11 Improvements for Higher Education Drupal Sites

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This post continues our mini-series on web strategies for Higher Education and Drupal. Last time, I reviewed 7 Suggestions for New Drupal Users in Higher Education, so this time I have 11 smaller scale improvements that Drupal users in higher education can deploy to get even more from their sites.

  1. Use themes to enforce uniform content presentation: By spending a little extra time with your theme you can ensure that the presentation of your site is uniform and consistent across all pages, and that the design is completely separate from the content. With these controls in place, your site will look better and content will be easier to edit for your users.

  2. Use Views to construct queues: If you use the Workflow Module to track the process of content before publication, you can use the Views module to construct lists of posts for your editors and reviewers. We often think of views for constructing lists of content for the forward-facing parts of a web-site, but it's also useful for the internal parts of your site.

  3. Develop administration and publishing policies: It's much easier to encourage your users to contribute to the project of maintaining your website if you develop a clear set of organized guidelines. Also, because big Drupal sites can be so customized, keeping a written collection of how things should work will save future headache.

  4. Provide Feedback tools to your Users: Because University websites serve such a central role in disseminating important information, users often have strong feelings about the design, user interface and presentation of information on these websites. Make it easy for your users to provide feedback with contact forms and then pay attention to what they say.

  5. Let users personalize profiles: Some basic social networking-like functionality can help users connect on your site, and provide users with more associative ways to connect with each other. Drupal provides user profiles, so this is a matter of exposing profiles, adding functionality, and allowing users to do the rest.

  6. Use SMS to keep users current with your site: We think of Drupal as a system for powering websites but Drupal's power and capability extends beyond the web. You can use Drupal's SMS integration to keep users up to date with changes on the site or pending administrative requests.

  7. Integrate with Facebook and Twitter: It's possible to integrate Drupal sites with external social networking tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and Ning. If your campus uses any of these tools, you might benefit from integrating your Drupal site with these other websites.

  8. Use rich text editors to make editing even easier: Drupal supports editors like FCKeditor and TinyMCE, which make the process of editing content for non-technical users much more simple.

  9. Use Panels for complex layouts: The Panels Module in Drupal allows you to set up and manage complex layouts without a lot of fuss, or highly specialized background. If you have pages that need to pull information from a diverse collection of sub-sites, Panels might be just the thing you need.

  10. Improve and standardize navigation: Large and complex websites need coherent systems to ensure that all of the contort is accessible and usable. The more regularized your navigation tools are, the easier your users will be able to find what they're looking for and the better they'll feel about the site.

  11. Delegate as much website management work as possible: With access control schemes, workflow queues, and coherent administrative policies in place, web developers can delegate much of the administrative responsibility to other users, and spend their time developing new features and functionality for the website.