Joomla For Schools

Tyler Toone   January 19, 2010   1 Comment on Joomla For Schools

joomlaA little over a month ago, I started training the schools within the Canyons School District, on setting up and using Joomla as their website platform. I want to review the training experience in hopes to offer some helpful information for any of you that may be considering a similar venture with your organization.

Each school will be set up to use the same Joomla template, but the style, design, and branding will match the school colors and logo. By design this will help make the brand look and feel of the district consistent and user friendly to the employees and patrons within we serve in the district. It will also help streamline the support and maintenance of the site.

Training Structure
1) I had a majority of elementary schools on one day, and the secondary schools on another day in order to accommodate with the space in the computer lab at the district office.
2) Trainings were 2 hours long and were held after school because there are mix teachers, principals, and volunteers fulfilling the role of web master for that school.
3) I spent the first portion of the training demonstrating that training contents, and then the rest of the time is used for them to practice doing it, and ask questions if they don’t fully understand.

I learned a lot during the first two trainings, and mainly that “less is more” when it comes to training Joomla to a large group of people. I tried to fit too much content into the first training with the Elementary schools, and therefore caused some confusion as they tried to grasp the concepts I was teaching.

k2I want to be completely honest…the biggest hurdle I ran into with the first training was talking to them about Categories in Joomla. By default Joomla’s page content (Articles) is organized into Sections and Categories – there are no nested categories. This being the case, I decided to implement a great Joomla extension called K2, by JoomlaWorks, which allows for nested categories, and many many more features which I felt would be beneficial.

Week 1:

  • Site planning – this went very well having the trainees write on paper the menu structure for their site.
  • Menu creation. Once the students finished writing down a basic site map I showed them how to create their menu system. One of the best things I like about building the menus in Joomla is the copy feature because it allows quick building of the menu without having to build all the content first. I felt like this approach worked better for me versus (what some sources recommend) creating all the content first and then the menu. Now with the menu(s) built, the students could easily change which Item, or other content the menu pointed to and it provided instant gratification for the student. Much of the content could be copied and pasted straight over from their old site.
  • K2 Categories – LESSON LEARNED: Information overload … I feel it was a mistake to introduce K2 categories at this point, because many of the trainees got confused that they needed the categories to match the menu structure. The best practice I feel at an early stage in Joomla training, would be to set up one, yes one, Master Category, and set all K2 Items to inherit those parameter settings. Then as they get familiar with the content structure and dynamic capabilities of Joomla they can start expanding and utilizing the categories in K2 to organize the site’s content.

Week 2:

  • Creating K2 Items
  • Using the JCE WYSIWYG editor – This component is a must-have for any Joomla site, and with the latest version of K2 there is a JCE plugin to allow hyper-linking directly to K2 Items.
  • Adding images and text wrapping inside the K2 items

Week 3:

  • School calendars using the JEventsLESSON LEARNED: Not all schools are made alike…Almost all of our Elementary schools use primarily Macs, and there’s a mix of PCs and Mac usage in the Secondary schools. The first training with the Elementary schools, I mentioned the idea of using iCalX, a free service that a principal showed me to publish an iCal publicly. This seemed to me a perfect solution, that is until I had the Secondary schools and half were on the Macs and the other half on PCs. So I went to one of our IT guys and he took 2 days researching and testing different solutions to find a way to integrate the calendaring into the Exchange server. What we ended up is a dedicated calendar VM that is extended out as a public folder so users can access it via Entourage and Outlook – a great cross-platform solution. So far this solution is proving to be very efficient for the schools to maintain a school calendar. Furthermore, I have taken this idea to the District main website, and set up the District calendar and a few lunch calendars that the Nutrition department will update and therefore allow the schools to automatically pull in the calendar feed onto their own sites. Ultimately what we’ll end up with is each school will never have to update their page with the lunch menu because it will be pulled down from the District calendars.

Week 4:

  • Document management – using DocMan component. Primarily I just trained them how to use DocLink to attach a downloadable document inside the K2 Item. I highly recommend using the newest version of Docman because it runs on Joomla 1.5 without requiring the Legacy mode plugin to be enabled.
  • (LESSON LEARNED) However, in a few subsequent 1-on-1 trainings, I learned it makes sense for certain periodic type of content (i.e. Community Council minutes, PTA Newsletters, etc) to set up structured DocMan categories and based on those category IDs point the menu item to that specific DocMan category ID to display a chronological list of documents.

Now that the trainings are over, I am setting up 1-on-1 training sessions to help each school specifically in setting up and maintaining their school websites. Although the large group trainings were not entirely in vain, it was challenging at times to keep everyone on the same page. The main benefit from the large groups trainings, is that now when I say go to K2, or DocMan, the person knows where to go. Throughout the trainings I have been compiling a list of video tutorials on the techniques and features we are using within the Joomla installs.

Now with more dynamic websites running on the Joomla content management system, the use of RSS feeds, and social media (Twitter, etc) the schools within Canyons School District can now easily maintain and deliver up-to-date content.

One thought on “Joomla For Schools

  1. Tyler Toone Post author

    Steve,
    Sorry for taking a bit to respond back to you. I would be happy to help in any way with the structuring of your Joomla pages with K2. At your convenience call this main line at Canyons School District and ask for me and the receptionist will connect you with me (801-826-5000). Look forward to speaking with you.

    -Tyler

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