How to manage a school website
June 24, 2009 1:51 PM   Subscribe

What are my best options for technical management of a school website?

This will start off just as a standard intro to the school, news, etc, but with potential for adding functionality down the road. I want the site content to be maintainable by relatively non-technical staff in the school.

I'm looking at two main options for how to manage the site: either finding a web host and installing a CMS (probably Wordpress) or using a hosted site such as typepad or similar. I am happy to do the initial set up, but I don't want to become technical wrangler for the site indefinitely.

I'm looking for experiences with either of these situations (not necessarily for a school) but I'm particularly trying to weigh up if we're more likely to run into problems with a hosted solution in terms of limitations of the functionality and having to migrate, or if we manage the site ourselves how best to mitigate the risk of hacking, or problems with WP? Does anyone have experience of "occasional outsourcing" for this kind of small job (I'm happy enough to manage developers but cost is a big factor).
posted by crocomancer to Technology (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Move to a CMS, hire an outsider to administer the backend on a per-hour basis.

Once you learn how to administer the front-end, it'll pay for itself in saved time and headaches 1000x over.
posted by unixrat at 1:59 PM on June 24, 2009

You might also want to look into a specifically education-oriented CMS (e.g. eCollege, Moodle, Bb or the like) rather than a more generic CMS like Wordpress. (Most of these are or were originally designed as course management software, but pretty much all of them have started expanding into campus management as well.)
posted by ook at 3:03 PM on June 24, 2009

What sort of school we talking about here? K-12 school, university/college, or a school with a university/college?

Three things to keep in mind:
1. The expertise and teachability of staff re: the CMS you install. You'd be surprised at how teachable -- and unteachable -- staff can be. Who will be making site updates? Who should be authorized to make changes in a "three-deep" backup system?

2. The technical expertise of staff. Who will be there to handle the hardware? Who will be making backups and upgrades? If any of the code needs modification, who will do it -- and who will maintain it? I've seen way too many schools buy CMSes but have no plans on how to maintain them -- they just figure it's turn-key and once it's running it never fails.

3. Might there be resources available you can already leverage? If this is a university school or college, perhaps there's already a system-wide CMS available. If it's a high school, maybe the district bought an off-the-shelf solution.

And you should figure out the needs here, too. An "intro to the school" site doesn't need a robust CMS, and while Blackboard could provide you with CMS + LMS, do you need a learning management system right now?

With hosted solutions, are you an organization where you're subject to your locale's sunshine or open-records laws? If so, going to an outside host could be tricky unless you have an agreement with the vendor regarding such laws.

I work for a school inside a large university, and I have no CMS. I am still the only person who handles web updates for my unit (except for a small slice of the site that another person handles). In our situation, a CMS would be nice, but I don't think it's entirely necessary, since a CMS would mean my work would now be meted out to everyone in the office, many of whom are far busier with other major projects.

I'm not sure about using Wordpress -- yes, it can make a great CMS, but you're looking at a lot of modifications to pull it off, ones that someone will have to maintain in the future. The problem is your two alternatives, Drupal and Django, are probably just as messy in terms of mods, even though they're ready to go for you out of the box.
posted by dw at 4:24 PM on June 24, 2009


potential for adding functionality down the road <>
Keep Drupal updated and your security issues are managed.

I've installed several Drupal sites in academic situations, and the people I've installed it for get along with it very well. By that I mean, I seldom hear from them after I show them how it works. When I do hear from them, it's because they want to change something over which I've retained control, not (usually) because they can't figure out how to do it themselves.

Also, Drupal has an excellent user community and a forum dedicated to putting you together with Drupal ninjas-for-hire if you need that.
posted by bricoleur at 9:34 PM on June 24, 2009

Dang lyin' live preview.

The potential for adding functionality is where Drupal wins over WP. WP is great software, but it's not a full-blown CMS.
posted by bricoleur at 9:35 PM on June 24, 2009

Thanks for the responses so far. Let me clarify a few points: the school is a UK primary school. We don't need an LMS (at present) - this is purely going to be a site to present information and news about the school. I am working (voluntarily) with the schools ICT co-ordinator who will manage the content. He's keen to learn and would be able to manage adding new areas to the site and changing styles etc. I don't want to build a static site and have no easy way for non-technical users to add content later, hence the idea to use Wordpress as a basic CMS.

There's not really anyone with enough time and expertise to manage the kind of technical issues DW mentioned. That's mainly what worries me about any solution where we just rent the server from a hosting company and install WP/Drupal/whatever ourselves.

So I can probably sharpen the question down a bit more to: can anyone recommend a site-building ninja that will do the back-end maintenance (or where to look for one at least), or would it be better to just start with Typepad (or similar) and worry about the migration issues down the road when we reach the limitations of a "pages + posts" type of site.
posted by crocomancer at 1:15 AM on June 25, 2009

The good thing about going with any kind of database-backed solution is that when it comes time to upgrade to a real CMS, migration will be relatively straightforward, because your data will be tidy. Far, far better than trying to move a static HTML site (where the content is entangled in poorly-formed HTML) to a CMS.

On the other hand, if your needs are modest, you could probably get away with a rock-stock Drupal installation. That is pretty easy to administer, and many hosts now offer one-click Drupal installation. If I were doing what you're doing, I'd take the plunge. Because no matter how modest your current ambitions, someone will come along (soon) who wants to take things to the next level. If you were already in a state-of-the-art CMS, you'd be ahead of the game.
posted by bricoleur at 7:23 PM on June 25, 2009

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