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College phases out Reason, moves to WordPress

Carleton’s Technology Planning and Priorities Committee (TPPC) recently made the decision to move the college’s website to WordPress from its original content management system (CMS), Reason.

According to an email sent out on October 30, Web Services plans on releasing around 60 sites on the new platform between December and June as a part of the new Web2020 project, which aims to migrate all Carleton sites to the new CMS. The email also stated that Web Services will be limited in their “ability to take on other work as we start to migrate sites.”

The school’s “Office of Admissions” page, however, has already been converted to WordPress.

“My understanding is that they wanted a CMS that was used across a range of higher ed institutions; Reason had a more limited scope of users, though it was robust and supported many needs,” said Jaime Anthony, senior associate dean of admissions.

The college had made the decision to transition to WordPress in February 2017and, by August of that year, the TPPC had decided on WordPress as the new CMS.
“It was a decision on behalf of the entire college,” Anthony said.

The Office of Admissions worked with an outside firm, mStoner, to redesign the website, which went live in May of this year.

In the short-term, the move should mean that departments reevaluate what content they want to include on their sites.

“It’s kind of like moving houses,” said Anthony. “Before you put things in boxes, you think about what you really want to move.

“In the long-term,” Anthony said, “WordPress has the potential to offer greater collaboration for web solutions, because it has a larger client base than Reason.”

Many Carleton faculty and staff already have a knowledge of WordPress, according to the Web2020 website. The move, then, gives the college “more in-house knowledge from the start.”

According to Joe Hargis, associate vice president for external relations and director of college communications, the move is part of the college regularly evaluating its technology infrastructure.

“For example,” he said, “in recent years, we moved from Zimbra to Gmail for our email services, and adopted DropBox as a cloud-hosted solution to file storage. Our CMS was due for the same re-examination.”

The move also means a better user experience and the opportunity to employ consistent design across the site, according to Hargis.

“We’ll use the transition to make modest design tweaks to coordinate with the new admissions site and complement the rest of our marketing materials,” he said. “There are no plans for a complete design overhaul, but this move does encourage departments to do a mindful audit of their content, remove outdated information and improve their site organization with the help of the web team.”

Connor Jackson, an admissions officer, pointed to the performance enhancements that the admissions site move offers.

“Our website is now friendly to mobile devices, an important feature given the seeming ubiquity of smartphones,” he said. “We can support animation now as well. For example, the frisbee toss and silent dance party are featured in video form on the homepage. Having greater flexibility with how we display text and photos, videos, as well as infographics will, we hope, improve our ability to communicate to prospective students what makes Carleton great.”

Jackson also pointed out that since the new website design and move to WordPress were done in tandem, it is difficult to separate them. But he said that the Admissions site move is meant specifically to make the college search process as intuitive as possible.

“Many prospective students use the internet in their college search process,” he said. “Whether they are looking to schedule a campus visit, look up information, learn how to apply, or anything else, we hope to make the process as clear and intuitive as possible.

“The college search and application process comes with enough uncertainty and stress. Hopefully by displaying things in an approachable and accessible way we can make things a bit easier.”

Julie Anderson, the director of web services at Carleton, stated that using a more common CMS would make it easier to hire staff with relevant experience and to “hire project work out.”

She also stressed that the move does not mean a full redesign of the Carleton website.

“Our current standard theme, with a few updates to tie in with the Admissions site, has been translated into WordPress and looks very similar to what we have today,” Anderson said.

“This move allows us to explore more current tools and techniques,” she said. “We hope to find ourselves in a more nimble position, so it is easier to produce a fresh look from time to time and so we can adjust to the changes in technology more easily.

“This is a great opportunity for us to reduce our maintenance burden (once we’ve fully migrated).”

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