Content is King, but Content Management Rules

By Colin Bell

Whether you've heard of it referred to as Intranet management, knowledge management, content management, or document management, this all-pervasive technology of the 21st century is rapidly transforming the way our schools apply information technology to enhance the quality of teaching and learning via an Intranet. And what makes the Intranet viable and attractive to students is content - lots of it.

Despite the common misconception, content management is not confined to the world of big business. On the contrary, it is one of the most critical issues facing today's education sector. Emerging research indicates that the volume of content or the number of items of content that will be lodged on your Intranet will easily exceed the number of items in your library catalogue by a factor of at least three to five. And this content must be managed. As the title of this article suggests, a school will not function cohesively unless it takes control of the electronic content that supports its curriculum. Content management is about capturing this knowledge, organising it, sharing it, finding it and - most importantly keeping it current and up-to-date on the campus Intranet.

Content management technologies are facilitating the development of and simultaneous access to physical and virtual (electronic) resources, which directly link to learning, teaching and innovation. One such technology has been trialed and documented in Queensland by Stuartholme School.

SCIS recognises that Teacher Librarians have always been 'content managers'. We try to show how this view translates to an increasingly digital environment. SCIS assists schools by providing a content management service. As part of our regular monitoring of trends and initiatives in this field we come across a range of new concepts, products and services, and occasionally we think that some of these may be of value to our customers. While we do not necessarily endorse the products and services of the author of this article, we believe the ideas he discusses are useful.

A case in point

Stuartholme School, a Catholic secondary school in Toowong, a suburb of Brisbane, has been working towards integrating technology into its curriculum for some years now, and is among the first Australian schools to offer their students one of the newer content management information technologies. The school installed a Campus Wide Intranet Management System (CWIMS product) early in 1999 as a combined Intranet system for staff and student research support.

Stuartholme's Director of Information Services, Margaret Paten said the system allows for the management of a 'hybrid library' (see 'The Great Divide? Physical and Digital Resources in School Libraries', Connections Issue 34, p 1 ), in which resources are varied and increasingly online. She said it operates on several different levels to meet a variety of student, staff and teacher information needs.

'Firstly, the technology allows us to integrate electronic information into the library catalogue,' she said. 'When a student searches the catalogue, they will find a variety of content, from scanned items, word-processing and powerpoint documents, to websites.

'Secondly, students choose to search CWIMS product only, knowing that it's an electronic database created at Stuartholme, with a vast array of information selected by their teachers specifically for their needs. In other words ... a tame Internet.

'Thirdly, it's the electronic noticeboard for the school. Under the Folder System, we have organised all activities and interests at our school. Students need to check here to gather a wide range of important information.' Examples of this information include assessment schedules, exam timetables, daily notices, all assignments and criteria sheets, exemplars of student work, assignment resources, classroom tasks, homework and interactive websites.

'For Stuartholme, CWIMS product is the heart of effective communication,' she said. 'Our many committees and groups in the school can communicate and share information in privacy. I can set up a group and assign members to that group by giving each member a personal password that can access that information. The person can then contribute to that electronic group by uploading an electronic file or URL to that folder.'

Stuartholme Director of Information Technology, Deslyn Taylor, said although the school does not have a VPN (Virtual Private Network), Stuartholme offers many of the advantages associated with this one. 'Our students access the system through the school website, which is located on one of our servers,' she said. 'Both this server and the library server are connected via a switch, router and a 128k ISDN line to the Internet. The students have full password access to the entire library system from anywhere in the world. As Stuartholme is a boarding school this is particularly useful, and students can access the system even when they're at home.' Through the school website, students have home access to the library catalogue, our Intranet, folders and other online research services.

Margaret Paten said feedback from teachers, staff, students and especially parents had been positive, and they were pleased with the ease of access to school information. She said educating users was one of the most important steps, so that they can realise the full benefits
of the system.

'More than 60 per cent of our staff meeting discussions relate to improving communication. Parents are hungry for better and timelier information from the school, and our students rely on information. All organisations need effective knowledge management. Online information is the most effective way to provide a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week library for students - whether a boarder at school or a day girl at home. We have extended hours of operation, yet find that the quality, quantity and diversity of information available digitally - plus the ease of retrieval - makes online information a winner. We would need a building twice this size to house such a collection. With keyword and advanced natural or Boolean searching, students can easily locate their information.'

Deslyn Taylor said that taking advantage of content management technology has allowed the school to run a true hybrid library service in which 'the distinction between "our catalogue" and "electronic resources" no longer exists'. The power to efficiently manage school information to enhance teaching and learning is a development that must be high on each school's agenda. More schools are demanding online learning to support their curriculum and provide greater access to wider learning resources.

The school Intranet is only the first step towards the virtual classroom of the future. With the ability to store all of their resources online, more schools around Australia are finding better ways to communicate internally, distribute information and store key documents, reports and examples of best practice.

Key concepts in content management

Many of the scientific principles underpinning information management technology have emerged as critical prerequisites for true content management in the electronic age. Following is an explanation of many of the key concepts central to effective content management in the school environment.

What is content?

  • Explicit content is words, images, numbers, drawings, pictures, sounds and other entities contained within a school's formal electronic (document) resources or files. These may be such things as course outlines, lesson plans, work exercises, assignments, research papers and traditional library resources.
  • Tacit content is the accumulation of useful experience, expertise and ski 11 sets contained within the minds of a school's people and resources. These may be staff members with particular expertise or skill sets, parents with specific knowledge and community guest speakers.

Both forms of content or knowledge must be categorised within the context that it applies to each school's teaching and learning objectives.

The future

The Intranet and Internet will have a more significant and important revolutionary effect on education into the future than the exercise pad did when it replaced the slate in the classroom in the mid 20th century. What will differentiate one school Intranet from the next will be the quantity of quality content. Some schools have recognised this and put into place a sound and planned structure to manage their valuable content and to ensure they can move forward at the speed of education. The ad hoc approach adopted by others will miss the mark and maybe the target.

In the next issue of the Connections newsletter we will provide further information on the implementation of Intranet management systems. If you have any thoughts or comments on this or any other matters we are very keen to hear from you - you might even¬†get published! Email <[email protected] .au> with your thoughts.

Colin Bell

Managing Director of Concord Australia

Colin Bell, Managing Director of Concord Australia, has been developing information management software in Australia for 14 years. Colin recently won an Australian Software Design Award tor his innovative content management solution, MASTERfile Edtranet, which has been successfully installed at over 200 primary and secondary schools across Australia.