The truth about most department websites is that they are static and out of date. More importantly, they aren’t a helpful resource for students and faculty. Many universities provide strict branding guidelines that constrain efforts to create dynamic, useful websites — if departments have one at all. If you can convince department heads that a website would be advantageous, there are many great ways to build a highly functional blog or website for free.
The problem with most dot-edu websites is that they try to please too many people, says higher education marketing consultant Matt Klawitter:
University websites try so hard to be everything for everyone. Not wanting to make anyone unhappy (especially internal stakeholders) with a site makes it unfortunately more complicated. Many times, it seems that the only strategy is NBNW — new boss, new website. And, the temptation to out-design and out-build your old (or current) site leads to muddied strategy guided by an uninformed belief that users want more, and more, and more piles of content, choices, and technology tricks. As a result, I have observed a resurgence of quick links, huge sliding feature blocks, link farms, and a new trend of super-scrolling webpages. Ironically, these methods are intended by web teams to help the user get what they want quickly and with minor interaction, but in reality they may lead to increased user dissatisfaction.
Goals to strive for are simplicity, usability and ease of use on both the back end and the front end. If you are unable to implement one of the solutions below, make it clear to your webmaster that you need a way to manage your department website without any hassles. Here are a few ways to create and make the most of a department website:
Wordpress is no longer just a blogging platform. The open-source content management system (CMS) allows users to create pages, posts and sidebars and offers myriad free plug-ins that add functionality to sites. The company offers two compelling options, and both are free.
Wordpress.com sites are hosted by Wordpress, come with a selection of free themes and only a few limitations. Users can pay for additional features, such as access to a domain and the site’s CSS. Wordpress.org sites are self-hosted and can be installed on a school’s existing servers with a subdomain. These sites can take advantage of the plug-ins that make Wordpress one of the most popular content platforms in the world.
The University of Wyoming IT Blog is an example of a Wordpress.com site; the University of Washington Bothell Learning Technologies Blog and the Elon Technology Blog are examples of Wordpress sites that are hosted on the schools’ servers using a subdomain.
Blogger is a Google product that is also free to use. Sites are hosted by Google and offer many of the same tools as Wordpress. The latest version of Blogger features mobile themes, a drag-and-drop layout and the ability to add third-party tracking scripts for services such as Google Analytics and the Facebook “Like” button. Jerry Waldron, CIO of The College of New Jersey, created his blog, Campus Technology, with Blogger.
Your school’s CMS may not be as easy or as accessible as Wordpress or Blogger, but your webmaster may feel more comfortable keeping all web properties together. A study by .eduGuru revealed that there is no single CMS that schools gravitate toward, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t create a great department site. Good examples include sites from Boston University and Duke University.
What challenges has your department run into when creating a website?
University of Wyoming, University of Washington Bothell, Elon University and Duke University made EdTech’s list of 50 Must-Read Higher Education Technology Blogs.