I was grading final exams from my class on the Bible this evening, and a student’s comment made me chuckle. I focus in this course on information literacy skills, i.e. the identification of reliable sources of information online. One student found a reputable scholar’s academic web site hosted at their university. I won’t say which scholar to protect the guilty, but here is what the student wrote about it:
I won’t lie, due to the set-up of the webpage, I originally found this to be very sketchy. Then I dug around and discovered it really wasn’t so sketchy – the man just has about as much webpage design skills as me.
That could easily have been said about my own academic web space, I imagine. It is a testimony to this fact that, if you take one of my web pages and transform it using the Geocities-izer, it doesn’t change that much…
It is to the student’s credit that she identified the content and source and looked past the lack of web design skills. But it is to our shame as scholars when we take the fruits of our scholarly and pedagogical labors and offer them packaged in a way that gives the impression of something shoddy and second-rate. It is all well and good to remind people that we should not judge a book by its cover. That’s true enough. But I suspect that many of us can do better than we do.
Perhaps instead of plowing ahead with episodes of classic Doctor Who, or rewatching LOST, or finally getting around to watching Revolution, or whatever else we might have done over the upcoming holiday break, I and other academics ought to make the effort to update – and where necessary, give a makeover too – our academic web space and the materials hosted on it.
What are some of the worst looking sites you’ve come across with good content? And what about the reverse – really nice looking websites promoting bunk? What tips and strategies can you recommend for making the appearance of personal academic websites look better than they often do?