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.
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.
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.
Designers, writers, and developers have the challenge of finding the right balance of interaction among sources, interface, and user, and “virtual tours” are no different. My favorite digital humanities projects are those that get this balance right. They draw me in and allow my imagination to go anywhere. By looking at three examples of virtual tours, we can start to see the ways in which sources, interface and users interact to produce moments of interest and imagination.