Many educators are fascinated by the Internet's potential for providing information about their school and classrooms to the community. With the ability to post information, display student work, improve communication with the home and give students a starting point for online research, the possibilities are tantalizing. Unfortunately, the reality has been another thing altogether. That was until Macromedia Inc. (800-457-1774; www.macromedia.com/education) released a new product called "Contribute" ($79 PC; Mac version coming this summer), which provides an easy way for users to add their own content to a school's Web site, while maintaining their own corner of the Web.
Contribute offers a simple interface that allows for easy integration with Microsoft Word and Excel. To get started, Web site contributors need only a few things: an existing Web site, a password-protected key from the site administrator, the ability to browse the Web and basic computer skills. Although, the administrator is responsible for designing the structure of the site, deciding what parts will be accessible to users and the kinds of pages that contributors will be allowed to create.
The program also works seamlessly with Dreamweaver MX, making it possible to restrict students and staff to using only pre-built templates that contain common items such as the school's logo and site navigation objects. Once the administrator has configured the users' permission, an encrypted file is sent to them with that information, as well as the passwords and settings to provide access to the Web site server. (While the integration is strongest when using Dreamweaver MX, Contribute also works with other popular Web design software.)
The Web's Potential
Once your software is prepared, you are presented with the clean Contribute interface, which looks like a Web browser. In fact, Contribute uses a computer's installed copy of Internet Explorer to provide a fully functioning browser. To edit an existing file you simply browse to the page you wish to modify, click the "Edit" button in the program's toolbar, and Contribute enters Edit Mode if you have permission to change the page. New pages are equally easy to make: You can start with a blank page, use one of the sample pages that come with the program, or use a template provided by the site's administrator who can restrict all of these options.
From Contribute's Edit Mode, the program lets you design the page in almost any way you like by simply typing in new content, copying and pasting text, adding images from your hard drive, and formatting as you like. The program is designed to give users a familiar interface by providing simple formatting toolbars to set text alignment, change font sizes, add tables and perform similar functions. Some people may be put off by the limited number of things that can be done to format the page, but most of these restrictions are in place because of HTML limitations and as a way of preventing someone from making changes that might cause the page to fail.
Contribute also makes the process of using existing documents easy. For example, Word documents can be dragged and dropped right into a Contribute page, then reformatted automatically into HTML. And once your work is finished, the final step to getting the page online is just a click away. Overall, it makes the process of adding, updating and maintaining Web pages easy for everyone. Because whether you're a teacher, student or the school principal, the program empowers every user to make his or her own contributions, while bringing some of the Web's potential closer to reality.
Kim Cavanaugh is a Web design teacher and technology trainer for The School District of Palm Beach County in Florida. He maintains a tutorial Web site for users of Macromedia Dream-weaver and Fireworks programs at www.dw-fw-beginners.com.
This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2003 issue of THE Journal.