The primary audience for academic department websites is prospective students. These suggestions will help you optimize your departmental website to address the interests and goals of that audience, without alienating other visitors.
Visual Example of an Academic Department
Keep in touch with your graduates. Let them know that you want them to send updates about how they are doing once they graduate. Have them send photos of themselves at work in their new careers. Ask them to send details of what they currently do and what experiences as an IWU student helped them prepare for this career. Web Services will provide a template for displaying this information.
Students and parents want to know that IWU students have great internship experiences. Consider adding a link to your site containing the Recent Internships database. This database will give prospective students and parents a good idea of the internship possibilities available. List the organizations where your students intern, what kind of positions they've had, and whether or not academic credit is possible in your department. Consider posting photos of students at internship sites. Ask students to share testimonials about their internships at IWU. All of this can be used to show prospective students the exciting possibilities available. Laurie Diekhoff, Internship Coordinator at the Career Center, can help you with some of these details if needed.
No two professors teach the same class the same way. Think about interesting things you do in each course you teach and add this to your current course descriptions. The course curriculum listed on your website is not the authoritative source for course descriptions; rather, it is a perfect place to provide a more comprehensive description compared with the Banner Course Catalog. Consider adding photos or an excerpt from the textbook(s) for each class. Try to use the most interesting or provocative material from each textbook. This will not only be helpful to show the student what books are required, but will also help students become interested in the course of study. Also, try to include videos, personal commentary from you about interesting things students will learn, quotes from former students, photos of the professor(s) teaching the course, and example assignments or other syllabus items you think students might enjoy.
Equipment can be a Star
Don't forget that the advanced equipment and facilities we have available to students can be highlighted on your website. Don't just list the equipment that is available — use photos, add context of what the equipment is used for, what classes utilize each piece of equipment, and the level of involvement students have with the equipment and facilities.
Think about adding a social web presence along with your department's website. Adding Facebook or Twitter can allow you to engage with your audience and have meaningful conversations on a more personal, interactive and fun level. Do NOT start an additional web presence for your department unless you are fully committed. Daily attention will be required. Also, think about attending the Social Media Committee on campus to learn more about best practices involved. Contact Ann Aubry for meeting dates and times.
You don't have to actually produce video content to use it on your website. Consider embedding pertinent video content on your site where applicable. According to Cisco, it is estimated that in 2013 38% of search results will contain video and 78% of web users will watch video. If you currently use video in your classes, think about using excerpts or complementary videos on your website to let prospective students know what they can experience once they are enrolled. It is always better to show them rather than tell on websites today.
Research & Faculty/Student Collaboration
Start by showing visually some of the student/faculty research from the recent past. Try to pick opportunities that will translate well to your website. Show a photo of the student and professor involved and if possible an action shot of the research project.
Let prospective students know the best way to get involved with any research opportunities within the program. Let them know about ways to attend conferences, participate in competitions, and publish their work in research journals. If there are special grants available for research opportunities let prospective students know the best way to apply for them on your website.
Do any of your classes or department frequently entertain guest speakers, artists or performers? The people brought in for guest lectures and speaking engagements don't have to be world famous to be beneficial to students. They help broaden minds and allow students to network outside their normal social sphere. This is perfect content for your website. Include photos, excerpts and summaries of any speakers who have recently visited campus.
Include information for clubs on campus that tie into your major or have related value for students. RSOs offer real-world experience and special networking opportunities students may not be able to get otherwise.
One of the most frequently asked questions that Admissions handles on a daily basis is about student scholarships. Creating a section dedicated to different scholarship opportunities will quickly become one of the most-read items on your website. Let students know about what opportunities exist, whether they are need- or merit-based, and what steps are involved in applying for one. The more detailed the content, the better this will assist Admissions & Financial Aid.
Our special 4-4-1 calendar is one of many things that sets us apart from other schools. Create a section on your website to let students know the benefits of May Term. What are the benefits of meeting in a concentrated time frame? Are there any special travel courses available during May Term? Let students know about any special offerings available during May Term.
Communications & IWU Magazine
Are you or someone in your department doing something newsworthy? Do you have a student or alum who is doing great things? Let Communications know about them. They may be able to do a news release or even organize a magazine story for this individual. Ann Aubry can also add items – IWU stories or other online new sources – to the automated RSS feed on your website.