Alternatives to the CMS-Based Student Project


This post is part three of my three-part series on the CMS and Web-based student projects. While in parts one and two I talked about how CMS projects came to be and reasons why we might want to re-think them, in this post I suggest some alternatives to these types of student projects.

Why Re-Think the CMS-Based Assignment?

Derelict typing machine

Since I have been at W&M, we have gone from the relative freedom of the Web left over from the 1990s to the more managed reality of the content management system. Content management systems (CMSs), like WordPress, provide easy ways to build websites and have your students present their work on the Web, but the CMS does have its drawbacks. In order for it to allow for the easy creation of polished-looking sites and let your students focus on writing, the CMS makes many of the other decisions about the website for them. Thinking through what a CMS-based student project often accomplishes may help you better refine your web-based student projects.

Academic Technology Links for January 4, 2013

For the links this week, I’ve gathered up posts on a tool for scheduling meetings and for marking up PDFs, information on costing out a digital humanities lab, a how-to for adding narration to PowerPoint slides, and seven hot education technology topics for 2013. Enjoy!

The Origins and Drawbacks of CMS-Based Student Projects

Nothing says 1990s Internet like Netscape!

As an undergrad at W&M in 2002, I completed my first website for an assignment in an American Studies class. Ten years later, the Web has changed, but I am not so sure if I can say the same for many classroom Web projects. Publishing content on the Web is far easier today than it used to be, thanks to a category of Web applications called Content Management Systems (CMS). A CMS allows people to publish content to the Web without much technical skill. This is great because it allows class projects to focus more on writing and Web publishing. However, I wonder if we have lost something in Web projects as CMSs like WordPress have become more prevalent. I think it is time to reevaluate what a semester-long Web project should look like.

Mendeley for Classroom Collaboration

Here is what it looks like when you create a group with Mendeley.

This semester I’ve been working on a technology project with Dr. Pam Eddy, Associate Professor of Higher Education. She decided to use Mendeley, a reference management application, to allow students in her graduate-level Educational Policy class to interact with the assigned readings collaboratively while gaining experience with a useful online research tool. The social dimensionof Mendeley allows users to create interest groups where members may exchange documents, usually in PDF format, and highlight or annotate with comments. The beauty of the application is that it operates with both a desktop version and online repository, so that group members can keep the documents they are discussing on their own computers, but sync with the online version to update annotations.