I do not consider myself a web design guru, but I’ve created a fair number of websites in the past fifteen years or so and continue to dabble with website design. One of the biggest changes which has taken place in the past five years or so, from my vantage point, is the transition away from static webpages created with web-authoring software programs like Dreamweaver and Frontpage, to server-based content management systems which permit browser-based updating and shared / distributed editing. Every organization should have a serious web strategy to reach its constituents, and any serious web strategy should utilize content management systems as publishing platforms rather than “old-school” client-based software programs. Unfortunately many of our secondary as well as university computer technology course instructors have not become aware of this reality. I’m amazed how many people are still thinking they need to purchase and learn the Adobe Creative Suite in order to effectively publish and maintain good websites. I’d love to have Adobe CS, but it’s out of my budget and there are many other FREE tools which provide great functionality for both image editing and website design. Both students and teachers should understand this and be familiar with a variety of web publishing options which are both free and powerful. Website hosting is not free, but costs can be VERY reasonable, and those hosting costs can be the ONLY costs incurred when cPanel and assorted open source CMS options are available for web publishing.
I’ve mainly used WordPress for the websites I’ve created and maintained in the past few years, but I’ve also dabbled with Joomla and Drupal a bit. I’ve recently installed Elgg for a class I’m teaching this fall, and am looking forward to learning more about it as a social networking platform. The other wiki environments I’ve used in the past few years and like include Google Sites, Mediawiki, TikiWiki, and commercial wiki sites PBworks, Wikispaces, and Wetpaint. I’ve also used and continue to love using Ning.
This summer, I had a bit of an epiphany when I was thinking about all these different content management system options. While I do like learning about different options, it’s clearly impossible and also undesirable to become an “expert” in using each of these. It’s necessary at some point, as an aspiring web publisher, to select favored platforms and then heavily “invest” time and energy in utilizing and learning about those platforms. At this point, my favorite CMS options are WordPress and Google Sites. I’m still using other CMS options, and will likely continue to do so to varying degrees, but WordPress and Google Sites are the CMS choices in which I’m most confident investing my time and energy to learn and utilize. As a wiki engine, Google Sites gives lots of choices and lets users map sites FREE to subdomains. (We’ve done this for the past year or so with the Celebrate Oklahoma Voices project wiki.) I’m now maintaining around six or seven WordPress blogs, and since I’ve worked with WordPress so much since around 2005 I’m happy to make it my primary CMS of choice. That was my epiphany: I don’t need to try and learn five different CMS options, instead I need to invest and concentrate on the CMS choices I like the best and stick with them if they work for my purpose and audience.
Most recently, I’ve created a WordPress site as the landing page / home for our non-profit organization Story Chasers Inc. I’ve also been working on a WordPress site for a another non-profit that works locally with Habitat for Humanity in our city, Turning Point Ministries. In both these cases, I opted to use different, free WordPress templates to create the designs of each site. I did some minor graphic editing and image resizing for each one, but basically utilized the WordPress templates as they were created by their designers. For image editing these days, I use SeaShore (a free, Mac-based port of The Gimp) almost exclusively. No, it’s not PhotoShop, but it also doesn’t cost $700 commercially – it’s free. 🙂
In the case of design for the Storychasers site, I opted to use the free WooTheme “Mainstream 1.1.0.” I learned about WooThemes this past spring, doing contract work for iStrategyLabs and blogging on ISTEconnects. I don’t have all the bells and whistles on the Storychasers site/blog yet, but overall I love the clean and straightforward look of the theme and feel it accomplishes my goals for the site well at this point.
I will not pretend to completely understand CSS and XML, but what these technologies mean to me as a new-media content publisher is that I can now QUICKLY and EASILY change the entire look and feel of a website with just a few mouseclicks. Joomla and Drupal use templates similar to WordPress, which can be downloaded from a source website, uploaded via FTP to the themes directory of your server, and then activated with the click of a mouse. It’s amazing to be able to benefit legally from the creative abilities of web designers far more talented and geeky than I am, by utilizing the free themes they share online. This ability for content to now be separated / freed from website design elements is explained well by Dr. Michael Wesch‘s video, “The Machine is Us/ing Us.” I LOVE this video. It says some VERY powerful things that we should all discuss in greater depth to understand further.
In the case of the Turning Point website design, I wanted to use a WordPress theme which has more of a “magazine” feel and layout to it. I opted to go with the free Arthemia theme, which I found via a tweet Scott McLeod shared on August 12th referencing Dr. Yong Zhao. Dr. Zhao’s blog / personal website uses the Arthemia WordPress theme, and since it is free and very “magazine-like” I immediately thought of it when I was contemplating theme options for Turning Point.
The first “magazine-style” WordPress theme I used, and still use, is the WordPress theme “The Morning After” which is in use on the K-12 Online Conference site and blog. Like Arthemia, this theme allows users to create special post categories for featured and headline or “aside” posts, which remain “sticky” on the website front page and can therefore be amplified more relative to other posts. I love the ways WordPress has been and continues to be customized to meet various needs, and although it is not as powerful as alternatives like Drupal or Plone for things like learning community / social networking site creation or document management, I think WordPress makes an outstanding CMS for many organizational sites. Later this fall I will be migrating my son’s scout troop website over to WordPress, at the request of the Scoutmaster for an improved / more dynamic website the boys can help update and maintain. I’ll also be creating a WordPress site for a renewal program at our church which has been using a static / poorly updated website for years and is in dire need of upgrades.
It can be a dangerous thing to project competency in different areas, and web design skills can certainly fit this scenario. I do enjoy dabbling with web design, and whole-heartedly enjoy content publishing, but the design side of things is something I’m also glad to not do full time. It’s amazing how GOOD knowledge and use of design templates can make a person look today, who (like me) may not have a great deal of creative design skills personally.
To close this post, I’ll share links to most of the websites I’m now maintaining, categorized by the platform/CMS utilized for publishing and updating. Some of these are listed on my ClaimID site (which I maintain as an index of my “digital footprint”) but not all of them.
– Moving at the Speed of Creativity
– The K-12 Online Conference
– Powerful Ingredients for Blended Learning
– Learning Signs
– Eyes Right
– String and Me
– Talking Science (not in current use but still online / patched)
– Turning Point Ministries (Oklahoma)
– My “teach digital” presentation and workshop handout/resource wiki
– Great Book Stories
– Unmasking the Digital Truth
– The Technology Shopping Cart (yes, we need to do another show, we’re risking “podfading”)
– Storychasers Resource wiki
– Storychasers learning community
– My dissertation wiki (not updated in awhile, but that will change soon)
– Was installed on Storychasers, now removed
– Was installed on Turning Point Oklahoma, now removed
My personal domains (wesfryer.com and wesleyfryer.com) and my “Tools for the TEKS” site still have to be updated with client-based webpage editing software. Currently I use Kompozer for this, which is free. At some point I may migrate those sites to a CMS, but for now they are working and I don’t have time to redesign / migrate the sites. I use Cyberduck as my free FTP client. (A comprehensive list of the Mac applications I use is also available.)
As you can see, WordPress is my favorite CMS! WordPress rules! Long live WordPress! 🙂
Addendum: If you work in or with an Oklahoma School and are a OneNet customer, be aware that OneNet provides FREE cPanel setup and website hosting with the free / open source CMS options I referenced in this post. Mentioning this in a blog post is something which might have gotten me shot when I was working for AT&T, but I’m happy to do it now without worry! This is a GREAT service from OneNet and something EVERY Oklahoma school should take advantage of, IMHO.
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On this day..
- Options for Classroom Blogging (August 2019) - 2019
- Web-based Video Editing with WeVideo (Including Green Screen) - 2017
- Changing Mindsets: STEM Is NOT Content Areas in Isolation - 2015
- Developing & Writing a Pitch for your Book - 2015
- Reconsider Your Neutral Brainstorming Assumptions - 2012
- Inspired by Angela Maiers #blc10 presentation: Writing for Real - 2010
- Legal Fight Over Publicly funded Charter Schools and Online Education in Oklahoma - 2010
- Good del.icio.us and Google Notebook how-to guides - 2007
- iPhoto 08 First Impressions - 2007
- From Webkinz and Avatar to Sitting in a desk - 2007