The whole setup is relatively simple, although I have to admit it took some time and effort to make is simple. There is a wide variety of different ways in to build an educational site, and a wide variety of different products and services. Not all of these products and services work nicely together and to the trick (as I discovered) was to build a site where all the different components played nicely.
Before I get ahead of myself, let me provide an overall vision of what I wanted so that you can understand the decisions that I made in context.
Firstly, I wanted to experiment with video which meant that I needed some way to edit, host and manage the video. Secondly I needed a way to contact subscribers quickly and easily so that I could send them the next lesson. And, finally I wanted to build a site that was free to the user. As much as anything else this was an opporunity for me to experiment, and I couldn’t gaurantee the end result so I decided my experiments would be free.
The first problem that I tackled were the videos. It’d never made a video before so I had to learn how record both audio and video, and then edit everything together. Recording the video was rather straightforward but audio proved difficult and problematic. I never realised how much ambient noise surrounds us until I tried to make a clean recording. My initial attempts were too quiet with far too much background noise and many people complain. So I re-recorded the audio. The audio that you now hear was recorded while I was deep under a duvet with pillows all around. Pillows work wonderfully to remove ambient noise … who knew, right?
I edited the videos and combine the audio with a fantastic application called ScreenFlow, then exported the video to YouTube. I decided early on that I wanted Scrum101 to be free to the user, and so deciding on Youtube to host the videos was a natural decision.
The next problem was simply solved with a hosted WordPress site. I currently use WPEngine for Scrumology.com my business site, and it was a simple process of setting up another site. I grabbed a free theme from WooThemes and I had a site up within about 2-3 days. I’ve used WordPress for nearly 10 years now and I’m still amazed at what a remarkable platform it is. It’s not perfect and if I were to do it again I would create a simple bootstrap homepage but it allowed me to get started quickly which was what I needed.
The final problem was also simply solved but only after much thrashing. At first I considered creating a membership site (again based on wordpress) using a commercial plugin. The difficulty here is that membership sites require the participant to revisit the site on a regular basis. I saw this as a barrier … and for the site to be useful I felt I needed to remove as many barriers as I possibly could.
What I needed was a way to prompt participants on a regular basis to visit the next lesson in a series of lessons. The only two ways I know how to do this is either email or SMS. Many people (understandably) don’t like giving out their mobile phone number, so I settled for email. This wasn’t a perfect solution either because I hadn’t intended on writing an email thread to go along with the videos but it was what needed to be done.
I hosted the email thread on Aweber which powers my Scrum Addendum email list and has served well over 2000 people. Integrating Aweber into the website was simply a matter of copying and pasting some html … and then I was done.
Putting it all together
So, this is how the whole process works; when you visit the Scrum101 homepage (hosted on WPEngine, and using a free theme from WooThemes) you’ll have an opportunity to signup with your email address. Upon entering your email, Aweber will register you for the mailing list. Every day an email will send you an email introducing a new topic with a link back to a page on Scrum101 containing a video on that topic (hosted on Youtube).
It’s a very simple setup that works reliably but achieving this has been a lot of work with a big learning curve. The release of Scrum101 brings to an end my freely available material. Going forward I’m commit to producing commercial products but I’ll reveal more in my next blog post.