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Bentley University Shares Drupal Lessons

Using the open source software, Bentley's Web team improved the university's branding and functionality and added responsive design for the mobile Web.

On the other hand, Lozier believes Drupal is better at running many different sites off a single instance of the software, a capability WordPress has only recently begun to match in its multisite configuration. Bentley originally adopted Drupal as a replacement for a proprietary content management system based on Cold Fusion.

As open source software, Drupal is a good choice in higher education, where there is more flexibility to learn new things than in the corporate world, Lozier said. There is a lot to learn because of the size of the Drupal codebase, including all the modules and configuration options. Just by attending one of the Drupal Camp community events, he said, "I was able to learn about other university sites that have been successful."

Bentley relies on Acquia for hosting and back-end programming help, allowing Lozier's team to focus on the user experience. "We spend about two-thirds of our time on the presentation layer, and very little of the site-building effort goes into the actual code writing part," he explained. The university has been able to support a wide variety of Web content types and applications using standard Drupal modules. "I think we have about five custom modules, but we try our hardest to use something out of the box," he said, as the team favors Drupal modules known to be stable and tested.

While Bentley's configuration of Drupal and Zen helps deliver a responsive Web design, things don't always work perfectly. Even in the grid layout, Lozier said, "Sometimes the content doesn't fit exactly where you're expecting it to go [when viewed on a mobile device]."

Bentley's Web team has particularly focused on improving the admissions department's website, and in a follow-up email Lozier reported that applications from potential students are up 6% this year compared with 2012. "We can't draw the conclusion that the website plays a significant role in this increase. Just an indication that we are (hopefully!) doing the right things and the web is part of it," he wrote.

Follow David F. Carr at @davidfcarr or Google+, along with @IWKEducation.

Can data analysis keep students on track and improve college retention rates? Also in the premiere all-digital Analytics' Big Test issue of InformationWeek Education: Higher education is just as prone to tech-based disruption as other industries. (Free with registration.)

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