This post is 2.5 years in the making. By far our longest project, the College of Education (COE), has completely revamped their Web presence: the entire architecture, almost every word and a complete visual refresh. I wanted to give you guys a little insight into what we did, why we did it and what we learned.
Project Initiation – January 2008
The College of Education site we were presented with was designed and implemented over five years ago. The old site was all on one server but each area had direct access to control their content and design. It started out nice and structured but over time with new programs, new staff and no strategy, it got messy fast. In addition, we surveyed students about what they liked and didn’t like about the site. By far the largest complaint was the lack of information provided for each program. The thing students used the most was a large list of forms. They knew they were one click away from finding any form they would need to fill out.
Diving into the needs of the site we thought we had a good idea at first and took a stab at doing it like we do all the other schools/colleges. What we learned really quickly is the College of Education is far different than the rest. The issue came from the introduction of divisions. All programs are in divisions and the degrees are in programs, not division. Their old architecture had a large emphasis on the divisions although when we talked to students in the program only one of ten could name the division they were in. So we decided to de-emphasize the division in the new navigation. It was a hard sell to administration but in the end it was the right decision. Students don’t care about the division, they care about their program and their degree.
The old program listing page was hand-written html and nested in this huge table. This page went out of date quickly as programs were added and removed. Not to mention, most of the programs didn’t link to their information pages.
The old website did in fact have a list of programs and some had a huge amount of information about the requirements, outcomes and related information. But others simply had the words, “Please contact xxx for more information.” We were not impressed by these programs and wanted to change it. We made a requirement for each and every program that they must have a minimum of this information:
- Admission Requirements
- Plan of Work
- Student Teaching/Practicum/Internship
- Degree Outcomes
This is the base information students need to make an educated decision about the program. If they are deciding between two or more programs they need to do it apples to apples. This information was the most difficult to gather for the college. It really made them dig for information that before only one person had or was not documented publicly. With more than 150 degree programs this was by far the piece of the site that held up the launch. It was so crucial to the success of the site we made sure every program had this information before launching. We sacrificed the time line to make sure it was right the first time.
Migrating to a Single Domain
A more technical decision we decided up front was to move the whole college to a single domain and fit everything under one folder system. We wanted to make sure students had one point of entry and we can strategize folders and file names. In addition, it makes the divisions and programs in the college look like one college and not separate. For example, Teacher Education is no longer ted.coe.wayne.edu but coe.wayne.edu/ted/. Because we only control the central domain right now we are working with the previous domain administrator to make the transition as smooth as possible. If you clicked on the links right now you will notice how hokey it is.
In addition to the domain transition we also made sure every content contributor looked at every single page that was being transitioned. Although they looked at them, some are exact replicas. We held half a dozen training sessions on the CMS and how to write and structure content for the Web. Since we didn’t touch every page, as you go through the site you will notice a few inconsistencies. We are now finding these cases and working with each area to bring the content in line with the rest of the college. In the end we actually increased the number of pages on the site from 1,200 (that we know of) to about 1,800 pages. This is mainly because we now require specific information for each of their degree programs.
In the past each faculty member was left to come up with and implement their own Web presence. Some were great at it while others were completely missing. We wanted to change all of this and we know graduate students look for faculty as a first resource before deciding on an institution. In addition to their name they look for their current research and publications. On the old site this information was hit or miss.
Each faculty member now has control of their own profile. We worked with the College of Education to come up with a set of fields each faculty member should promote about themselves. Combined with the faculty profile tool within our CMS, it allows faculty to fill in as much or little as they want to be public and it also gives the college the ability to edit and administer profiles of faculty who don’t want to manage their own profiles. Above is a comparison between the old format the majority of faculty used compared to the new format on the right.
A few valuable lessons we learned in the past two plus years is the importance of keeping the client engaged, making sure that we follow up with tasks and timelines to get progress reports and set milestones up front. This holds true with every project but working with a college that has content controlled almost completely by faculty is tough. Faculty have a goal of teaching and doing research, the Web is not in their daily mindset. We now sit down with all content contributors to learn and understand their ability, resources and engagement as they relate to the Web and make sure they have the appropriate time allocated to work on Web content.
Overall the site launched without a hitch. We are still cleaning up a few redirects we missed but they are minor and easy to resolve. Initial student reaction has been good. Since it is between semesters we don’t have a huge sample to pull from but we expect to follow up in the next few weeks to get opinions and reactions.
View the new College of Education website at: http://coe.wayne.edu/
I just wanted to add one addition. We get questions often about the use of templates and how we configure them in our CMS. Above is a shot of the whiteboard while we were figuring out the strategy for each area within the College of Education website. As you can see the whole site is done with five main templates. There are a few variations within the child page content area to pull in profiles and program lists. But essentially we can create all variations from these five templates.