Notes toward the definition of a website

[I’m teaching a course in web content and management.  The major project is a building a website for a client, and this include a creative brief which lays out the plan for the site in terms of the clients needs and expectations.  I didn’t want to give them a template, but wanted them to create their own plan.  Unfortunately, the rough drafts were not adequate so I gave them some guidelines for revision.]

Notes toward the definition of a website:

Although you have some flexibility in how you format and develop your brief, make sure to address the following in some way:

Background.  Put the project and the client in context, including the need for the project and the brand promise of the client.

Purpose and goals.  While the website functions within the context of a brand, it probably has a narrower and more specific purpose and more than one goal.  It is  best if the goals can be quantified. (Also called marketing objectives.)

Communication Strategy.  How does this fit into the communication plan of your client?  What are the key messages?  What support can you offer for the claims you make?

Audience.  This goes beyond simple demographics.  What are these people like?  What motivates them?  What needs are you addressing?  Try to see the project from the user’s perspective.

Voice.  Be sure to address the tone and voice of the project. If the website had a personality, what would it be? Copy guidelines are helpful as an appendix, with examples.  Wire frames and mock-ups could go in the appendix as well.

Requirements.  Review the list of the client (or course) requirements and tell how each is met.  For example, how will you make the site responsive to its platform, or insure that it can be sustained?  Who signs off on the final project?

Promotion.  How will people find this site?  How will you use social media?  Where do key word and other SEO tools fit into your plan?

Beyond this, consider other items that demonstrate your credibility.  Cite sources, for example.  Discuss the results and plans for usability studies.   Discuss rationale for design choices, mandatories and other issues you might address in marketing plans and design brief.  Timelines and budgets are important.

A couple of pages may be sufficient, although the issue is what level of detail do you need so your client trusts your ability to do this.  This will vary, based on the clients needs and knowledge.

Also pay attention to the design and professionalism of the brief itself.  It should inspire confidence in your client. It should show that you can create something clean and concise.

new iBook on writing for publication

Free iBook targets new writers, missionaries, Christian journalists

onestepBUIES CREEK, N.C.—Two journalism professors from Christian universities have teamed up to make a short e- book for iPad or iPhone that uses interactive content to help new writers snag a byline.

“A One-Step Guide to a Byline” is designed for new writers who want to know the bare minimum for writing an article for the popular press and it uses roll-over features, an interactive quiz and eight videos to help writers succeed, says Michael Ray Smith, project director and professor of communication from Campbell University in Buies Creek.

Smith joined Wally Metts, director of graduate studies in communication at Spring Arbor University, to make a fun, user-friendly book with enhanced content about the basics of writing. The “one-step” is finding the essential conflict that drives a good story.

“We wanted to get a guide for our friends in ministry who want an at-a-glance approach to telling a story for publication,” Smith said, adding that the guide has lots of content available at the touch. “A One-Step Guide to a Byline” is a free iBook through Apple’s iBook store.

The book features:

• Eight how-to videos from successful writers including best-selling author Cecil Murphey (125 books) and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Manny Garcia;

• The guide includes “The Theology of Journalism” by Arne H. Fjeldstad, internationally known for his work with journalism and ministry;

• It includes pop-up boxes that give more detail when you touch them;

• It includes an example of writing from the Wall Street Journal and one from the community press;

• It includes web sites that open with a touch;

• It includes a glossary . . . again, at a touch;

• This guide is designed for new writers and journalists working in ministry;

• Everything in it works with a touch screen available on iPad or iPhone;

• It is underwritten by a grant from Campbell University.

Smith said he will send anyone who wants a copy of the non-interactive PDF free on request. Drop him a note at

Social media in the 16th century

We all know there is a lot of irrational, ungracious, and even deeply prejudiced ranting on the internet. The tone of civil discourse is widely acknowledged to be deteriorating.

Take this anti-Catholic screed I recently found on the internet:

Now we drive out the pope 
from Christ’s church and God’s house. 

Therein he has reigned in a deadly fashion 

and has uncountably many souls. 

Now move along, you damned son, 
you Whore of Babylon.
You are the abomination and the Antichrist, 
full of lies, death and cunning.

It’s a parody of the popular folk ballad Turn Out the Winter, or at least you would know that if you lived in the 1500s. And the author most probably was Martin Luther.

This song has the literary quality of Rebecca Blacks’ Friday, Friday, but Luther’s musical initiative was only part of a multimedia onslaught that would bring down popes and overthrow empires.

His social media campaign, and let’s face it, all media is social, included art published by Luther and friends, including one example where the excrement of demons was Catholic monks. And there is the famous print of Luther with a halo, not exactly a Reformation staple.

Both music and images are aspects or our daily diet via the internet today. But Luther used all these as well as that new fangled iPad, known then as a printing press.

It would be nonsense to insist the Reformation would not have happened with out the printing press, or even without Luther himself. But Gutenberg’s press is 1450 added the same thing to the process that social media does today—speed and scale.

Speed is relative, of course. It took 2 years for Philip II to get a message to his viceroys in the Philippines. And printing itself did not change the speed of a boat.

But blog-size pamphlets, which Luther and his followers used much more effectively than his opponents, spread quickly. Of the 95 Thesis themselves, Luther’s friend Friedrich Myconius said “hardly 14 days had passed when these propositions were known throughout Germany and within four weeks almost all of Christendom was familiar with them.”

Luther’s sermon on Indulgences and Grace was written a few months later, and was a runaway best seller, since he wrote in vernacular German, avoiding a regional lexicon. It was reprinted 14 times in 1518 alone and appeared on the New York Times Best Seller list for about two centuries. Within the first decade of the Reformation over 7 million pamphlets were printed and distributed, and over a quarter of them were by Luther.

This media offensive not only defended the Reformer’s ideas, but drew on popular humor to mock, ridicule and otherwise make fun of ecclesiastical authority, a concept I fully understand because I’ve gone to chapel at a Christian university. We can just be glad nothing like this ever happens on the Internet.

Luther’s motives can be defended, of course, provided you are Protestant. Just 66 years after the first Bible rolled off the press, Luther wrote at the top of his Wittenburg thesis, “Out of love for the truth, and the desire to bring it to light” that he wished to “defend the following statements and to dispute them in this place.”

And dispute them he did.

By 1523 over 80% of all books printed in German dealt with the reform of the church. His blog posts, I mean pamphlets, had been reposted, or rather reprinted. Printers across Europe retranslated and reprinted his work without his advice or consent. Copyright infringement was on a global scale, except of course there was no copyright. Luther had lost control of the manufacture and distribution, but he had clearly won the argument.

By the mid-1520s his ideas had spread to the Twitterverse, or rather the taverns. When people are sitting around drinking, singing your songs and talking about your blog posts you have gone viral.

Which is exactly what the pope called it.

The papal bull of 1520, called SOPA, threatened to excommunicate Luther, so as ““to cut off the advance of this plague and cancerous disease so it will not spread any further.”

The papal bull of 1521 warned that ““the whole German nation, and later all other nations, will be infected by this same disorder.”

It would have done the church little good to burn him at the stake.

They tired to burn the books, of course. The printing presses too, for that matter. And they wrote their own tracts, but mostly in Latin. These sat on shelves while Protestant literature was being passed around, read to the illiterate, discussed in the trade guilds, and increasing championed by German nobility.

Book banning was common where Catholics were in power. While Luther called the printing press “God’s highest gift of grace” the church leadership saw it a subversive. Local indexes of books people were not allowed to read existed as early as 1544, but the more famous Index of Prohibited Books in 1564 only made such books more attractive.

Eventually the Catholics made changes. Today the Chinese make changes. The Arabs make changes, because, as Samuel Hartlib said in 1641, “the art of blogging will so spread knowledge that the common people, knowing their own rights and liberties, will not be governed by way of oppression.”

Actually, he said the art of printing.

But despots today face the same dilemma as the popes of the 16th century. John Fox once said “The pope must abolish knowledge and printing, or printing must at length root him out.”

And so must all tyrants end. Unless they change. And this too is possible. There is still a pope and the Catholic church addressed many of these concerns and adapted to others. Change is still possible, even in Egypt or Iran.

A thoughtful critique of social media is of course necessary and prudent. This is not my project here. I mean only to remind us that there is nothing new under the sun. We have invented nothing. We have merely made it bigger and faster. Many of the solutions still require a thoughtful look at both our history and our nature. But I will conclude with a few observations about what we can study and what role we can play.

First, we must be thoughtful about a social history of the media. Everything we know or can learn about revivals, for example, sheds light on religious movements from Islamic Fundamentalism to Apple fandom.

We can focus too on those aspects of media that set it apart from media of the past—speed and scale. What does it mean that things are faster and bigger? How does it change things? What questions can we ask and what answers can we suggest about how or why ideas that spread quickly affect us differently than ideas that move slowly? Why is new not always better?

And what role can we play?

To start with, we must defend the academy. No, I’m just kidding again. One sixteenth century scholar complained that there were so many books he didn’t have time to read the titles.

If there is anything we should guard against, it is a fortress mentality where we retreat further and further into narrower and narrower fields of inquiry, barely putting a ripple into the deluge of data pouring over us while the world goes crying for clarity, significance and even wonder.

No, we must leave the ivory towers and learn, like Luther, to speak the vernacular. Frankly much of what we write and say sounds like Latin.

We must master new technologies as well.

We shouldn’t do this to to keep up with our students, but to guide them. The digital natives are clueless. I know this. I’ve taught communication technology to college freshmen and they know what it does but not why or how.

It is our responsibility to point them to the principles and theories that will help them make sense of a world we ourselves have made much too little effort to comprehend, except perhaps as a curmudgeon.

And finally, we must, as Luther put it, do so out of a love for the truth and a desire to bring it to light.

Nail that to your office door.

Better yet, post it on your blog.

How Luther went viral

Social History of the Media: From Gutenberg to the Internet

Dispatches from Blogistan: A travel guide for the modern blogger

an immodest proposal

Rethinking the liberal arts university in an age of uncertainty

While many have warned that higher education is a bubble about to burst, fewer have advocated specific, integrated steps to reinvent it.  The situation calls for drastic measures, however, particularly for private liberal arts institutions where public dollars are limited and expected to decline.

As an enterprise these colleges and universities face a period of creative destruction—one in which an entire system will be eliminated or replaced by a more efficient and more effective one.

The ideas suggested below are not modest ones, especially when taken together.  But this is no time for timid, incremental steps.

Redefine mission.
Teaching colleges have focused largely on credit hour production as the currency of the realm.  This has led most schools to address financial challenges almost exclusively by creating new programs and recruiting new students.

This is understandable. Credit hour production can be easily measured. Unfortunately, it can no longer be predicted.  Cultural expectations and attitudes about the liberal arts are shifting rapidly, and economic pressures (including burgeoning costs and resulting student debt) have resulted in fewer students and more competition between programs that have been overbuilt.

But what if the driver of such institutions was to serve their local communities instead of to increase credit hours?  This is not as measurable, but it resituates the liberal arts as a practical and tangible force in both local and global contexts.

To redefine the mission is a cultural shift, and has less to do with rewriting goals than with rethinking values.  The liberal arts are transformative, or should be.  But this transformation can not be measured by degrees.  Or at least not by the number of them.

The importance of broad, interdisciplinary approaches to myriad cultural, economic and social problems can not be overstated.  But it can be overlooked.  And as the challenges to liberal arts schools mount, it is easy to turn inward and to count the things that can be counted.

Counting (and accounting) are necessary, obviously.  But turning outward is more necessary.   And more urgent.

Solve problems
For liberal arts colleges to see themselves as agent of positive change in their communities opens up new sources of income. Infrastructure becomes more available to local organizations and causes. But the institution and its faculty also begin to see themselves in a different way, as resources to their neighbors.

This means workshops and seminars become as important as classes and serving citizens becomes as important as matriculating students.  Recruiting students becomes no more important than engaging boomers.  Research becomes more practical as the problems of local businesses and nonprofits are addressed.  The arts move from the campus to the street.

This invites a new curriculum where students and faculty are more motivated as the focus shifts from critical thinking to situated action.  Communities will support such efforts and students will come.  They are well aware of the problems in the world and they want to make a difference.  Or they can be taught to want to.

The issue of community, which is so important to liberal arts institutions, can be addressed differently by raising the stakes. If we were to create projects that mattered, that made a difference, students would care more about their work and about each other.

Requiring every course to engage the community radically alters the curriculum, of course.  It may mean the end of survey courses as we know them.  It alters everything, actually, requiring new relationships and accepting new responsibilities.

Create partnerships
College and universities that see themselves in this way will also attract political, economic, aesthetic and social interest, so cultivating relationships with local leadership is critical as schools create laboratory experiences off campus.

This requires administrators not to see such relationships merely or even primarily from a development perspective.  While such initiatives will probably result in more donations, the focus must be on the services themselves, some of which may be paid services.  Sacrificial ones are more likely.

Nevertheless, new income streams must supplement or even replace tuition as reliance on credit hour production alone is not sustainable.  While grants may also contribute to the bottom line, some services could and should be fairly compensated as dedicated faculty and students help solve real problems or create new venues.

Students who have learned to do this will be sought after, based on portfolios of meaningful work.  They will have increased confidence based on meaningful accomplishments.   Their continued relationship with mentors and with the university is assured.

Partnerships need not be local, however.  Technology allows dispersed teams to work together across geographical barriers.  Coalitions of like-minded liberal arts schools could interact with organizations and communities to address global issues. Social networking tools enable more immediate issue and concern based learning with broader collaboration.

Reduce student debt
Student debt is of course the elephant in the room, as students and their parents are increasingly less willing to mortgage an uncertain future.  Reducing student debt is mission critical.

One way to do this is to reduce costs, of course. Privatizing various aspects of the universities operation can help.  While food service and book stores are commonly handled in this way, janitorial and maintenance services—often staffed by poorly supervised and unmotivated student workers—are examples of areas where private management would result in reduced costs.

Not-for-profit universities, unfortunately, are less likely to focus on workplace efficiencies than their for-profit counterparts, and breaking off units not essential to the core enterprise of student development and learning would reduce administrative and operational bloat.

Students could still work for such services, but they would probably be more accountable.  Interactions with the community would also result in more, and better paid, opportunities for students, providing a better real world experience.

Other aspects of university operations could also be privatized, including athletics, housing, media outlets, etc.  New revenue streams from community engagement and reduced operational costs are essential.  But these streams alone do not reduce students debt enough to make a university education attractive again to middle class parents whose neighbors have a child that is $60,000 in debt and can not find a job.

Shorten the experience
Another way to reduce student debt would be to reduce the time they spend in college. While some schools are looking at three-year bachelor programs as one way to do this, it might be more fruitful to rethink the semester itself.

Typically students take five classes over 14 weeks, meeting two or three times a week.  This is not like any schedule they will encounter the rest of their lives.  It may also not be a model consistent with their attention span and learning styles.

Imagine then a five-week term as the standard; residential students only take two classes per term.  If each class is worth 3 credits, and there are nine sessions a year, a student could earn 54 credits a year, easily finishing within 3 years.

This does not diminish the time they spend in a course.  Two hours a day every weekday for five weeks is 50 hours, roughly the same “seat time” as the current model.  But the shorter term has several academic advantages:

  • By limiting students to two course in five weeks, there is plenty of time for laboratory or field work, learning to solve problems that matter.
  • Students are more focused, with fewer courses to concentrate on at one time.
  • Daily interactions reduce the time needed for review, since the student’s mind is less cluttered and the interactions with mentors and instructors is more frequent and immediate.
  • Courses could be moved off campus to different, more appropriate venues—a theater downtown or an orphanage overseas.
  • Creative and innovative learning experiences could be created which are not consistent with current models.

An argument can be made that some courses, such as a lab science, require more processing time.  In rare instances a 10-week course could be offered, but for the most part any five-week project based course could result in significant learning and practical portfolio pieces.

Other practical (and marketable) advantages exist as well:

  • A student who has a family or health crisis only misses one five-week term, not an entire semester.
  • Struggling students are identified earlier and helped sooner.
  • Students with two classes can schedule work more easily.
  • Students can take two to four terms off each year and still finish in four years, allowing them more flexibility in finding work since everyone is not competing for the same summer jobs.
  • Rolling enrollment allows the student to enter the program at any time, without waiting until September.
  • Students can mix and match delivery systems, all available within the same five-week terms.   This allows more opportunities for them to work, thus reducing overall debt.

Rethink faculty contracts
Shorter terms and more community engagement would require new ways of thinking about faculty “load.”  If credit hour production is not the only important thing, or even the most important thing, other activities will need to be compensated.

But assuming, for the sake of illustration, that a full-time contract is 24 credit hours.  In this example we will call them units. Already, most schools assign load for some non-teaching responsibilities, but a more fluid approach would be necessary.

Community engagement would be part of a course, but practical research and service have to also be incentivized.  More activities have to be rewarded if more things are going to happen.

But the flexibility needed in this model would be better served by connecting these units of production (sorry, that’s what they are) to flat rate compensation and giving contracted faculty more flexibility.

Suppose any contracted faculty can choose to complete any number of units between 12 and 36, with a certain number being required for certain benefits.  Suppose also they could spread them out or condense them as long as institutional needs are meet.

So one person teaches two courses (3 units each) for four straight terms and they have 24 units.  Another does so for six terms and they have 36 units. Someone else does one course (3 credits) for nine terms and has 27 units.

In return for this flexibility, which allows ample time for travel and study, faculty has a new, and higher, set of expectations about community involvement.  They take students into these contexts, helping to fulfill the new, broader mission.  Poetry students do readings.  Science students monitor water quality.  Literature students develop a curriculum for an at-risk high school.  Accounting students help seniors with their taxes.

Eliminate textbooks
Faculty in this model would be more engagement in the material they teach, with fresher and more pertinent perspectives.  Helping solve real problems will require preparation and research that is responsive and applied.

New technologies allow the creation and updating of learning materials on the fly, of course, but they also allow immediate connections with diverse scholars and practitioners.  Students can interact with people who have direct knowledge of the problems they are trying to solve.

In such an environment textbooks become a crutch, limiting timely, creative engagement with the material and the community.  Finishing the textbook becomes the real objective, regardless of what the syllabus may say.

Textbooks can thwart innovation and interaction. They lack the currency of trade books and the immediacy of conversation.   They create distance between students and primary sources.

While many teachers engage students in conversations about the textbook, they do so at the expense of real engagement with real problems or real conversations with real people.  And while good students may be able to apply the material in the abstract, all student need to experience success or failure in concrete ways.

At least some lead faculty may need to be compensated for creating or assembling learning materials, but all faculty members should be expected to be fresh, prepared and engaged.  And while we expect that even now, the current structure of three to five preparations encourages shortcuts and the reliance on textbooks enables sloth.

By limiting teaching assignments to two in a five-week term, however, faculty has more time to focus on keeping their material relevant and to move themselves and their student out of the classroom.

Raise standards
As expectations for faculty increase in this way, the expectation for students would also increase.  It is one thing to learn and even analyze the material.  It is quite a different thing to apply it to real problems.

Once we connect students to the welfare of an actual child, the expectations of an actual audience, the livelihood of an actual business, the needs of an actual congregation or the health of an actual neighborhood, then we must expect more from them.

And they will expect more from themselves.  We change the conversation.

What did I do wrong is not about earning points but about solving problems. What do I have to do to get a B becomes what do I have to do to make a difference.

The answer is step up.  Start sooner and work harder.  Think carefully and act intentionally, because it matters. Get over yourself, which is the truest measure of a liberally educated man or woman.

Assessment changes in such a world.  New communities of practice emerge.  Innovation roots itself in new realities and transformation is grounded in new insights. Bright, earnest people will want to teach at, attend and give to such schools.

Flatten management
None of this would be easy.   But with current management structures most of it is impossible.   Too many levels of approval are necessary and too many committees are involved.   And way too many bosses.

Within budgetary constraints, departments and contracted faculty need to respond quickly to community needs and opportunities.  Approval processes should be streamlined and decision making pushed down to the lowest level possible.

The privatization of services would reduce the number of things administrators have to manage, freeing them to coordinate and evaluate an explosion of service focused educational innovation.  Clearly the oversight of every student need distracts them from the essential enterprise of learning and doing.

Every dean, and every vice-president, would have to focus on creating partnerships and engaging constituents in a more vital mission.  But the execution of that mission would have to be much closer to the ground, by people who have the freedom to act and the expectation of support.

Simpler hierarchies with visionary leadership are not easy to create.  Training, technology and off campus travel are expensive.  No one knows if this would actually work. But we do know that what we are doing now is also expensive and almost extinct.

No utopia is envisioned here. Reinventing the liberal arts college will require more work than we do now and result in different problems than we have now.

But just adding a new program is not bold, even if it is online.

Bold is rethinking the whole thing.

The Root Cause of Market Failure In Higher Education

RealClearMarkets – The Root Cause of Market Failure In Higher Education.

College participation rates will have to go back down to historical norms. Slots will have to be reserved for students that can actually profit from them, restoring graduation rates to where they were before colleges were flooded with people who don’t belong there, including illiterate freeloaders. Selection will have to be based on merit, not social engineering. Loans will have to be restricted to majors that confer capacity to pay the loans back. Dead-end programs used to train the next generation of professors – whose only skill will be to teach more such dead-end programs – will have to be limited, funded not by taxpayers but by ideological philanthropists with a hankering for fineries like literary criticism and gender studies.

This may seem like common sense to most people, but it strikes horror into the hearts of the liberal professoriate. After years of feathering their nests so they can produce students trained only to bite the hand that feeds them, perhaps it’s time to serve up a few helpings of horror. We can no longer afford to take the snobbery of academics seriously. Taxpayers just don’t have the money to keep them or their young acolytes on the dole.

STUDENT DEBT: America’s Next Bubble?

Figures provided by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York show that since 1999, outstanding student loan debt has grown by more than 511 percent. Over that same period, all other household debt in America – the sum total of all credit card bills, all auto loans, even all mortgage debt assumed during the great housing boom and bust that triggered the financial crisis – grew by about 100 percent.

Rising by $100 billion a year, outstanding student loan debt now stands at about $930 billion, and is expected to reach $1 trillion by year’s end.

“Student loan debt has become a macroeconomic factor; it affects the economy,” said Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of the financial aid website “Students who graduate with excessive debt are more likely to delay buying a car, buying a house, getting married, having children, saving for their retirement….They’re spending less because they first have to tackle their student loan debt.”

via STUDENT DEBT: America’s Next Bubble? |

A Trojan Horse in “Higher” Education | Front Porch Republic

The life and health of the world—that one value of which Wendell Berry wrote long ago in “Discipline and Hope”—have not improved since the advent of standardized testing or the opening of universities to everyone with a pulse. And still every year hordes of credulous young people are told to part with good money, most of it borrowed, that for many of them could be better spent in other endeavors. In most cases the result of all that spending is not an educated person; it is a graduated person

via A Trojan Horse in “Higher” Education | Front Porch Republic.


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