The problem with most university websites

is pretty much summed up by the genius of xckd in this cartoon

xkcd comic  - the university website

xkcd comic - the university website

and was the focus of one of the plenary talks at this weeks #iwmw12 conference given by Professor Ferdinand von Prondzynski, Principal, Robert Gordon University. The gist of Fredrick’s talk centred on the contradiction in Universities of the innovative role they play in terms of creating, developing and using technology and the apparent lack of creativity and user focus when it comes to using technology for communication purposes.

Do you find the corporate comms emails you receive a bit like former Soviet block communications full of “interesting” facts on 5 year plans etc? I hadn’t really made that connection before but I did find myself smiling along in agreement with that analogy. However it was University home pages which were the main bugbear and the focus of Fredrick’s talk. News, too many links, scrolling pages, all were taken to task.

I think it is fair to say that most University home pages are quite busy spaces, but telling that to a bunch of institutional web managers . . . well it was almost a Donald Clarke, ALT-C moment :-) However I think it was useful to highlight the schizophrenic nature of universities and how that is reflected in home pages. Fredrick pointed out that big companies/corporations seem to be much better at simplifying their home pages, however they have a much clearer corporate identity.

What is the key focus of a University and so it’s home page? Research? Teaching and learning? Information for prospective students? Everyone wants their “bit” on the front page, despite what stats might tell us about no-one actually reading the news sections, if Professor X has just got a gizillion pounds for their research project, they, and the institutional marketing team will probably want something about that visible on the front page. And, as was pointed out in the Q&A session, university web sites are usefully managed and created by very small teams with little or no budgets and in that sense actually do a pretty remarkable job compared with commercial websites.

During the conference I was introduce to this alternative homepage for students at LSE.

LSE cloud

LSE cloud

Great idea isn’t it – these are the web spaces the students want to access quickly. But of course not that useful for prospective students.

So what can be done? Well as Fredrick did admit, communication is the key. But the communication and future developments should be based on real stats and analysis of site use and not just someone’s personal preference.

cetis @ #iwmw12

This week I’ve been in Edinburgh with a number of my cetis colleagues at this years IMWM 12 conference which is organised by our sister JISC Innovation Support Centre, based at UKOLN.

Cetis contributions to the conference included:
*Identifying and Responding to Emerging Technologies
*What Can Offer the Web Manager?, Phil Barker, workshop session
*Developing Digital Literacies and the Role of Institutional Support Services, by me – more info in the text below
*Data Visualisation: A Taster, plenary session with Martin Hawksey and Tony Hirst
*Data Visualisation Kitchen, workshop with Martin and Tony.

This is the first time I’ve attended the conference, and I have to say I really enjoyed it. It was particularly useful to have conversations with colleagues involved managing university websites, as this is a sector of the community I don’t have very much contact with. I tend to have more contact with people who are building and using teaching and learning environments, and not the more corporate side of a universities web presence.

I ran a workshop session on the first day of the conference around digital literacies and the role of institutional support services. This was very much a discussion session, based on the findings of the current JISC Developing Digital Literacies programme, in particular the technology review I undertook with projects earlier this year and the results of the baselining work the projects have all conducted, and the baseline synthesis produced by Helen Beetham. I was particularly keen bring out the relationship and potential tensions between the personal nature of developing digital literacies and the role of institutional provision. I wish I had recorded the conversation – as it was very wide ranging and I hope, it gave some food for thought for those who came along. A copy of my slides is embedded below.