Lincoln PSD Decentralizes Web Content Management

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Continually posting all Web content for your users is like continually giving them a fish instead of teaching them how to grab a pole and catch one for themselves, according to Kirk Langer. He's director of technology at Lincoln Public School District in Lincoln, NE, a highly rated school district with some 33,000 students. As an early technology adopter, the district began looking for content management solutions for its Internet sites more than 10 years ago. It has just recently found the right mix of tools to allow users themselves to make most changes to both internal and external sites within the district.

The result is saving the IT department time and money and reducing bottlenecks, since users, rather than technical experts, can do much of the work of maintaining the district's many websites.

Individual Contributions
For the most part, Lincoln is using a mix of tools from Adobe to handle its Web content management and contribution needs. The district's tool of choice for user contribution is a product from Adobe called Contribute. In classrooms throughout the Lincoln Public School District, students in grades K through 12 are using Contribute, along with Photoshop Elements and Acrobat Professional. Many classrooms in the district use the products, for example, to update and maintain personalized classroom websites with interactive content. Teachers can post homework assignments and create classroom newsletters and pictures of activities.

Users of Contribute at Lincoln include students and teachers, along with staff in the district office, such as the HR department. With so many people at different skill levels and permissions contributing to so many websites, Langer explained, a system with formal "Web masters" quickly forms a bottleneck--typically at the content control point. "Everybody is trying to push all of its communication through one person," he said. "They feel overwhelmed. Things don't get out there when they're supposed to and it's just as a model that doesn't work particularly very well."

Back-End Technology
By using a networked back-end companion content publishing system from Adobe called Contribute Publishing Server, which works with Contribute to manage permissions, Langer said, his IT department can delegate most administration of the websites out to individual schools. With 36 elementary schools, 10 middle schools, and 11 high schools in the district, the IT department for Lincoln has lots to manage. Langer has an IT staff of some 50 people, with 17 people located in schools and the remainder mostly at the district office.

The IT department, and some more sophisticated users in high schools in the district, had already adopted Adobe Dreamweaver and the Adobe content management system, so incorporating Adobe Contribute was a natural step, beginning with version 1.0 three or so years ago. As the product has matured, the district has begun using it in on a wider basis, eventually introducing it to teachers, staff, and students throughout the district. Contribute is used to add content to both the district's internal websites and to internal and external-facing school websites.

A key deciding factor in selecting Contribute, Langer said, was its hybrid nature: It seemed to offer both technical capabilities and ease of use for average users. "It really does provide the best of both worlds for us," he said.

When Contribute came along, the district had been experimenting with various content contribution tools for years. "As each tool came out, we would try it to some extent," Langer said. But nothing offered the right balance of usability and complexity--tools were either too simple, or required users to know too much about websites, file management and posting technologies. "We were always looking for the right mix" for the users, he said. "Basically, it boils down to a technical [product that] also allows them to really focus on content."

The district's primary website, constructed largely by users at the district office and elsewhere using Contribute, can be found at the link below. Teacher and school-specific websites that can be linked to from there are also largely built and maintained using Contribute, Langer said.

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About the author: Linda L. Briggs is a freelance writer based in San Diego, CA.

Proposals for articles and tips for news stories, as well as questions and comments about this publication, should be submitted to David Nagel, executive editor, at dnagel@1105media.com.

About the Author

Linda Briggs is a freelance writer based in San Diego, Calif. She can be reached at lbriggs@lindabriggs.com.

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