E-Rate Changes, School and District Websites
The FCC has restructured what and how funding is provided for technologies in eligible school districts. While change can be difficult this is definitely good for our schools. This is good for our communities. This is good for families and our children.
This is the first major change to how E-Rate is structured in a full seventeen years. Consider for a moment just how much the world has changed particularly with regard to the web and web based communications. Think about what the web was like in 1997. The legacy practices and solutions to a large extent have been holding us all back for a long time.
WordPress in Schools – Cameron Barrett
WordPress in Schools – Resonate Web Marketing
When we found out that Cameron Barrett was presenting on WordPress in Schools in Grand Rapids we were excited. We made sure we were there. Above is an abbreviated version of his presentation. It was amazing. Cameron will be presenting more on this topic in time. If you are involved with your school or district and have an opportunity to listen to Cameron speak on this topic you will want to attend.
Obstacles for School and District Websites
There are several primary causes for the predicament schools, districts and our communities find themselves in.
- Decision Maker Familiarity with Web Technologies:
First and foremost is that too many school district boards and policy makers are not really familiar with web technologies.
Because it has to do with computers it’s assumed tech, systems or network support personnel can do this. These however are very different skill sets.
Too often when it is time for a decision it is safer to go with a proprietary solution that other schools and districts select. This in spite of the fact that upon easy observation, those other school and district sites are very poor models to follow. The challenge is to find an example of best-practices actually demonstrated by those actually using the proprietary solutions vendor.
Don’t look at the demo. Look at the websites of actual users. They’re all bad. Lastly, please do not be fooled by splashy pictures on the home page. Real value is in website usability, quality of content and the ability to access it. DO NOT stop at the home page. Mark what time it is. Now try locating a few commonly needed, current pieces of information. There is the test.
- Closed-Source vs Open Source:
There is a fundamental flaw with proprietary, closed source web technologies and it is this. The vendor controls everything and you dear client have no control. None, zero. You are handcuffed. If you don’t know this just try switching platforms. 🙂
You are dependent upon their ability to adapt to a very rapidly evolving web ecosystem. One fundamental shortcoming is that no single proprietary solutions vendor can adapt their platform as quickly as the world of developers are updating the open-source platforms. It simply cannot be done. They will always lag behind. If a thing is being done, online it’s available in open-source. It’s available on WordPress. Next year or never, it will be available on a proprietary platform.
The argument will be made that a closed-source solution affords greater control, security and reliability. These are legitimate needs. The fact is however that open-source and WordPress in particular is as secure and reliable as any platform available and is widely used by more security and reliability dependent organizations, around the world than any of the largest proprietary solutions providers. It simply isn’t true. Currently WordPress powers nearly one in every four websites being developed, around the world.
The greater control argument is even more flawed. The basic problem and irony with closed-source is lack of control. The closed source vendor indeed does have control, all the control. The client has virtually none. So this is really a benefit for who? If as a client you need something that is not in the packaged solution you are required to work through the closed-source vendor to have a modification made for your circumstance. This is exceedingly expensive and time consuming.
- Actual User Adoption:
“Train the Trainer” You’ve been presented with this solution right? It’s really hard to make it work in actual practice.
Here’s the thing. When you view the demo’s from the closed-source proprietary vendors they’re amazing, truly. The capabilities and potential of these solutions are grand. Why then do we not see this in practice? The demo featured only those things it was designed to do in that particular way, with that particular input and critically, with that particular platform knowledge and expertise.
What if, in practice your school or district users don’t have the time, comfort level with the technology or motivation to learn this system? Critically, what if this platform they’re being asked to use has absolutely no value or application outside of these specific work duties? The fact is people change jobs and responsibilities all the time. Turn over is a fact of life.
There is a learning curve. Consider being required to learn a proprietary system which, who knows if you’ll ever be faced with again? You’ll never use it at home or any other organization you’re involved with. Frankly, while everyone wants to do a good job at work there’s nothing really in it for you. Now consider this, WordPress powers nearly a quarter of all websites around the world. Chances are your church, your club, your community organization is using WordPress. Ask around. You’ll find this to be true. Now, something that you’re learning for your school or district has direct application for your personal life. You can take this learning with you wherever you go, in-district or out. Consider how this would impact your learning this open-source platform.
- Training on Proprietary Systems vs Open Source: Here is why schools and districts rely on “Train the Trainer”. There really isn’t a viable, cost-effective option.
Training is expensive. Personnel time is expensive, particularly that of an out-of-state proprietary vendor and E-Rates does not cover this. The burden of training is essentially shifted to the schools and districts to do this themselves. They are frequently challenged to handle this critical step. The website platform may even have potential. It comes down to execution though. If the available capabilities are not used or used poorly it’s a disservice to tax payers, the community and the families depending on this information from their children’s schools.
With Open-source platforms there are many… many more options for user training. This includes many free options. In addition its likely friends, acquaintances and coworkers are themselves already familiar with WordPress already, because it is everywhere. The “user community” is pervasive and that’s good for you. Additionally, the world is full of vendors all competing to provide the best possible training on a given platform and WordPress in particular. If there is something new in the web ecosystem there are professional experts prepared to help you. Proprietary solutions… they hold the monopoly. They control everything. You are left with “train the trainer”.
Help for school and district websites decision makers
Frankly, as long as this is it is only the tip of the iceberg. I could go on but I’ll spare you. 🙂
As a school or school district you’re likely already aware that the circumstances are stacked against you and you have little room and resources to maneuver. You are being held accountable but your hands are tied over the situation regarding your school or districts web site and web based communications with your community and families. Further, you may not yourself be fully comfortable with the technologies being considered and their trade-offs.
There’s more to cover but it would take too much time. If you would like to talk about what you’re facing with regard to E-Rate, school and district websites, web based communications with your community and families we would love to talk with you. If you need some expert input at a schools or district conference we would be happy to meet with you. Let us know. We’d like to help. We feel your pain.
Further reading on E-Rates and changes to school website funding:
- Federal Communications Commission: “Modernizing the E-rate Program for Schools and Libraries” Adopted July 11, 2014 Note: Pg. 60. article 145, Pg. 61. article 347, Pg. 62 article 150
- Federal Communications Commission: “Summary of the E-Rate Modernization Order“
- E-Rate Central: “E-Rate Central News for the Week“
- Education Week: “Schools Set to Adjust to Revamped E-Rate Policies“