Pam asks “Can teacher templates be made that are easy and flexible for even the as Terry puts it in my tagboard, the ‘joes and josephines’ to use?” Well, um, yeah it can. But if you start counting all of the Manila carcasses out there, I think the only conclusion I can arrive at is that the basic teacher needs more than the basic template. I’d guess that 80% of the regularly updated Manila sites (not Radio) are personalized in some way, and what that says to me is that the basic template is leaving a lot to be desired.
Case in point: I’ve been supporting one of my teachers in implementing Manila into his Lit class. (Sample) The major tweaks that I had to add to the template for him were the Links and Department lists to the nav column. Let me say first of all that to me, those two are essential and should come with every template. Now maybe I just don’t know how to do that, and I know that a while ago David had been discussing some call backs that could be included into templates to facilitate this. But I’ve had to go and create the story pages, then insert the include macros and create the departments etc. for every single site I’ve created. Seems like it should be easier. In addition to those tweaks, some of the templates don’t work with news days, others have table cells that mysteriously expand off the page and on…just enough to drive me crazy.
And yes, this brings me back to the building the better tool debate. Manila is a wonderful tool for those of us who have the time, skills and inclination (ask Pam about inclination) to tweak and personalize it to our needs. But isn’t it getting obvious that there aren’t that many of us out here? Pat is lamenting the fact that none of his workshop teachers in Atlanta are showing any interest. My teachers a complaining that just posting is too hard. Frankly, whoever named the functions in Manila must of been hungover. News should be Post. And my kids constantly get thrown by Create a New Topic. What is that? Waaaayyyy too unintuitive (if that’s a word.)
Anyway, this talk of templates has more importance that I think we realize…if we really want to promote use of Web logs as a tool to improve teaching and learning, we have to improve the tool first. That or create a new one.
Sam D says
Ok call me a cynic, but “too hard”? Have these people any idea what creating web pages takes in a non-cms setting? i think the problem with the “News” vs post concept is one of not addressing the metaphore that is prevailent in the “news” based manila site. It is a news room. Remember that manila was first an Edit this Page/”Flip this page” setting and the news part was added later. I think that this might be a better place to start with teachers (you can still get the syndication/ feed features by using David’s rss plugin, and the process is a whole lot easier (not to say more intuitive). Progress them to the idea that they need something more after they have cut their teeth, rather then start them in the more multistep mode of the news room.
Now if one is trying to make a multi-user set up then the news room setting is a better place to start, but they should be prepared for that. As they are looking at a much bigger project.
In many ways it is like when you are going from doing a little news letter home to parents every week and then you decide that you are going to make it a student participatory “news paper” that you publish as a class each week. The effort multiplies, it has nothing to do with the technology the task is just more complex. Teachers (and others I think) are often misguided in their belief that just because they am using computers the task will be easy, computers can make complex tasks easier, but they take time to set up and time to learn. People must be willing to take that step to get the results that they want. Too often I take a lot of time setting something up for a teacher and then when they have a small glitch they give up, because they are not a part of the process, they lack an understanding of the effort that it takes. Technology is not “magic” it is work and if you want to use it, take the time.
Too often when I go into a school and visit “computer labs” (a setting I think that is all wrong, but that is another topic) all I see are kids sitting typing. These labs are full of the latest and greatest computers and they are using them as typewriters. I know it is a training issue and a time issue, but if less was spent on staying “up-to-date” and more was spent on learning what you can do, schools would be better off and better able to justify these enormous expenditures on technology that they do not use. I have been in schools that have non-functional cooling systems (this is Tucson AZ and things can get hot) but amazing computer labs (with AC) and people wonder why kids are not doing well at this school the rooms are regularly over 95 degrees in the fall. If you ask me teachers and schools are placing their priorities on the wrong things, we as schools should not try to compete with video games and tv in our efforts to bring technology to schools. It is a tool and should be given the right respect and part of that respect is learning how to use the tool. You do not go into a wood shop where some one else has set up the table saw get handed a piece of wood and told to make bookcase (especially if you have never used a saw) Yet as teachers in schools that is what we are asked to do everyday.
PS I am a teacher, though currently on leave to stay home with my two daughters.
Dale Pike says
I understand and echo many of Sam’s sentiments, but I feel that providing a basic yet flexible site architecture via Manila templates really is harder than it should be. I had some success in creating a Manila template that automatically created stories when a site was generated and used a story (see includemessage macro below) to display links to the stories in the sidebar. It worked, but it also seemed like quite a tentative hack. I used some of Bryan Bell’s themes as guidelines, and if I remember correctly, I used the IncludeMessage macro (see http://design.weblogger.com/simpleNavigation and http://macros.userland.com/basic/includeMessage) to generate the navigation scheme (instead of the built-in navigation that requires you to edit the XML to make changes). This allows for more flexibility in editing the links later on. It’s been a couple of years, so I’ll have to try and dig up my old notes…I’ll post more if I can find it.