Last summer, I migrated our school curriculum map from a commercial system to a homegrown one. This project required careful attention. Teachers have put years of effort into the task of articulating their curriculum in a standard format. 5,000 individual entries comprise the map, describing each course unit by several dimensions such as essential questions and habits of mind. Anyone can view the map on our public web site — it represents the core work that our school undertakes in a highly visible venue. The old system suffered from an outdated graphic design, lack of integration with other school information systems, and challenging user interface. Users had developed low expectations for the system, for which we were paying thousands of dollars each year in software maintenance fees.
I found it most challenging to build a new Perl script around the old system’s database architecture. I couldn’t throw it out altogether but rather had to come up with original ways to navigate information that was not provided to us in a normalized database structure. I found it unnerving to migrate a vast quantity of critical information, but I feel relieved that all of the recent feedback has been positive.
Essential to this process was good user testing, which I didn’t get until just last month. Happily, teachers identified and I resolved major bugs, and now updating the maps appears to be proceeding smoothly. I appreciated the eagerness of the teachers to invite me to their editing sessions so that I could see problems, fix them immediately, and add requested features within a day or two.
Positive feedback from a variety of sources suggests that the new system is a great improvement from the old. We now control the appearance, user interface, and data of the system.