June’s Higher Ed Live Special Edition broadcast, “The Higher Education Directory,” revealed the challenges that colleges and universities face when it comes to their website directories. The show featured Dan Chase, who recently retired from The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC), and our very own Vinit Varghese, Implementation Manager at OmniUpdate, speaking with host Ashley Budd from Cornell University. The recorded version is now available in the Higher Ed Live archives, but to save you some time, read on for a quick rundown.
The gist of it…
Most of the time a higher education institution’s online directory lacks information or is out of date. So, how do you provide more information and keep consistency across your campus? Having the right technology in place can solve this problem and allow users and visitors a better web experience. During this episode, Dan and Vinit explained the different ways you can create directories containing more information that is easily discovered through search.
According to Vinit, the colleges and universities that have asked OmniUpdate to build directories for them are facing two issues: design control and technical know-how. A lot of the time an institution’s policies limit them on what information can be displayed. Plus, it’s hard to find formats, templates, fonts, and so forth that work across an institution and take into consideration branding. A lot of institutions also use information systems such as Ellucian’s Banner and PeopleSoft and they don’t know how to easily pull that useful information into directories. Vinit and his team implement custom solutions for these problems using MultiEdit™, a form-based editor in the OU Campus web content management system. There are two development approaches they combine with MultiEdit: all the data for the directory can be pulled from an information system or it can allow for a hybrid of user editing and information pull. The later approach is the most common choice.
UTC’s Faculty Directory
Dan is able to reminisce about the days in which UTC’s faculty directory was in paper form. Much like course catalogs, printing a faculty directory is a waste in time and effort, but bringing it online was a bit of a task. UTC’s faculty information is spread across multiple systems maintained by multiple departments. Not to mention, many of their faculty members serve multiple roles on campus. So they built an architecture using MultiEdit that would reflect this by giving each member an editable profile. Profiles are maintained by a dedicated web editor within a department or unit. It is up to the editor to collect the necessary information and fill the specified fields. This is then transformed into the structured directories you see. UTC also recently made improvements to its search capabilities, adding a dropdown that gives users the ability to search the whole website or just for faculty and staff members. Since UTC’s people are easier to search for, more and more of them have opted to provide their web editor with profile information and a picture. Dan says it’s all about making it easy to create good content while still providing the architecture for a search engine to find it.
A Better Directory
OmniUpdate has worked with many institutions like UTC who have gone above and beyond to provide a better directory for their website visitors. Some have even integrated directory information into their course catalogs by displaying which faculty members are teaching which courses. Some other examples include Hope College (about to launch their new site) and Clarion University of Pennsylvania. Hope created directories for its faculty and staff as well as its buildings and offices. Clarion built a directory just for its scholarship programs that is easily filtered by audience (English major, graduate student, etc.). The intent is to make it easier for prospective and current students to find and apply for available scholarships; an issue they discovered that students and parents were struggling with. This chunking of information came about as they realized what website visitors were looking for and needed help finding. So, this begs the question: Is your content strategy driven by search? Have you checked out your search queries lately?
Check out the broadcast on Higher Ed Live to learn more about UTC’s faculty directory and more about higher education directories that OmniUpdate has helped create. If you’d like to brainstorm further on directory ideas, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And don’t forget to explore the archives for past episodes with other fabulous OmniUpdate customers!