Primarily, I work with colleges and universities to restructure their websites for the best user experience. A visit to a college’s website should provide a prospective student—whether still in high school or an older adult—with a perspective that allows them to feel, “I belong here, I want to go here,” “This place will be good for me.” I am brought in to website redesign projects to restructure, realign, force the marketing and enrollment priorities to the forefront, and to bring a new perspective to an institution that has “done it that way” for years.
I’m amazed to still find that some academic websites are presenting their schools based on their org chart. Within certain parameters, these institutions all have similar organizational structures: there’s the president’s office, the provost’s office, the registrar, residential life, the library, and all the various departments that bring students to the school in the first place.
So why organize your website based on your internal departmental structure and hierarchies when what students are really coming to your institution for are the degree programs, the student experience, and the community? These are the user experiences that make your institution unique and contain your strongest sales pitch—it is your institution’s story, so use them.
Consider the printed view book that is mailed to prospective students. The best ones I’ve seen tell the success stories of the institution and the possible pathways prospective students can take to be successful themselves. They are laden with descriptive photographs of campus, smiling students in new and modern facilities working directly with faculty, participating in theater, spiritual or sporting events, and it is obvious to the reader that the students are enjoying their campus experiences.
Providing an optimal user experience means telling your school’s story: your alumnus’s successes, professors research awards, the campus’ unique qualities. Give the prospective student an easy entry point to apply, to connect with an admissions counselor and ask questions about your school. Make tuition, fees and financial aid easy to find and use a cost calculator. Keep text to a minimum and make it easy to scan lists rather than large blocks of content. Give them lots of photos, and engage them through social media. Present all the programs your school offers in an easily readable list. And build it on a site architecture that can grow to accommodate the changing times.
A college in Boulder, Colorado, Naropa was looking for a cleaner, more deliberate approach to their website. Consulting through Noel-Levitz, Ellen worked with the internal team to develop an information architecture and inventoried content to develop a page structure to support this user experience goal. Through one-on-one user interviews, stakeholder interviews, reviewing analytics and other methods of user research, wireframes and the information architecture were delivered to support the content presentation needs of the institution.
A total website redesign and re-architecture for the University of Texas at Tyler as part of a team through Noel-Levitz. Involvement on my end included user experience consulting to develop a new information architecture as well as extensive wireframing as both a means to inventory content/UI elements. This involved gathering prospective student feedback, interviews and card sorting exercises which resulted in a solid, more easily discernible information architecture and better overall user experience.Read More
I sent a note to the UWEBD list (higher education) recently inquiring about best practices for choosing an external provider for a public website. And got a good response on what to look for when doing so.
Not being a webmaster myself, I wanted to assure all security issues would be considered and all the bases covered.
Submitted by two colleagues* at colleges that have recently either gone through the process themselves, or who are webmasters. I received the following tips from Brady at Texas A&M Qatar.
Mark at Cornish College of the Arts added,
“If the client does any custom software development in-house, developers sometimes like to use software frameworks which might not come standard on a regular hosting package. With a VPS or private server you can deploy whatever you want, but then you might need someone with some server admin experience around to look after it.
As far as security – in my opinion, this is not much of a differentiator among hosts, and it’s really more about staff and user training on the client-side. Assuming your host offers SFTP, SSH, etc, it comes down to password security and good practices. If people are not practicing good password security, handling FERPA protected data appropriately, etc, then it does not matter how secure the host is.
Redundancy – depends how much uptime the client really wants. Even fairly cheap shared host/VPS plans frequently end up around 99.0-99.9% uptime. (99.9% uptime equates to about 30 minutes of total downtime in a month). If the
client wants “4 9′s” of uptime, or more, that’s harder. Reliable per-host uptime reports are hard to come by, in my experience, but if you have a host you’re interested in it’s always worth Googling around a little to see what you can find out.
Anecdotally – I have had very good experiences with Slicehost, and heard generally good things about their parent company Rackspace. I also know a fair number of people using MediaTemple or Dreamhost.”
Thanks to Brady at Texas A&M Qatar and Mark at Cornish College of the Arts.Read More
A team project with the Office of Public Affairs to bring 4+ news publications managed by OPA into one central website, this project was part of the Print to Digital initiative to bring publications to the web and save on printing costs. Included in this WordPress project beyond tweaking code and CSS are embedding social media and using a dynamic footer to bring it all together. Dartmouth Now is the final product of this effort and feedback from both readers and team users of the system has been first rate.
WordPress was used in this effort, starting with a template and modifying both design and functionality.Read More