What makes a good academic department website?


Boy if I knew the answer to that question I wouldn’t be writing on this blog huh. I feel like it’s the million dollar question of higher ed websites. Academics is one of the largest and most critical components of a college website. The department websites are at the center of that but it’s one of the sections that is hardest to manage at least at my institution.

At Gettysburg we are actually in the process of a major redesign of our academic department pages. With the help of our consultant Todd Bennett from decimal 152 we have been working to give departments

  • more flexibility for content depending on the department
  • Design that gives departments more of a homepage feel as opposed to the bodypage of the Gettysburg site
  • Tie the content about academic programs, requirements, and polices more closely to the catalog.

During the project we have looked at a number of different institutions varying in size and scope as examples for department sites. Until this week I had not come across a college that did academic department sites well. I happened to run across the ES department at UVA – http://www.evsc.virginia.edu

Of course this design and template does not carry throughout every department at UVA but I thought it was a good  model for dept sites. Clean design. Easy navigation across the top that gets their key messages across. Interesting photos and 2 “drivers” for you to meet the faculty. The news even had an RSS feed with it – which was great.

What do you think makes a good academic department website? Any others out there you would suggest looking at?

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5 Responses to What makes a good academic department website?

  1. Good post…I think this is a major component of institutional web design that often gets swept under the rug, so thanks for pulling it back out. However, I’m not so crazy about tying content to the catalog, unless you mean rewriting it. Catalog copy tends to be underwhelming, too dry and too factual. For current students it serves an important purpose, but given that many prospective students will search straight to an academic program page they’re interested in and bypass the rest of the site, this kind of copy could easily drive them away. I like this academic page:
    http://www.rehabmed.emory.edu/

  2. I agree – these sites often get less attention from a central web team even though we know that they are key for recruiting prospective students and faculty. At W&M, we made a campus decision to use a common design and set of page templates for academic department sites.

    We are gradually redesigning departmental sites within Arts & Sciences. The IA for each site includes some common elements but each department chooses special interest features and custom photography for mastheads. Insisting on student-friendly copy and incorporating engaging video are challenges; but we’re taking baby steps. Here are a few sites for consideration:

    Geology – http://www.wm.edu/geology

    Film Studies – http://www.wm.edu/filmstudies

    Theatre, Speech and Dance – http://www.wm.edu/tsd

  3. Paul Redfern says:

    Fritz I liked your example thanks for adding to the collection. Susan thanks for the W & M links too. I thought it was interesting that you had a development pitch to support the programs on each page.

  4. Leda Black says:

    I didn’t spend a lot of time on the UVA-ES site but what struck me right off was the use of pull-down menus which I think are problematic: 1. The visitor is required to hunt around for info, even on the hub pages 2. They are not ADA compliant, at least for now 3. They require a java script plug-in in the visitor’s browser which 5-10% of visitors do not have. My company (Knowledge Town) made a website recently for which we’ve been getting pretty good feedback: http://music.cornell.edu/ We use a bit of java script, but not for the navigation.
    We use WordPress as a CMS so our clients can keep the site up-to-date themselves, not to mention having access to thousands of plug-ins that extend functionality and save on custom application programming costs.

  5. […] What makes a good academic department website? February 20094 comments and 1 Like on WordPress.com, 3 […]

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