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University of Notre Dame College of Engineering

The College of Engineering at Notre Dame is comprised of a half-dozen departments and a dozen research centers.

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Project Outline:

Overview

The College of Engineering at the University of Notre Dame had a significant problem. Each of its half-dozen departments and dozen research centers maintained their own, independent websites. There was no integration, no consistency, no pooling of resources, and no central brand enforcement.

A strategy was developed and implemented by Six Feet Up to build a centralized website with an easy ability to spawn sub-sites for each department and research center. The intent was to have a unified umbrella brand for the College of Engineering with individual brands for sub sites. Eventually, the goal was to integrate all of the College's departments and research centers child sites to greatly simplify content syndication and to increase search engine rankings. Six Feet Up released a new multisite package for Plone called WebUnity, which enables multisite management, content syndication and more.

WebUnity = Lineage + Resonate + Spotlight

1. A Unique Parent & Child Site Structure

While a CMS empowers staff to publish content more easily, and enforces consistent college-wide branding and structure, the College of Engineering wanted each department and research center to have control over its own area of the website.

This was accomplished through Lineage, a popular Plone add-on product developed by Six Feet Up.

  • Lineage gives each department and research center the ability to have its own sub-site.
  • Each sub-site can have its own design, workflow, site-specific content types, and different sets of user privileges (i.e. a faculty member can be an administrator on one sub-site, a content contributor on another sub-site, and a community member on a third sub-site.)

2. Content Syndication with Resonate

Each parent and child site features dynamic portlets on their homepage. This ensures good usage of online real estate by providing visitors easy access to related content.
The event, news and seminar portlets pull in the most recent content additions from any organization, and display title, date, description and links to the relevant college, center or department. The faculty member, student and alumni spotlight portlets rotate through each relevant member type and display name, affiliations, activities/interests and a link to view the full profile.  Clicking on the name of a member in a spotlight portlet displays a popup that provides an in-context profile summary view.

3. Custom Roles & Permissions

Four distinct member types were created to accommodate the College of Engineering's registration process: Faculty, Student (undergraduate/graduate), Staff or Alum, each with a custom set of data fields. Registration requests are reviewed by administrators to make sure of the identity and credentials claimed by registrants.

Six Feet Up set up PloneFormGen to make it possible to manage the member registration forms via a through-the-web form generator, therefore allowing administrators to create and manage forms on their own.

4. LDAP Integration

Six Feet Up integrated the new Plone website with the University of Notre Dame's existing LDAP central authentication service. When users with existing University credentials register to have an account with the College of Engineering website, they only need to enter their NetID as their requested username. Once the site's administrators approve their login, members can access the College of Engineering site using their existing University usernames and passwords. This makes it easier to interact with the new site for both site members and site administrators.

5. Member Portfolio with Spotlight

While Plone provides significant power to Notre Dame staff and faculty, a CMS is only as good as the content it manages. It’s extremely important for faculty members to frequently and consistently publish new content to the website.

One new feature implemented by Six Feet Up to help encourage participation was to develop a robust and powerful faculty area. With improved functionality due to the deeper faculty profile and portfolio pages, faculty can now be much quicker to participate, publish outstanding and important content like articles and publications.

6. Rich & Engaging Content

The custom landing page for each parent and subsite uses the Plone add-on EasySlideShow to manage slideshows that feature image captions, descriptions, bulleted navigation and links to related content. EasySlideShow also features a dropdown menu to select the type of transition between slides.

Creating the Seminar type was an additional customization - a specialized type providing a unique set of criteria that are also displayed and syndicated on main landing pages for colleges, centers and departments. Each seminar was designed with a set of required fields that must contain relevant data before the file can be saved. The seminar type also allows other content to be added; providing links to view or download additional content.

7. Fostering Visitor Interaction

Six Feet Up integrated the "Share It" widget into the News, Events and Seminar types to provide visitors with a quick link to major social networking tools. Adjustments were also made to incorporate the iCal and vCal download functionality, making it easier for visitors to add College events and seminars to their calendars.

8. Faceted Dynamic Directory

A dynamic Member Directory can be found on each college/center/department, which automatically filters results by affiliation depending on the organization the user is viewing. Visitors can further refine the data via the faceted navigation by narrowing down their search based on "Category", "Area of Expertise" and/or "Affiliation". The directory also features a "Quick Finder" field that allows visitors to enter keywords to help them find the appropriate profile. Another aspect of the directory is the A-Z navigation which allows users to quickly jump to a list of profiles based on members' last names.

The Member Directory displays members' names, email, and phone number as well as a small portrait. An in-context preview popup will display when clicking on the name of a member in the directory. The popup then links to the full profile that contains each member's email, phone, website, office, affiliations, activities/interests, education and biography.

Six Feet Up leveraged the ATVocabularyManager and EEA Faceted Navigation add-ons for this implementation.

Result & Take-Aways

The College of Engineering website was rebuilt using the sophisticated and mature open source content management system Plone to deliver a "hub and spoke" system.

Since launch, website content has been published much more frequently, resulting in increased traffic and better search results. The Department of Electrical Engineering and the Wireless Institute have already been integrated into this central effort with many more to come. Notre Dame staff members have noted how much easier it is now to publish and manage website content.

If you need more information about how Plone can manage child sites and provide syndicated features, contact Six Feet Up today.

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