Heard from Susan Campbell, Department Chairs, Academic Coordinators
Drafted by Renée Brown and Jason Mittell
In surveying department chairs and coordinators, as well as casual discussions with many faculty, frustrations with our current web design and system run deep. Key problems mentioned include lack of design flexibility, difficulty in updating, poor navigation and organization, inability to easily embed images and media, and the static nature of information and site design. There was widespread enthusiasm for the makeover and willingness to participate in the process. Given that every academic department has different needs and specific uses, it is difficult to assess the relative importance of various features, but this document attempts to synthesize key needs and requirements as expressed across the curriculum.
Needs for Departmental Sites
We have identified a number of types of information that departments feel are important to their sites, broken into four major areas:
- Department Overview: brief mission statement, central contact info, feed of news/events, and visual vibrancy for splash page
- People: lists of faculty & staff with links to detailed profile pages, office hours & contact info, updates of publications/grants/achievements, alumni & student profiles
- Curriculum: major requirements (including potential concentrations & sample sequences for more complex programs like ENVS and AMST), independent project guidelines, downloadable forms (both departmental and from the registrar), courses/schedule, links to class websites
- Resources: departmental library guide, career info, study abroad recommendations, departmental newsletter, facilities & equipment overviews/policies, external links (research sites, grad programs, opportunities for community outreach, etc.), guide to “what can be done with a XXX major?”, feeds from external blogs, video/images of specialized facilities
Many departments indicate that they currently underuse their websites, with minimal information that is rarely updated. There was consensus that this makeover process could help show people some new ways to use the web effectively. During sessions where other websites were demoed, there were frequent “a-has” upon seeing capabilities that other schools are using, so we feel there will be enthusiasm for innovation. Some specific innovations that seemed particularly popular include dynamically generating course listings (a “modular catalog”), faculty pages feeding & linking to schedules and courses, feeds of sponsored & relevant events, and integrated links to Banner information.
We discussed the option of choosing among a group of templates, customized for both visual variety and optimized for different needs (such as more graphics/media, more text-based, etc.) – most coordinators and faculty seem to embrace this option. Coordinators wanted more flexibility with fonts and sizing of text. There was a clear desire for more graphic and media capabilities, especially within the Arts.
Some faculty embraced the idea of student and/or alumni work being profiled and displayed on the site, especially in the Arts. Potential links with the library’s thesis archive is an option worth considering.
Some departments currently publish newsletters, and many would consider publishing them to the web instead of, or in addition to, paper and mailing. Ongoing updated departmental blogs were of interest to a few departments as well.
Needs for Individual Faculty
Faculty pages were noted for being rarely updated, dry, and lacking variability or personality. Faculty were interested in being able to edit their own profile, recognizing that some faculty would be less likely to do so (although no less likely than emailing the updates to coordinators, which could still be an option). Arts faculty specifically want the ability to host images and media of their creative work.
An idea discussed with coordinators was to have a central database for faculty publications/achievements – either faculty or coordinators would enter the information about a new publication (including link to online version or Midd subscription through JSTOR, etc.), which would then feed to the faculty’s homepage, their department(s) page, a college-wide faculty achievement page (which would be useful for library acquisitions as well as PR), and into the annual report for faculty given to the Provost. Coordinators thought this would be a better option than updating individual faculty pages, and expected between 1/3 and 1/2 faculty would enter their own info, growing over time with increased technological fluency.
The idea of automatically feeding a faculty’s scheduled teaching with links to courses to their profile page (as on Amherst) was quite popular. It’s uncertain how many faculty would maintain separate pages through Segue or the community.middlebury.edu server if the core website were more flexible – one option would be to embed separately designed pages into the core departmental site.
The current CMS restricts editing to coordinators, although some faculty have edited on the platform. A number of chairs expressed interest in editing their pages, having other faculty edit, or having student workers edit. Coordinators generally want to be involved in the editing process, both to oversee consistency and maintain their web skills, but recognize that the current workflow leads to infrequent updates and little input from faculty.
An easy-to-use editing and authoring system, especially for incorporating media and images, was seen as essential, with the ability to increase participation of faculty in the editing process. One issue expressed by some faculty was that the new system not be tied to a specific browser or platform (e.g. must be usable on Mac/PC and Firefox/IE).
Coordinators were concerned that expanded content on the department site would lead to increased workload. Sharing editing responsibilities would help. Additionally, the ability of sites to be dynamically assembled, rather than static updates, would be useful – for instance, feeding events, faculty publications, career links, library research tools, and alumni news from other offices and systems would make the site update regularly without requiring manual changes.
In imagining the workflow model that would work best for academic departments, coordinators endorsed a system where many users could be given editing ability for the department page (including faculty and student workers), but that all edits must be approved by the coordinator before publishing (via a notification system). This should increase updates from faculty on the content they know best, and allow delegation and distribution of work more effectively, without sacrificing consistency and appropriate form & use of media. Some thought it would be helpful to be able to turn the approval requirement on and off, allowing the possibility of all authorized editors to publish directly.
The idea of a student/alumni section of the site that could be updated (with approval) by students and alumni themselves was mentioned as a way to encourage participation. Another option is a simple webform for alums to send in info to feed into the site, perhaps at the college-wide level with tags to majors and field of employment.
Other Desired Features
- Many coordinators were enthusiastic about being able to easily customize their own user profiles to make their web use more efficient – after a clear explanation, all coordinators present at the meeting said they’d definitely use this feature.
- One consistent theme with coordinators and faculty was that as much Banner information as possible should be accessible from the website directly without using BannerWeb. Course rosters (linked from course pages, as on Amherst), student schedules, faculty schedules, lists of majors, and the like should be accessed via links rather than BannerWeb login.
- More sophisticated use of feeds and targeted info via the web was endorsed, especially as an alternative to email-driven communication.
- One idea would be to have lists of new library acquisitions in a certain discipline feed into the departmental site.
- Better management of events and calendar info was mentioned, both in terms of flexible feeds by tag, department, location, medium (lecture, performance, film), and the ability to click “Add to my Calendar” to export to Outlook or other systems.
- Some language departments mentioned the need for varying language character sets (such as Cyrillic and Greek).
- Some arts departments want the ability for students to create their own portfolios of their work, as Teacher Ed currently does. This would ideally be embedded directly into the core department site, not externally hosted on Segue.
- A few faculty expressed interest in having the ability for social networking, and a couple said they have used Facebook pages to coordinate with current majors and alums.
- A few mentioned the use of wikis, but only for specific purposes (for instance, a wiki for documentation of FMMC equipment).
- Some suggested a “majors-only” area, although there was not a clear sense of what information and material should have restricted access.
- One coordinator suggested that departments could have a list of current majors on the site, potentially with links to student pages/profiles.
- One coordinator suggested the possibility of online sign-up for scheduling of meetings and appointments. Another suggested the use of an online order form for equipment requests (currently used on CHEM site), which might also be expanded to request access to facilities (like MUSIC practice rooms), reserve specialized equipment (like FMMC cameras).
- A few faculty expressed interest in having the departmental website offer the possibility for discussion and community involvement, not just a one-way flow of information. Options include blog-like updates with comments, an open “wall” to make announcements/promotions, and a department wiki open to Midd users as a workspace for engaging with the department.