University Web Developers

University Web Developers

Course Catalogs, print, online, and content management

I'm interested in strategies that schools are using to merge and manage catalogs, specifically where getting rid of a print edition isn't really an option. We have a rather brutal workflow in place that consists of managing two web versions (live and future), and two sets of Word documents (100s of them, live and future) that are merged and sent in to be sucked into InDesign for print.

We have a good CMS, and I'm trying to come up with a decent, evolving way to manage the catalog more effectively. We can't just cut all current processes off and start over, and while I know I could get the CMS to output XML that could go straight into InDesign, we simply don't have time or resources to do that right now.

So, what are you doing? What have you found effective to reduce the workload on your Registrar, yet keep people happy. For what it's worth, we need to have a print version, an online version that will update annually (print is every 2 years), and we'll archive older versions somehow.

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Up until this year our process is quite similar to yours. The change we made this year was to put all those Word documents into the CMS (Cascade) broken down into one page per section and one page per course. The catalogue website then uses PHP to stitch those pieces into the pages we need for the site:
http://catalogue.vassar.edu

The department processes will keep working with Word documents, but this time when the copy is updated and approved the Registrar (and possibly a select few others) will enter the updates into the CMS. We'll take this year's catalogue and copy it for next year's edition. Then the Registrar can edit the current and next year's catalogue as needed.

To get it to print, we'll set a date for when all the edits need to be completed by, then export the content from the CMS as RTF documents, then send those to the typesetter to massage into the print file (InDesign).

The CMS is now the source of the information, but there's still a huge process that takes place by the departments outside the CMS. Some day we'll get things happy enough to connect all the courses to the scheduling information in Banner, but we're taking one baby step at a time.
One other thing -- by breaking down the content into smaller pieces we can use the content in other websites. Each department and program site can have the major requirements and courses listed -- we're just including the content from the catalogue. Sites stay as current as the catalogue.
We're discussing something similar here, and came to an identical workflow.

Did you consider the possibility of allowing the departments to edit directly in Cascade? We looked at it, and decided they were better off in Word docs too. (training + turnover seemed like too much). Was that the same conclusion you came to? Or was it fueled by something different?
I had someone trained to maintain the online catalog w/Cascade Server, but we're looking seriously at having her continue to maintain it via Word, then distill the sections to pdf, where they will be posted on the web and I will maintain the links via Cascade. In just a year of implementation for Cascade, some users have been slow/reluctant to use the cms, and few have become proficient.
Hi Ed!

Ouch. That stinks. If you could go back and start over, are there things you'd have done differently? Why do you think folks are reluctant to keep their portions up to date? Is it frustration with Cascade, or is it an insistence on doing it the old way?
We had a similar problem - 100's of independent word files, often multiple copies of the same course in different files, and a complex workflow.

We re-engineered this over the winter and for the most part have removed MS Word from the equation. A single record for each course is created in our cms that captures all the info (title, description, distribution/s, prerequisites, instructor, semester offered, etc - a host of metadata) and a workflow module helps move the courses through the various phases of the workflow. The resulting data all lives in tables which we use on our academic dept course listings, faculty pages, student course scheduler, for output for the printed catalog (we export to xml), for import into our Registrar's system, and a host of other places where we show course info.

At first there was a lot of negative pushback but at this point especially on the administrative side of things folks really love the system - it's removed a ton of busywork, reduced the complexity of gathering the curricular information, made it easier for the committees who oversee all this to keep their fingers on the state of the curriculum (no more giant folders full of paper), reduced workload in the Registrar's office, made reporting and statistics generation much easier, and removed a lot of the errors in course data that were impossible to reduce in the old system.

When I started on this project, it sounds like maybe I was in a similar position where you find yourself - I was told I could not radically change anything, I just had to help clean things up so there were fewer errors and less of a workload. I managed to demonstrate that to do that, we HAD to tackle some of the workflow and make demands for change on some of the groups involved. It was a bit of a fight but it's worked out well in the end.
We too are feeling the crunch of allocating funds where they are needed most. We're printing less this year and making more use of our web site. We're encouraging students to download the catalog and view it on their computers as opposed to getting a print version and using it for a door stop.

Larry Stroud
webmaster
North Arkansas College

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