Hiring a Web Production Firm: Moving Beyond "Do It Yourself"

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This publication was prepared pursuant to a contract between BowlingGreen State University, Bowling Green, Ohio, and the Office of Vocational andAdult Education, U.S. Department of Education. Contractors undertaking suchprojects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely theirjudgment in professional and technical matters. Points of view or opinions donot, therefore, necessarily represent official U.S. Department of Educationposition or policy.

The leadership team of the project, “An Interactive, Web-based Modelfor the Professional Development of Teachers in Contextual Teaching andLearning,” is Dr. Robert G. Berns, project director, and Dr. Patricia M.Erickson, co-principal instigator, at Bowling Green State University. Dr. BruceC. Klopfenstein also served as a co-principal investigator until his recentmove to the University of Georgia. Questions pertaining to this project andarticle are to be directed to Dr. Robert G. Berns, rberns@bgnet.bgsu.edu.

 

The Web isexploding in popularity, with 82.7 million adult Americans actively surfing theNet (Nielsen NetRatings, 2000). Created to offer a relatively simple means forsharing online documents (Krol and Klopfenstein, 1996), the Web’s HypertextMarkup Language (HTML) can be learned by anyone with enough time on theirhands, who wishes to share their own documents or Web pages online. Over time,however, technology advances have allowed for more sophisticated Web sites.Educators, as well as professionals from all walks of life, have found allsorts of ways to exploit the Web, but few of us have the expertise orexperience to adapt the variety of newer technologies to our Web sites.

Two years ago, as professors at Bowling Green StateUniversity in Ohio, we were awarded a major contract by the U.S. Department ofEducation, Office of Vocational and Adult Education, to create a professionaldevelopment system model for K-12 teachers (Berns, Erickson, and Klopfenstein,1998). We chose the Web as the delivery vehicle because the information in thesystem could be updated quickly and continually. Also, the Web provided a meansfor communicating in a variety of ways (discussion boards, chat, and e-mail),and teachers could access the system whenever and wherever they had a computer.They did not need to stay after school and arrange a ride for their children;they did not need to drive an hour to a university for a class; instead, they couldlearn the content of the in-service, “Contextual Teaching and LearningStrategies,” whenever they wanted.

Contextual Teaching and Learning (CTL)is an engaging means for students to learn in a way wherein they are activethroughout the process. They experience the connections betweenwhat they are learning and how it might be used, instead of just listening to alecture, taking notes, and completing a test over memorized information. Thistype of teaching is intended to motivate students, help them think at a higherlevel, and help them retain information and skills longer (see www.bgsu.edu/ctl for more information onCTL). However, the content for the professional development course could reallybe anything needed by a teacher. The point here was that we needed to create asystem that would be interactive and engaging, and that would provide a truelearning experience for the teachers.

This meant going beyond the typical Web site built uponHTML, and using more advanced technologies that none of us on the project staffknew how to use. We soon realized we did not have the needed expertise, anddecided to hire a cutting-edge firm that would listen to our ideas, tell us ouroptions, and build the Web site we wanted. The purpose of this article is toshare the experiences we have gained in hiring that Web production firm.

 

Should We Hire a Firm?

The type of technologies to be used in the site wouldrequire things more advanced than basic HTML can provide: user-friendlyenvironments, professional designs and layouts, and interactive functions,including multimedia presentation and database integration. The factors weconsidered when deciding whether we could create our own Web site, or needed tohire a professional firm included:

 

Criteria for Selecting Firm

Experiencewith:

 

· creating Web sites and related works

· designing and implementing Web-basedtraining material

· creating Web-based media of communicationincluding discussion boards and chat rooms

· creating cross-platform compatibility

· assessing the usability of the site

(usabilitytesting, assessment, and revision)

Capabilities:

 

· provide ordinary server utilities

· offer multimedia capabilities

· show quality of work in past

Philosophyof Firm:

 

· approach to working with client

· organization and management

· client and quality orientation

· futures orientation

Prices

References

 

1. Project goals: What did our Web site need toaccomplish and how would the technology be used to achieve those goals? Themore interaction, professional design, and user-friendliness needed, the lesslikely we would be able to create it ourselves.

2. Budget: Howmuch money did we have available? Obviously, this would impact the complexityof the site and would help set the parameters for the Web production firm.

3. Technicalsophistication: How sophisticated would our Web site be? We needed to considerthe technical areas that would be included, such as graphics, user interface,degree of interactivity, searching capabilities, and processes to be completedat the site over time.

4. Maintenance:Would we have the requisite skills to maintain the site once it was created?

The Web Production Industryand Selecting the Firm

Prior to choosing the Web production firm, we soon learnedthat the entire Web production industry was only about five years old. Duringthat time, some of the existing video production companies have grown into Webproduction firms while new and emerging production houses have arisen.

Thus, we knew that we needed a systematic process foridentifying the most appropriate firm from among the many available. (Yahoolisted about 22,000 firms as of June 2000 in its “Web Services” category.) Asmall firm might be able to create a simple site and help us find ways to hostand promote our site, but with the site complexity we envisioned, we knew wewould need the other end of the spectrum. We would need a full serviceproduction firm that offered in-house artists, designers, and database experts.It would also have to include more sophisticated client planning models,designed to help potential clients think through their needs and establish atime frame for completing work, often in stages. Another consideration would bethe video content to be included in our site. Some production companies havethe capability to develop such content and others do not. However, such workcan be outsourced, so we decided the video development capacity would not besignificant in our selection process.

So, what would be the criteria used for selecting the firm?The four variables used for deciding whether or not to even hire a firm couldcertainly be used. But what else? Here is the list we used:

Although we had not considered physical proximity to theproduction firm as a criterion, we have learned that this factor was not reallyimportant. The company we eventually chose is about 500 miles away, but itmight as well be next door. Although we have found a few face-to-face meetingsto be helpful to develop rapport and trust, telephone conference calls, e-mail,and Web site communication are all we have needed. This has been acollaborative effort between people, and a good rapport between client andproduction firm has been critical to final success.

 

Financial Considerations

A major factor for us to consider, of course, was cost.Although we had some ideas about possible technologies and approaches thatwould be included in the site, we did not know precisely which of them wouldultimately be used. We needed to know how much these possibilities would cost.So that we could more easily compare costs across production firms, we askedthat each interested party include the following information in their proposal:

 

budget

Tools budget

For each of the following tools,provide a description of the production process and how you derived the cost ofeach:

 

1. production of five one-minute videoclips

2. production of three open bulletinboards for 500 users

3. production of 10 chat rooms for 15users each

Team Center Budget

A team center will be establishedfor a group of teachers from across the country. In this password-protectedarea of the Web site, 5-8 teachers will do a variety of activities.

The attributes of the team centerwill include the following:

 

· chat room

· discussion board

· ability to answer common questions

· ability to post electronic files

(including text files, scanned pictures,digitized video, etc.)

· hot links

· links to other levels within the Web site

In this section of your proposal,please describe in detail how you derived the budget, including an explanationof each of these attributes.

 

 

We gave the potential subcontractors anamount we anticipated to invest in the production of the Web site, and indicatedthat payments would be made in accordance with the rules and regulations ofBowling Green State University. Now that we knew what we were looking for, weneeded to determine the process we would use to find the right company.

 

RFPProcess

We decided on a Request for Proposals process. We sent anannouncement to production firms across the country that we were requestingproposals from companies. We included information on our project Web site.Links to the site were posted on appropriate Usenet newsgroups and multimediaproduction e-mail lists. In this way, we were able to publicize our plan beyondthe local area.

To prepare bidders, we held a meeting in Bowling Green inwhich we presented our project, explained our needs, and distributed the RFP.We also answered questions at the meeting and, in the RFP, indicated thatquestions could be submitted through e-mail only up to a specified date, afterwhich questions would not be accepted. For those not available for the meeting,a summary of the meeting and RFP were distributed. Using a rating sheet, eachstaff member independently reviewed the 50 proposals we received. We then metas a staff, discussed the proposals, and selected the firm.

 

The Contract

In drawing up the contract, we knew it needed as manydetails as possible. This would be to the advantage of both parties in avoidingmisunderstandings about required work, the work schedule, and ownership of thecompleted works. Although our production firm used a contract template, we werecareful to cover our own interests in adapting the template. Here are otherexamples of key information we included in the contract:

1. Contract contacts on both sides (one person from the client and oneperson from the production firm). Although we did not do this, you may want tospecify a set of electronic or face-to-face meetings between the client and thedeveloper.

2. Theprocedure for amending the contract.

3. The list ofdeliverables, or documents/tasks to be completed by the production firm, andtheir due dates. Testing phases for one or more prototypes of your Web sitewould be an example. We specified the media on which the deliverables would beaccepted (disks, hard copy, and/or server). The firm also agreed to test thesite on all prominent platforms (all browsers and operating systems, such asMacintosh and Windows).

4. The procedures for final hosting andmaintenance of our Web site. The production firm may or may not be in the Website hosting business, but the procedures for moving the final product from theproduction firm to its final hosting site is important.

The process used for identifying the Web production companyworked well. Thanks to the carefully designed process and criteria forselecting the “right” company, the system has been created as envisioned. Agroup of 64 K-12 teachers successfully piloted it during the spring of 2000.From the assessment results of this pilot, the system is now under revision.Completion of the system is scheduled for fall of 2001.

 

Dr. Bruce C. Klopfenstein served as lead author of thisarticle while a professor of telecommunications at Bowling Green StateUniversity. He is now a professor of telecommunications and director of theDowden Center for New Media Studies in the Grady College at the University ofGeorgia.

 

Dr. Robert G. Berns is a professor of business education inthe Division of Teaching and Learning at Bowling Green State University. Anauthor and national presenter on such topics as contextual teaching andlearning, career and technical education, and marketing education, he hasserved higher education for 22 years.

 

E-mail: rberns@bgnet.bgsu.edu

 

Dr. Patricia M. Erickson is a teacher educator of Family andConsumer Sciences at Bowling Green State University. Having served as a highschool teacher, administrator, and University faculty member, she has organizedand conducted numerous teacher professional development opportunities in thearea of career and technical education.

 

References

Berners-Lee,T., and Fischetti, M. 1999. Weaving the Web: The Original Design and UltimateDestiny of the World Wide Web by its Inventor. SanFrancisco: Harper San Francisco.

 

Berns,R., Erickson, P., and Klopfenstein, B. 1998. “An Interactive, Web-Based Modelfor the Professional Development of Teachers in Contextual Teaching andLearning,” Abstract from Web site: http://www.bgsu.edu/ctl/navigation/about.html.

 

Berns,R., Erickson, P., and Klopfenstein, B. 2000. “Contextual Teaching and LearningDefinition and Characteristics.” Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green StateUniversity. Web site: www.bgsu.edu/ctl.

 

Krol, E.,and Klopfenstein, B. C. 1996. The Whole Internet: User’s Guide and Catalog —Academic Edition. Co-published Belmont, CA: IntegratedMedia Group (Wadsworth) and Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly and Associates.

 

“How DoYou Write a Formal Request for Proposals (RFP) for a Web Site?” 2000. Chicago,IL: Unlocked, Inc. Available: http://www.unlocked.com/rfp.htm.

 

“NielsenNetRatings 2000.” Nielsen//NetRatings Average Internet Usage, May 2000. Available: http://63.140.238.20/press_releases/pr_000706ac.htm.

This article originally appeared in the 11/01/2000 issue of THE Journal.

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