CMS for Academic Research and Professional Development
After a recent (and fun) workshop with a group of undergraduate history students here at Concordia, I thought it might be useful to post a piece on the value of content management systems (CMS) for academics. Web-based CMS’s have many useful functions for users and have changed the nature of the Internet from static websites (exclusive to programmers or website administrators) to dynamic databases that are browser-based and allow any user to add or delete content as they wish.
Some potential and very useful applications of content management systems are:
- Digital Libraries
- Academic Portfolios
- Dynamic Web Sites
- Cloud Computing
- Image/Media Library
- Collaborative Communication/Content Tool
- Digital Journalism
The CMS we were looking at for the workshop was WordPress. WordPress is a highly flexible open source blog/CMS that can be a useful tool for allowing users to store and organize digital content into categories or content taxonomies for blogs, academic portfolios, digital libraries or social collaborative environments. It is relatively easy to configure and can be customized through its extensive list of plug-ins and themes. This workshop covered the WordPress basics – participants learned how to navigate the WordPress environment, how to add pages, posts, categories, images and multi-media resources.
Something I was not able to cover in entirety because of time limitations was third-party server hosting. WordPress requires you have access to a third-party server to host your site and a FTP (file transfer protocol) application to upload the WordPress folder/environment to your server. Although there are online services that will host or provide WordPress installations, I recommend most people purchase a third-party server hosting account to host their online sites. The autonomy this allows is very useful for blooming academics, graduate students or postdocs who plan to transition between academic institutions; no matter where you go, you will have access to your research, professional portfolio or collaborative research projects. Nowadays, the catch phrase is “Cloud Computing,” which is really just a fancy way of referring to a third-party hosting service. One important note: WordPress like many open source CMS’s runs on a LINUX server platform. If you do decide to host with a third-party server and wish to run WordPress (or other common CMS/LMS platforms like Drupal, Joomla or Moodle), you should consider purchasing a LINUX based hosting account. You will also have to purchase a domain name that will be linked to your server hosing account.
While the hosting options offered by Concordia University’s IT department are excellent, for students or transitional staff who do not yet know where their academic paths may lead, it is worth considering a third-party hosting service – you have complete control over your content and online environments wherever you are.
Although it takes a bit of time to learn how to set up a third-party server, link a domain name to it, and set up databases for environments such as WordPress, it is well worth it. Considering all the time students and faculty spend developing their specific knowledge domains, setting up a third-party server is really not that hard and ultimately teaches the underpinnings of how the Internet works as a whole. Using a CMS like WordPress (or others such as Drupal or Joomla) provides a useful tool for communicating research ideas, organizing important content/research or creating comprehensive professional portfolios. Many of the undergraduate students I met during this workshop are beginning their academic journey, for some this journey will result in careers – if anything else, WordPress provides a potential portfolio for students reflect on their learning and the body of work they create as they pursue their education.
Web Hosting Service (Wikipedia) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_hosting_service
Web Hosting Companies/Comparison
Common Open Source Content Management Platforms:
http://moodle.org/ (learning/course management system)