Footnotes to XKCD on University Websites

I spent some time before Christmas informally gathering several kinds of curricular information from the websites of the COFHE schools for use in Swarthmore’s strategic planning work.

Here’s some of what I informally learned in the process.

1. XKCD, typically, hits the bullseye. Most of us who use university and college websites heavily have just learned where the stuff we need actually is, but I pity anyone who has to find something for the first time with the possible exception of prospective students who manage to go directly to admissions-related resources and may actually want to see all the stuff about the university’s mission and so on.

2. In particular, finding a) graduation requirements and general-education requirements and b) requirements for specific departmental majors is about two magnitudes harder than finding out which Senator put a hold on a Presidential nominee. The range of ways and locations where this information is listed was really dizzying.

3. It can be extremely difficult to tell from departmental pages what the research specializations, interests or work of faculty members actually is. Some departmental pages give really rich, interesting information about their faculty, some barely bother to list their individual names and contact information.

4. Looking at the history departments of COFHE schools, I eventually got a fairly confident sense of what the genuinely typical fields across that group tended to be, though variations in faculty size were fairly pronounced. Here’s an odd impression that I ended up having along the way: that the most atypical fields were often associated with the most senior faculty rather than the most junior. We tend to think of innovation as something that happens as a result of a deliberate decision to invest in a new or underrepresented field, but instead it sort of seemed to me that unusual fields were either the product of idiosyncratic faculty development or were survivals of the formerly typical distribution of fields in an earlier era.

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One Response to Footnotes to XKCD on University Websites

  1. Well, when you’re looking for tenue, you’ve got to be conservative. When you’ve got tenure, then you can diverge (if you’ve still got it in you).

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