading an internal team to move the public-facing web site of our PS-12 independent school to Drupal. In this post, I share accomplishments and decisions made so far in an attempt to spread any knowledge that is useful to other institutions and gain your feedback. I consider myself an intermediate Drupal user, so some of the following may seem trivial to advanced users, whereas beginners may find it helpful as they get started. A test site is available for you to view. I have included module and content type lists at the end if you would like to jump directly to them. Many thanks in advance for any advice or feedback you may provide!

Page and News content types

We recently made the decision to give news more prominent billing than we do in our current site. We realized that news is more important than calendar information, for instance. At the same time, we will still require the ability to post descriptive content about school programs that doesn’t change all too often. First-time visitors to our school will still require this, and they are a very important audience. How could we provide for both within Drupal’s structure?

We want to have as many school departments and divisions manage their own site content. Therefore, adding pages to the Book hierarchy or adding News items to one or more sections needs to be as easy as possible. In Drupal 6, Book nodes can be of any content type. This will serve us later, though for the time being I am only adding Page nodes to Books. I did modify the Page content type to allow comments and add fields for multimedia content. I configured Book to automatically create menu items, as we don’t want to trouble our site editors around campus with navigating Drupal’s menu administration pages, which will get quite long in a large site.

landing page

I have included News content by embedding a manual PHP-driven database query in each top-level landing page. Users will click on a primary nav link and find a page with the category outline in the left-hand menu and the news for that section in the body of the page. News can be posted to multiple site sections (taxonomy terms), whereas Pages can only be posted to one place in the book hierarchy. Our web site editor was very pleased to see how easily we could move pages around the hierarchy, even from one book to another.

Will we want to post a single page to multiple books? I am not sure that this is desirable, since users may benefit from a predictable hierarchy (where is that page? what section am I in?). However, we may also find a way to configure this in Drupal, or we could write a script to pull content from the desired node when in a specific page. The ability to insert any node into a book is going to be a great boon if we need to create a custom content type with code to pull content from other nodes.

Book Access has been troublesome so far. I at first assumed that we would want to grant editing privileges at the book level, to those people who need to able to edit that book. However, not only has book access not worked as advertised, but I have also come to the realization that more open access may in fact better serve our purposes. We know and trust our web site editors, and time is precious. Why shouldn’t all users blessed as editors of our books be able to edit any of them? Some institutions have even wikified their entire site. We can mitigate (unlikely) problems by turning on revisions and setting actions to notify the web site editor when changes are made to the books. Presto.

Classroom and team pages

Organic Groups seems the obvious choice for classroom and team pages. Small communities build up around classrooms and teams at our school. Parents want to know news and upcoming dates, teachers and coaches want to contribute content, there are scores and reports to publish, and we want to expose most of this to the public for people to see our school in action.

Organic groups allows us to mark some content as public and some as private, maintain descriptive and news items, invite others into the group, and allow users to maintain short lists of their favorite groups in the site. I will want to further investigate how to set multiple moderators for a single group, suppress other groups from the audience list, and make subscription management easier.

Organic groups could also permit other affinity groups to spring up within the school around issues, initiatives, or interests. Again, it helps enormously that community features are core to the Drupal ecosystem. These features are well developed, well-documented, and widely used, making it easier for us to make our next web site more capable of community strengthening functions.

Media

On our current site, the home page feature image is randomly selected from a set of photos. Each photo has as caption. I am experimenting with enhancing this feature by: 1) using a Flash-based slideshow to cycle through images on the home page; 2) linking each image to related pages within the site, so that it also serves as a navigational element. The test site currently uses MonoSlideshow, but Slideshow Pro also has a standalone version that pulls image information from a XML file and a Drupal module. I would like to take this one step further by writing an extension to automatically updated the XML file based on the contents of a particular image gallery.

Outside of the home page, I am using the Image module, including galleries. I have not yet seen the need to go to ImageCache and appreciate the simplicity of automatic creation of gallery pages. If Image Gallery Access works as advertised, then I will be able to distinguish albums to which ordinary, authenticated users can post from those that are reserved for web site editors. FUpload appears to provide batch uploading that should work nicely for site editors, parents, and students (should I worry about Flash version compatibility?). Missing at the moment is the ability for an authenticated user to create a new image gallery, which would be great if someone is posting sports photos and wants to create a new sub-gallery for each game. If we decide to limit the number of photos posted on this server, then prolific photographers may be better off using Flickr, anyhow.

Embedded Media Field appears to work great, except that I can’t figure out a way to wrap body text around the embedded item. This may be fine for relatively unprivileged, authenticated users but probably not sufficient for web site editors.

I have recently switched from TinyMCE to FCKEditor and am loving it so far. Everything seems to present and work better with FCKEditor, especially embedded images. Do you know of a way to limit file browsing capability to user directories for some roles? I wouldn’t want any user to have access to the primary embedded image store for the site. I would also like buttons and filters to elegantly embed files, uploaded media, and third-party media all within the WYSIWYG interface. I wonder how difficult it would be to write those extensions and make them available to some roles and not others.

Roles

Drupal, as community software, offers the exciting opportunity to invite many different constituencies in our community within the site and provide features such as comments, blogs, directories of people, and photo upload privileges specifically to them. I have created the following roles so far:

anonymous user
authenticated user
administrator
alumnus/a
applicant for admission
faculty/staff member
job applicant
parent
student
web site editor

User Profiles

I haven’t begun to explore this yet. In some cases, the user profile is a critical function. For example, we want alumni to edit their information through the site: contact details, schools attended, place of employment, interest in the career network, etc. Faculty members will have short biographical passages to help describe themselves. This means that some roles will use different profile fields from others — I need to learn how to make that happen, and whether to use nodes for user profiles in these cases. On a related note, real names will need to be visible throughout the site — I have used Authorship for this before and will need to evaluate it and investigate alternatives once more. Authorship does not have a Drupal 6 version at this time.

Commenting

Opening commenting is a really exciting opportunity. We currently do not have this feature in our current site, yet we know that our users have a lot to say, and we want to draw them more tightly into the school community. At the same time, independent schools try to maintain a decent level of control over publicly-available content. Drupal’s commenting system seems perfect for this — allow all authenticated users to see and post comments, allow all web site editors to administer comments, and do not use a moderation queue at all. Done.

One downside I can see at this time is that a blog author may in the future want the ability to moderate their own comments. I’m not sure whether this would require a lot of hoop-jumping-through in Drupal, as compared to a blogging platform such as WordPress.

Calendaring

I have done a little investigation here, not very much. I have set up Calendar and CCK Date. I am finding setting up calendar Views to be bit involved. We will make extensive use of list views of calendar items by taxonomy terms in blocks throughout the site.

The custom content type for Athletics events looks great — opponent (node reference), bus departure and return times, result, score, notes will serve their function well. One glaring omission for Drupal 6 is Time. The last I read, developers are testing a Drupal 6 version. We will need this CCK field in order to have additional times for the day of the event (such as bus departure and return times).

We have yet to decide whether Drupal’s calendar could meet all of our internal, public calendaring and resource reservation needs, or whether we should install a proper calendar server.

Migrating Custom Functionality

We have built over the years a lot of custom PHP and Perl scripts that we plan to migrate into Drupal over time. Many of these will wait until year two or three of the project. They function fine now, and we have to first roll out the core functionality of the site.

Applicants for admission can complete an inquiry form, sign up to visit the campus, and download admission forms online. All of these functions pull data from our Blackbaud database in order to function. We could migrate these (rather large) scripts into Drupal, gaining additional benefits: applicants for admission would become authenticated users and be able to read and post comments, gaining greater visibility into the site.

Our current volunteer signup and management system keeps track of multiple events, caps signups for specific time slots in order to automatically distribute volunteers to where they are needed, and produces summary lists for volunteer coordinators. If Signup can do all this, then we will move this feature to Drupal in a flash.

Job applicants can, using another site, view and apply for jobs at the school. This seems like a prime candidate to move to Drupal, which has better designed file submission features than our current system. It will be key to leverage Drupal to provide good workflow management functions for the human resources office — the ability to flag applicants for certain categories, add notes to applicant files, invite supervisors to review applicants online, and send mass emails to those declined for the position.

Social network sites

Connecting with constituents through social network sites is a hot issue right now for independent schools.We want to meet our constituents where they are, in addition to drawing them into our site. At the same time, we want to leverage existing content and processes as much as possible while making this happen. I am happy to find out about Ping.fm, which should allow us to automatically generate Twitter, Facebook, and other status updates from specific News items that we post to our site. With no additional effort, we will broadcast our news items to our users’ communities and cultivate follower lists around the web.


Content types

Here is a list of content types in our test site so far.

Athletic event
Blog entry
Calendar event
Classroom (node for organic groups)
Image
News item
Opponent
Page (modified to serve as the main content type for descriptive pages)
Team (node for organic groups)

Modules

(so far)

autosave
book_access
calendar
cck
date
devel
emfield
fckeditor
filefield
image
image_fupload
jquery_media
ldap_integration
lightbox2
messaging
notifications
og
print
scheduler
simplemenu
slideshow
token
views