A website for every course and faculty member, consistent listing of curricular information across all departments, consistent terminology and navigation across all departments. Someone who doesn’t work in higher education would think these things are a given and would be surprised to discover they’re somewhat controversial in higher education. And yet they are. Despite this, after about 7 months of work we’ve managed to roll out the above and more as the second phase of the refashioning of my employer’s website.
This is the third school I’ve tried to do this for, the second I’ve succeeded at to some degree, and, depending on how you count, the 4th-6th time I’ve done it. It’s gone smoother this time than it has in the past, partly due to my years of experience, partly because I have more authority in my current position than I’ve had in the past and am able to push through some areas of resistance, and partly because I have a better collection of tools political, technical and human resource-wise than I’ve had in the past.
You can check out the top level of (most of) the new stuff in the areas of study section of the college’s site. There’s a lot more going on than what I mentioned above, but most of it’s locked away behind authentication systems. We’re working to displace the use of the college’s Learning Management System (LMS, we happen to use Blackboard) for a number of reasons, so there are a lot of features bundled into what we’ve done that are designed to assist instructors – things like integration of course materials from the library and the college’s streaming video system, the ability of faculty to easily create web content and post reserved readings, syllabi, course schedules and similar materials on their own, and support for most of the kinds of filetypes and applications they work with – from .doc to podcast to blogs, we’ve tried to support a ton of functionality. All of this is tucked into a framework of easily manageable access permissions, so that instructors, departmental coordinators and web assistants, students, librarians, staff, and others can all get at and be additive to the materials they need without impacting the other groups. A student can post a weblog entry that another student can read but not edit whilst the instructor can read em all and edit as they see fit, by way of example.
I gave myself a B-/C+ on the first phase of this project, and I’m giving myself a preliminary B+ this time around. So far the feedbacks been almost all positive, a shocker in the world of higher ed at least from my own experiences, and all that remains is for the en masse return of the faculty in a week. If I survive that the B+ stands.
One important note: I know our design sucks. I’m still working on that. As with the other schools I’ve worked at it’s a thorny political issue and it’s going to take some time to bring everyone along. In my defense we were able to get agreement on some incremental improvements to the college’s look and feel. Compare the new look to this, by way of illustration, but the real change will come by way of the fact that we’ve budgeted for and gotten political agreement on the college undergoing a true and comprehensive redesign process. At a guess it will be over a year before the website displays the fruits of that effort, but the process is starting.
Check it out if you’re interested. Next up are the college’s admission materials coupled with privileges for our applicant students, along with some integration of financial aid materials, lots more administrative departments moved over to the new system, and possibly the library, all likely going live in early April of 2008.