Useful and dynamic departmental websites? Anyone? Bueller?

As you begin your week, I was hoping that I might impose upon you for some suggestions or examples from your neck of the woods.

Working with my talented and forward-thinking university Web Services colleague, Damond Nollan, I have the opportunity to craft from scratch a website for an academic department.

I've found many examples of good, individual laboratory websites and The Scientist even ran a contest two years ago for such sites.

However, I've not seen much attention on what makes a good academic department website, what people want to see in a departmental website, or good examples of such.

I like to see current information on what is going on in the department, general news, seminar programs, recent accomplishments, outreach activities, student and postdoc pages. But I'd also like to know of any sites that might have a chair's blog, a newsfeed of topical stories in the field, links to social media, engagement of alumni and alumni accomplishments, and other attributes that don't allow cobwebs to accumulate.

In fact, Jeffrey McClurken at The Chronicle's ProfHacker blog recently spoke of creating an alternative departmental website that employs many of the dynamic aspects of the blog.

(P.S. You really should be reading ProfHacker if you aren't - what a fantastic resource written by some of the best-wired profs around the US)

Of course, McClurken notes that some institutions are restrictive on design, graphics, and hosting for any site not under the purview of the university IT department. But his example of the site for the Department of History and American Studies at Mary Washington University is a good example of a site that is regularly updated and has the capacity for easy-updating by people who don't know how to write code.

So, if you care to blow off a few minutes of your Monday, do you have any ideas on

1) what you look for on a departmental web

2) any good examples thereof

3) any caveats or cautions I have not mentioned?

Keep in mind that this is not limited to the biomedical sciences - I'm looking for common threads to department websites that are most useful for faculty, students, alumni, and staff, as well as prospective students, postdocs, faculty, and staff.

More like this

White papers from the WEPAN 2006 National Conference are now available on the web here. Papers available are: But, Engineering IS Cool - Effective Messaging for Pre-college Students Dump the Slump: Retaining Engineering Women into the 3rd Year Facilitating Success for Women in STEM through Living…
Sooooo beautiful. You must read what Pat has to say about APS's CSWP compiling a list of female-friendly physics departments. And follow the links therein. Here's how my various alma maters responded to this survey question: Please describe why someone applying to graduate school who is…
I am housed in a biology department. Wow, that came out a lot more impersonal than I intended. Let me try that again: My advisor's appointment is to the Biology Department at my university (not much Being in a biology department means the faculty interests are very diverse (compared…
Next weekend at ScienceOnline2010, I'll be co-moderating a session on encouraging scientists and science trainees from underrepresented groups to participate in social media. I will be working with Damond Nollan, a social media specialist and Web Services Manager at North Carolina Central…

Publication lists, with direct links to the pdf files. Per-project web pages describing the project, the time span and links to all participants and publications (with the pdf, don't forget). Anything else is garnish, basically.

Must haves:

1. Easy-to-navigate home page. Can you immediately find the faculty list, the research list, the undergrad/grad degree descriptions, etc?

2. Individual faculty profiles. Should include education, publications, research interests, etc.

3. News page. Must be updated regularly.

4. Link to info about students (both grad and undergrad). News, awards, achievements, outreach, pictures, whatever. It shows that the dept values their students.

Not good things:

1. Animation. If I want to see flashing neon signs and cartoons, I'll watch tv.

2. Broken links. Really pisses me off.

3. Nothing updated. Why bother to have a website if it hasn't been updated since 2004?

Professor in Training makes some good points. My institute's website is pretty bad - too slow, and difficult to find anything (so I'm not going to link to it). The back-end is also awful - it's an ugly CMS that insists on you using Explorer.

phew, now I've got that off my chest, the best method I've seen for making websites easy to update is to set it up as a wiki. It's pretty easy to update, with minimal coding skills. The layout can be set out as a template, so we don't have to worry about the look. The University of Helsinki set this up nicely: the research page at my old department are all wikis.

Try to get a system that allows 3 important things:

1. content experts can update pages themselves without learning Dreamweaver or some such.

2. Pages can have expiration dates if they are at all time-sensitive.

3. The system will email the content experts for individual pages at pre-determined intervals to check for currency.

And if possible, get a system that fully separates content from presentation, so design changes can be ongoing as needed.

what PiT said.

and you cannot emphasize enough that what is absolutely critical is keeping the thing updated.

By DrugMonkey (not verified) on 10 Jun 2010 #permalink

Superb! Thank you for all of your suggestions and examples. I think our meeting today with Damond Nollan went great and we reviewed each of your comments to be sure that we could cover the bases, especially ways to keep content current.

In addition to current lab members and staff, I also want to be sure that we capture current positions of lab and department alumni. Since training grants require that one document the track record of degrees conferred, postdocs procured, and faculty slots found, I think this would be another good feature.

Damond and his crew are going to start up a shell for us to begin with and we'll keep y'all posted on our progress, welcoming any comments along the way.

Thanks again!