7 Suggestions for New Drupal Users in Higher Education

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We've been talking to a lot of universities about using Drupal to power some of their websites, and we've learned a lot of about the kinds of challenges and specific needs that Universities and Colleges have on the web. As we've been developing specific strategies for these clients, we've also noticed several overarching themes. So rather than keep this to ourselves, we thought we'd share some of these observations in the forum of suggestions for universities that are considering Drupal.

Why only seven suggestions? Seven's a prime number, and it sticks in your mind a bit longer because of that. We hope. Check back tomorrow for 11 (also prime, of course) quick improvements that Drupal users in Higher Education can make to get even more from their websites.

  1. Use Multi-Site Module to manage sites for Departments, Colleges and other institutional units:

    Universities are big organizations that need complex and multi-faceted websites. Websites need to not only represent the many organizational units of a website, but also provide these offices and departments with a means of communicating to students, staff, and the public. With Drupal's multi-site functionally, it's easy to let many divisions within the university maintain smaller independent websites. This way, there's not as much administrative overhead centralized on anyone office or person, and units can have more control and ownership of their own websites.

  2. Use Workflow Module:

    Drupal's workflow module allows you to attach custom states to pieces of content (nodes) within Drupal such as "for review," "pending edits," "publication ready," and so forth. This allows you to use Drupal not just as a published content management tool but a publication process management tool. In combination with access control lists (see below) workflow states can be used to create "inboxes" for specific users (or user groups). Inboxes would, for instance, prevent copy-editors from seeing content until it's ready to be copy-edited and so forth.

  3. Use Access Control Lists to limit editing abilities:

    Access control lists are used to grant custom groupings of privileges to groups of users, rather than on a per-user per-privilege basis. This can be helpful in University settings where, Department Chairs, and Deans may need a different level of access than staff and students. Access control lists allow users to take responsibility for creating, editing, and managing content without needing to involve a centralized web development office.

  4. Use the Taxonomy system effectively:

    Drupal's taxonomy system is top-notch. It allows content to be classified into groupings of limited "category-like" systems, or lose free-form "tagging-like" systems. Or both. And it allows taxonomy systems to be designed and deployed on a per-content basis. With so much flexibility it's sometimes hard to know how to use taxonomies effectively. But a powerful and useful Drupal site depends on well organized content. Determine how people will be accessing information on your site. Talk to the people who will be creating content to figure out how they'll categorize the content. Finally provide a system that has enough structure to keep everything organized, and enough flexibility to adapt to unforeseen kinds of content. Then educate your content editors and creators about how to effectively organize content using your taxonomy system.

  5. Use the Annotations Module to facilitate internal collaboration:

    Most of the time, when we think about the kind of content that Drupal manages, we think about blogs, pamphlets, and other kinds of forward-facing content. But Drupal is also great for managing internal content, like handbooks, procedural guides for university administration, as well as research collaborations between/among faculty and students. With functionality provided by the Annotations module, and the revision control module Drupal can become a powerful tool for internal collaboration and research.

  6. Use LDAP Integration to make Drupal work more effectively with Existing Login Systems:

    Universities often have existing authentication and sign-in systems for email or other internal accounts, and Drupal is able to integrate with these solutions via LDAP. This means the system is more secure and more usable for users who only have to keep track of one account.

  7. Use CiviCRM for collecting data and managing data:

    One of the great things about Drupal is that you automatically get a tightly integrated CRM solution "for free," that is, if you're already using Drupal for content management and the members of your community already have accounts within Drupal, you can add CRM features from CiviCRM without appreciably increasing your workload or overhead. CiviCRM collects and manages contact data the website and from staff, and can be used to distribute email, manage grants and events, and collect contributions.

We'll be back tomorrow with, some more tips for Drupal use in higher education.