Good Post-Secondary/Education Websites?

8 Jul 2010 - 11:10am
3 years ago
12 replies
1207 reads
annabellyeo
2010

Hi there,

Does anyone know of any examples of good, well-organized university/college websites? 

Thanks in advance,

~Anne

Comments

9 Jul 2010 - 12:39pm
DaveBreeze
2010

I found a well organized ministry / teachings website the other day. It's got a lot of similar content to a small university (i.e. teachers, classes, events).

http://www.ligonier.org

Dave

12 Jul 2010 - 1:50pm
annabellyeo
2010

Great example - thanks so much!  This will be helpful as I am currently architecting a large-scale college website atm.

~Anne

10 Jul 2010 - 7:40am
socialamigo
2010

One site that I have used to illustrate well-managed content strategy, good user experience, and persona development is Carnegie Mellon's website at http://www.cmu.edu/index.shtml - contextual navigation on inner pages, well-mapped call-outs for helpful links and "peak information" pods in the right column, and nice use of color to reflect different paths in these call-outs.

Having said that they still have issues with scan and skim when clicking through to the separate "colleges" and "schools" within the university. Here, each school has their own site architecture, content strategy, even logo-types and brand. This is not good. Even in their degree-program descriptions (see computational biology) they let the "master brand" and the "style guide" slip from their grasp -> from my experience, this probably says more about in-house politics, and legacy pages and content than anything else (no institution is immune)<-. Likewise, sending the undergraduate admissions visitors to a separate portal site with similar branding, but a definite visual change to overall style, page width, and content strategy and organization is puzzling. And damn if those chirping birds aren't annoying.

All-in-all though, Carnegie Mellon stays away from Flash-built content, offers visitors a host of choices in fairly obvious logic-paths, and has done a great job of corralling what must be infinite information streams into one, largely cohesive brand set.

12 Jul 2010 - 1:55pm
annabellyeo
2010

Hi socialamigo,

I couldn't agree more!  Currently I'm working on re-architecting a large-scale College website and while I understand that each department needs to be represented with their own unique character (e.g. think Theatre Arts vs. Computing Science), there still needs to be an over-arching umbrella look/feel/architecture that unifies it all.  I remember when I was a student in university I was puzzled as to why each department needed a portal/marketing site for department news, and why I would then get re-directed to a separate calendar site for course information.  While now I understand that this was due to technical constraints, it still made the experience confusing.

Thanks for the reco ~ I really appreciate it!

~Anne

12 Jul 2010 - 8:34pm
socialamigo
2010

Anne:

Glad to hear CM's site was helpful - here are two other pieces that I am currently trying to wrap my head around - I think both would be helpful for a large-scale college site. 

The first is Open Graph Protocol - this coding protocol would enable your new web pages to become rich objects in a social graph. This would allow you to code meta-data that geo-locates and describes in a specific -consistent- style. The beauty for a large college/university is that each building/department could have its own location and social connection depending on parameters you set up. Find it here: http://opengraphprotocol.org/

The second is Responsive Web Design in which the coding allows the entire website to float and architect itself depending on the device and screen size. In my humble opinion, getting on this now, or at the very least exploring how this works will help you get really far ahead of the technological/web-standard curve. Imagine the site you're building that manages itself spatially on an iPhone, and iPad, a laptop, and a desktop monitor, all with different column-layouts, and nothing lost or "off-screen." Find that here:  http://hicksdesign.co.uk/journal/finally-a-fluid-hicksdesign  -and here:  http://www.alistapart.com/articles/responsive-web-design/

I'm not a code guy, but I know both of these are going to make a difference in how designers and developers do what they do. That's why I'm trying to find out as much as I can and incorporate it into my interactive work. Hope this helps too.

13 Jul 2010 - 11:28am
annabellyeo
2010

Yes this is extremely useful.  I currently work with some tourism clients and we are dabbling into the Open Graph Protocol realm.  As for Responsive Web Design - this will be great for me to pass onto our dev team as we've had to create separate mobile versions of our site, which is a bit of a pain.

Thanks again ~ will keep you posted on how things go!

~Anne

12 Jul 2010 - 9:07pm
kathrynthomas
2010

@anneforkutza, Hi! I'm curious of more details about what type of large-scale college website you're rearchitecting (and I assume, redesigning). I work at an arts college in Seattle, and we are currently in the middle of doing the same to our website. Depending on what your needs are, there are a number of different sites that could be of use. Though it's a smaller school, PNCA [ http://www.pnca.edu/ ] is organized quite simply and is easy to navigate. Their use of language and organizing according to subject is especially leading for the user.

While the aesthetics are quite different than my own tastes, Pratt's [ http://www.pratt.edu/ ] information architecture is effective and to the point. SCAD [ http://www.scad.edu/ ] takes a different approach with Flash and a meta navigation on their home page, which isn't my preference, yet gets the user to where they need. (Of course, these are all art schools).

I'm assuming that you're trying to deal with the dual navigation issues as well? All educational institutions typically have two navigations present (at the very least) on their home page – by audience and by department/topic – which tends to convolute the hierarchy. In our redesign process, we are using the "by topic" navigation as the very clear site hierarchy, then supplying a lower "navigation" that is "by audience" – parents, prospective students, cetera – at the bottom that re-routes back into the main site hierarchy.

I would also check out the University of Alabama's visual identity guide [ http://visualid.ua.edu/ ]. While the site's visuals are very clearly templates, the style guide could be useful for seeing a policy example.

Does any of this help?

13 Jul 2010 - 11:47am
annabellyeo
2010

Hi karthrynthomas,

We are definitely deaing with dual navigation issues - as well as faceted vs. non-faceted navigation.  We performed user-testing with prospect students as well as parents, and we found that very few of them would click on their designated "roles".  They preferred to find admission/program/course/etc. information on their own, and had the underlying curiousity of "Well what information do parents see that students don't see?" and vice-versa.

There are also several issues we are dealing with:

- Having an "official website" as well as a "calendar website" vs. just 1 main website

- The ability to allow departments (such as Theatre Arts) the freedom to express their creativity while still looking like they are part of the main instutition

- "Program view" vs "Course view" - which is the default view?  While in theory students should apply for a program then take all the courses that belong to that program, we found during focus groups/interviews that most students who attend this college go "undeclared" for the first year or so, take a few courses to see what is of interest to them, then they either transfer to university or a college counsellor forces them to apply for a program based on the existing courses they've taken so far.

- To make it even more interesting, there are some subject areas that:

1) Have both programs and courses (e.g. Computer Science has a "Computer Science Associate Degree Program" and CMPT courses)

2) Have programs only (e.g. Engineering has an "Engineering Certificate Program" that is made up of a collection of science and math courses)

3) Have courses only (e.g. Astonomy has a ton of ASTR courses that count as credit towards any science program, but no Astrology Program exists - e.g. a student cannot apply for a "Astronomy Program" and get a Diploma in Astrology

Anyway thanks for the recommends!  I will keep you posted on our progress ~ I hope you do the same :)

~Anne

30 Mar 2011 - 5:34pm
kathrynthomas
2010

Hi, Anne. How'd your project turn out?

19 Jul 2010 - 5:29pm
Laura Rodrian
2009

Anne,

One good general reference is http://www.edustyle.net/. It is a compilation of only post-secondary education websites of varying types. It can be a good source for new ideas and to see how other schools have tackled similar challenges.

- Laura

19 Jul 2010 - 6:20pm
annabellyeo
2010

Wow this is super helpful.  Thanks so much Laura!

~Anne

27 May 2011 - 3:52pm
Raden Sucalit
2009

Hi Anne,

You might also want to check out http://www.jcu.edu.au. The home page has a pretty spot on IA. Although, I must say I'm bit apprehensive for the navigation on its internal pages.

- Raden

On Fri, Jul 9, 2010 at 2:48 AM, anneforkutza <annef@tribalddb.ca> wrote:

Hi there,

Does anyone know of any examples of good, well-organized university/college websites? 

Thanks in advance,

~Anne

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