Ryan Dee and Eric Rasmussen from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln talked about stages of civilization, web frameworks and CMSes, and how to successfully build a digital campus despite budget driven organization restructuring. In higher education, we all have to do less with more. Ryan and Eric shared some interesting insights into how to use technology to do just that.
Inspired by Brian Hawkins article, How To Care For Your Digital Campus in The Chronicle of Higher Education, their team decided to embrace the idea that their digital campus was simply just their “campus.” They had been developing with a mostly centralized design since 2007, but with the latest iteration of their web design, they decided “campus templates” weren’t enough anymore. With over 600 separate sites, improving standardization and consistency would help build trust with their audience. Internally it would help their system scale better and help them be as efficient as they needed to be to conserve what was left of their available resources.
Since University of Nebraska information technology resources were being centralized at their physical campuses, it was necessary to develop a centralized architecture for their digital campuses. Their new design was mobile-first, eschewing the common practice of building tablet and desktop versions at popular breakpoint sizes in favor of a purely responsive modular scale. The core architecture was built from the ground up to be decoupled from the look and feel of the site, so that each individual campus or affiliate site could be driven with the same back-end on the server, use the same front-end markup, but have its “theme” be flexible enough to adapt to different identity and brand requirements at different institutions and auxiliaries.
“The future of a digital campus is interoperability and adaptability, not shims and hacks”
Although the University of Nebraska uses Drupal, they built their framework to be as platform agnostic as possible. They are transitioning from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8, but will leverage Drupal 8’s configuration management to centralize settings and themes to simplify management. Drupal’s Layout Builder comes with a lot of opinionated code, so they are sidestepping Drupal’s code as much as possible in favor of their own.
Turning their Digital Campus Framework plan into reality needed university-wide involvement. They have a technical group that meets weekly to discuss changes to the framework, their CMS, or web trends, as well as occasionally arranging for professional development training or workshops. A Slack channel keeps them in touch day-to-day. In addition, a 9-member governance board meets twice monthly to decide on priorities and to guide the direction of their digital campus.