Computer file management that clicks
Written by Idea File Staff
Computer file management only needs two ingredients to be successful: simplicity and a willing staff. Consider the system used in 2004-2005 at Shawnee Mission North High School. It was simple so the staff used it, and it aided grading.
Jennifer Moore, editor-in-chief of the Indian last year, designed and implemented the computer filing system/grading system, which simplified the tracking of all spreads and their components, and made grading clear-cut. Cross-checks within the system made sure everyone knew the status of his or her pages. While Moore’s system could be improved, it was put in place early enough, and was organized enough, that when the crunch of a particular deadline occurred in the middle of the year, staff was able to keep the 2005 yearbook on track.
Rebecca Tate, adviser at the Overland Park, Kan., high school, said it was one of the best systems ever devised by any of her students, and they are using it again this school year. Here is how it works.
Pages in place
First, Moore created a ladder using an Excel spread sheet. In it, each page was listed, along with the deadline, whether it was color, and the subject. It sounds like a typical ladder, and while signature divisions are noted, it was built in more linear fashion with the ability to be updated as the pages progressed.
Each of the seven deadlines was coded with a color, with another color used to indicate completed pages. As pages were completed and submitted, the color-coding was changed to reflect the page status, and eventually the entire spreadsheet was one color. Page submission totals and color-coding at the bottom made it easy for Moore and Tate to track pages (see figure 01).
From there, Moore created deadline sheets that included all of the deadlines broken down for each spread: design roughed in, copy done, approved by editor-in-chief and adviser, submitted via PDF, saved in correct folder, plus proof corrections. This information was inserted into the Indian stylebook for the school year so staff members knew when their pages were due (see figure 02). With the sheets, staff members knew when items were due, and how they were to be graded for their work. More on the grading aspect of the deadline sheet is in the next section of this story.
During the previous school year, there had been a computer folder for each section editor, and at times it was difficult to find spreads. Moore said editors were always calling section editors looking for spreads and links.
For the 2004-2005 year, the computer file management system was established with one yearbook folder called Indian, to separate it from the newspaper. Initially, the staff said one folder would not work, but it did.
Inside the Indian folder was the Pages in Progress folder, and inside those were the deadline folders. Inside each deadline folder were the sections due on that deadline, with the folders for the spreads due on that deadline in the section folders. As each spread was completed, and eventually each deadline, a dash was added to the folder name for a quick indication that the work was done. For example, deadline 2 became -deadline 2, and 120-121-girls tennis became -120-121-girls tennis.
As pages were completed, she indicated the status on her Excel ladder, and marked the student’s deadline sheet for grading purposes.
The system worked until crunch time, when a small series of events bogged down the effort to get pages completed in early January. Tate gave birth to her first child two weeks early, and an ice storm closed school for two days the week after the winter break. Deadlines were set for that week and the long-term substitute teacher had not arrived yet. With the work piling up, the system was temporarily ignored. But because of the system, the staff was able to get back on track, Moore said.
Give it an A
The entire filing/grading system started from a similar system Moore used to help grade writers when she was a copy editor her junior year. When she moved up to editor-in-chief for her senior year, she expanded and upgraded the system. At Shawnee Mission North, it is the job of the editor-in-chief to make sure the work gets graded, although the adviser has the final say.
“In the past it’s been, ‘Well, I think you did alright, so I’ll give you 1,800 out of 2,000,” Moore said.
Grades were assigned to each task from the rough design to uploading the PDF. Each spread was worth 200 points, as was each proof.
Moore was thorough with this. The name of the person doing the spread, the deadline, the section, the spread content and the page numbers were all included on the deadline sheet, one for every spread. Then the tasks were listed, along with the respective deadlines, and places for editors or the adviser to initial and date when completed.
In figure 02, this staff member needed to have the rough design for her foreign language spread done by Oct. 12 for a total of 25 possible points. Copy and photos had to be checked by Oct. 14 for 25 points, and the spread in the hands of the editor-in-chief by Oct. 21 for 50 points. Any changes had to be made and returned to the adviser for submission approval by Oct. 27 for 50 points. For the final 50 points, the spread had to be correctly put in the PDF format and submitted to Walsworth.
The same process applied to the proofs, although dates for deadlines were left blank, awaiting their arrival. Completed corrections were 25 points; checked copy and photos were 25 points; reviews by the editor-in-chief and adviser were 50 points each; and putting the spread into the PDF format, submitting it to Walsworth, plus turning it in to the index editor was 50 points.
“Jennifer really kept after the section editors. You have to stick to your guns to make the system work. It has to affect the grades,” Tate said.
While it was Moore’s job to handle the grading system, the grades were Tate’s responsibility. Moore would initial and date the deadlines and give the deadline sheets to Tate. Tate would assign the points, including extra points for work turned in early, come up with the grade to put in her grade book and give the sheets back to the students.
“They still needed a smiley face (on their deadline sheet). If it’s not smiley-faced, it’s not done,” Tate said.
Another key to the system’s success was that it was in place and ready to be used well before the school year started. Moore said she had her theme and this system ready in March, right after she was selected for the position.
While Moore, a freshman engineering major this fall at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), came up with the system, it does not take a genius to use it. Any adviser or editor-in-chief can implement it. It is just a matter of setting it up ahead of time and getting everyone in the habit of using it. Tate said she plans to have her editors use this system every year from now on.
Tate and Moore presented this system in a session at the JEA/NSPA Spring National Convention in Seattle in April. Tate explained the importance of the editor-in-chief in this system using the example of Monk, the USA Network television show about an obsessive-compulsive detective.
“To make this work, you need a very dedicated editor, a ‘Monk,’ someone who will check off the list. If your editor is more of a social butterfly, who kind of bounces around and doesn’t always work effectively, this won’t work,” Tate said.
Tate, who lets her students run the program, said the system worked well for her staff last year, as the end product showed.
“It’s one of the prettiest books I’ve ever seen,” Tate said.