A FinalSite Report and Request

We’ve been working with Finalsite for about a year now, and I think it’s time for a quick report.

In the main, Finalsite has allowed us to greatly increase the value of the main school website. We now have a parent/student portal with fairly comprehensive calendar layers and directories with sophisticated relationships (linking parents to students and students to siblings, etc.). The calendar layers are relatively easy to maintain, as long as we can agree which events go into which layers. The directories are harder work, because getting the directories to be up-datable and fully related involves a log of detail work. Some can be done with relationship and role-changing uploads, and some is purely one-by-one edits to a lot of accounts.

Next year, we hope that a new student information system with automated data exchanges to Finalsite will help, but I doubt all of the challenges we have now will disappear.

Our challenges will also be a bit larger with the upcoming launch of the alumni portal, with a factor of 3 times as many users as the parent/student site, but we don’t plan to have relationships in the directories there yet, so it will be more of a one-to-one upload to maintain type of deal (similar to what we had in our previous web site for all users). In the end, though, we need the relationships in the parent/student site directories.

In terms of parent response, the most praised element of our Finalsite is the email alerts that parents can subscribe to for divisional and grade level pages. Basically, when new stories are posted there, parents can get a full copy (with images and download links) in their inboxes, from a couple of dozen different pages on our site.

In part, this was achieved because we decided to make heavy use of the News Manager module in Finalsite for making divisional and grade level pages. In effect, these are news story postings that go straight out to parents when posted, and they roll down the pages much like a WordPress design. Our landing page for parents and students have “ticker boxes” from the main site pages (divisions, athletics, all school, etc.). that shows the latest stories.

This is all very slick, but it wasn’t how Finalsite was designed to be used. The News Manager module was designed to only be used by the Advancement Office, and as a result we have no ability to moderate news stories or segment off permissions to specific groups to specific areas. Also, there is no delay on the email notifications going out to parents, so typos or informational mistakes go right out the instant the story is posted.

So, we don’t regret going the News Manager route (compared to having teachers build standard pages, or try to use the classroom pages that we have had real difficulties trying to tame), but we strongly request that Finalsite upgrade the News Manager module so that it can have better permissions (content creators limited to specific categories), moderated posting (approval of posts before they go out), and a timer on the email alerts of at least 15 minutes so that edits can be done before hundreds of emails go out for each story.

We also built a Faculty/Staff portal this summer, and it has worked very well so far for protected access to online resources. We really hope to take advantage of Finalsite’s work with single sign on authentication for both student information systems and for additional systems like Module and our new Zimbra online email system. It would be great if our Finalsite could be a true single sign-on portal for multiple web services (for parents, students, and faculty and staff).

Lots of work to do. Some (occasionally serious) bumps so far. Future doesn’t look bad, as long as we roll with the punches.

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