You need more information on a department, scholar, or program. Where do you go? Most of us would say “online.” That’s why its so disheartening to see a great department have a bad website. The fact is, more and more people in academia – especially students, funders, and administrator – expect a department’s quality to be reflected in their online presence.
But building a website is hard. Even as the “usability revolution” has transformed the most complex technology into idiot-proof pocket gadgets, web development has retained its steep learning curve. From departmental homepages to personal profiles, constructing the right online presence can cost significant time and money.
Two new projects, launching right here at UC Berkeley, may be changing that. Open Academy
and Berkeley Scholars
are making it possible for whole departments and individual scholars to construct an easy, beautiful, and functional online presence for free. This blog post offers information on both projects, helping readers decide whether these options are right for them.
Berkeley Scholars: Easy Websites for Individual Scholars
As discussed in a previous post on how personal academic websites
, the process of setting up a site remains daunting to most scholars outside of computer science. While many tools are available to help build websites, the Berkeley Scholars
project has the distinct advantage of being designed especially UC Berkeley faculty, students, and staff.
Berkeley Scholars is administered by UC Berkeley Information Services and Technology
, powered by OpenScholar software
, and is currently available as a pilot project. This means that while anyone can join, full support will only be offered once the pilot period is complete. A full campus rollout is expected this year, so sign up now to get in on the ground floor.
After signing up, your Berkeley Scholar site comes with form templates to add common scholarly content such as bio/CV, classes, publications, calendar, blog, presentations, image galleries and more. If you can set up a Facebook profile, you have the skills necessary to set up your own site. Using the power of Drupal
, the site features out-of-the-box functionality, with your choice of themes (an appearance template), point-and-click tools for controlling layouts, social media integration (Facebook, Twitter, Youtube) and other customization tools (so your site won’t look like everyone else’s out there.)
All current members of the campus community, including faculty staff, researchers and students are eligible for a Berkeley Scholars site at no cost. Your completed site will be hosted for free and use the scholar.berkeley.edu domain. For instance, my site is available at http://scholar.berkeley.edu/rterman
. If having your own domain name (e.g. www.myname.com
) is of vital importance, you could buy that domain and than have it “point” to your Berkeley Scholar site using traffic redirects.
Berkeley Scholars does not require any coding, but web newbies still may run into some challenges getting their site just right. The distribution provides excellent documentation
but some users may wish to hire someone to help them, which is easy to do with Berkeley Scholars because it is more straightforward to hand off tasks than traditional web development.
Users should also note that the Berkeley Scholars is made especially for Berkeley users. So students and staff who expect to leave to another institution may not find the Berkeley Scholars project the best option.
Open Academy: Free Web Publishing for Department Homepages
Quality departments need quality websites. Students, faculty and staff now expect to find everything they need on their department’s homepage, including information on professors, classes, and events. Now in wide release, Open Academy
is promoted as “an academic departmental website in a box.” Developed by San Francisco-based Chapter Three
(makers of the great Townsend Humanities Lab) and hosted on Pantheon
, Open Academy provides a great solution for campus departments to quickly build and maintain a polished academic website. See here for a mockup
Historically, web publishing platforms have struggled with the tradeoff between usability and flexibility. Open Academy tries to achieve both by guessing at what most departments need while still allowing for lots of customizations.
Like the Berkeley Scholar distribution, Open Academy comes with preconfigured tools for commonly needed content: departmental news, faculty profiles, publications and presentations, events and calendaring, courses, resources and links, video, social media, and degrees and programs.
Even better is Open Academy’s ability to create custom sites with their own landing pages and layouts. Using a drag-and-drop interface, the software allows site buildings to highlight particular articles, move content around, create slideshows and other neat features.
Open Academy is a more complicated animal than Open Scholar, so the learning curve will be steeper. Like all websites, building is more difficult than maintaining. While no coding is necessary, administrators should expect to use a significant amount of time and resources when first building the site, albeit much less than hiring a professional firm to build a site from scratch. For the average department, administrators will probably find it most efficient to hire someone familiar with Drupal to create the site and then pass it off to department staff to create content and maintain the site, which is very easy to do with Open Academy.
While the software for Open Academy is free, the hosting is not. Berkeley has teamed up with Pantheon hosting services to offer easy, one-click installations of Open Academy for Berkeley users, with plans starting at $25 a month. You can even try it out for free
, develop the site and show it to your constituents before paying to go live.
Like Open Scholar, Open Academy is still in development, which means user may experience the occasional bug or problem while all the kinks are ironed out for a widespread launch during the fall 2012 semester. Now is the perfect time to start developing for departments that wish to launch a new homepage by the fall.
Want to find out more? Read more info about both projects here.