The Benefits of Drupal 8 in Higher Education

Higher education institutions looking to adopt Drupal as their website platform, or those currently utilizing Drupal 7, would be well advised to consider the advantages of Drupal 8. Of course, as the current, latest version, Drupal 8 is the logical choice for a “greenfield” project, where Drupal is not currently in use. This article will review the benefits upgrading to Drupal 8 can provide to your institution. 

Architecture

Drupal 8 represents a step-change in the core architecture, with the underlying function and class libraries being replaced with a robust set of functionality provided by Symfony. This means the development ecosystem is more widely supported since it is no longer confined to the Drupal community, and developers external to the community can ramp up faster with the appropriate understanding of Symfony structure and functionality.

Additionally, there is an expansive selection of existing classes/libraries, which speeds up development time for a host of features, such as the integration of APIs, using a variety of connections and protocols.

Caching is also a built-in benefit with Symfony, which means full cache-control at various levels and ultimately a smoother, faster user experience overall.

These changes are beneficial for higher education as they provide a performance benefit to the end user in terms of site speed and a more streamlined process for developers.  

Accessibility and Experience

Accessibility is high on the priority list for almost all higher education institutions for two reasons: these institutions want to ensure that their sites are user-friendly and that they achieve a high level of accessibility in-line with compliance guidelines. 

Drupal 8 has robust support for accessibility out-of-the-box (see https://www.drupal.org/docs/8/accessibility). Drupal distributions such as OpenEDU also provide a built-in accessibility checker, helping to ensure that issues can be discovered and addressed in real time before going live.

In addition, Drupal 8 was also built to be mobile-ready, meaning it’s architected to provide a great mobile experience for site visitors and site administrators alike. This is crucial as according to Google, more than 50 percent of search queries globally now come from mobile devices, and higher ed audiences make up a large proportion of this population. Rich media support for images, audio, videos and other files, including embed support for videos hosted externally (such as on YouTube or Vimeo), makes Drupal 8 a robust media management platform. Media entities are reusable across a site and can be edited and contain additional data for categorization, display and storage, as well as many other uses.

Entities at the Core

In Drupal 8, “everything” is an entity. In Drupal 7, many solutions to unique requirements made use of nodes to store everything from content and media to data such as product specifications. With this change, custom entity types can be created for virtually any purpose, such as facility information, courses and programs, or faculty directory data.

Additionally, this means libraries of components can be created and reused across multiple pages, including elements such as slideshows, menus, content snippets, media (e.g., images, video, audio, documents and custom media), locations and more.

Multilingual Functionality

Drupal is the product of a global group of contributors, so it’s no surprise multilingual experiences are part of the Drupal 8 ecosystem.  Dozens of languages can be used for its interface and publishing content to sites and applications.

Drupal 8 now includes a full suite of tools and interfaces for translation of content, user interface (i.e., menus, login and messages), and administrative interfaces such as content creation forms and other administrative tools like content and media lists.  

Support for Custom Content Types

Higher education sites often have a number of custom content types, including news, events, programs and profiles. Drupal 8 has mature tools for creating and managing these custom content types, including the ability to add an array of different types of fields. It also has a powerful taxonomy/tagging system, which allows content editors to relate content and expose it to search and other features.

Moreover, it also allows you to create rich content layouts without deep technical knowledge. Content editors can structure pages and layouts that creatively display content using the layout builder included in Drupal 8. Tools such as layout builder can help improve user experience and aid in content discovery. Additionally, for institutions that are seeking to further deepen relationships with users and go beyond “static” content types, entities, including content, can be related to each other either manually or through automated means such as tagging. Relating content can help expose users to relationships between pieces of content. This helps departments display a related course on a given page or for an event to be tagged to display on three different departments.

Administration and Workflow

Drupal 8 includes a host of new tools for content and site administration. Adding an image or video now includes a media browser experience, providing a way to filter and search for the right item to insert or upload of a new item.

Workspaces allow a way for new content to be staged and finalized before releasing to users. Contributed modules provide methods for scheduling of publishing and unpublishing of content, such as embargoed press releases or events.

Individual pages can be completely customized through the use of Layout Builder to select layout and content blocks as needed.

Conclusion

The most current release of Drupal, version 8, will be four years old in November 2019. With minor releases every six months, Drupal is currently on Version 8.7. Attributable to its maturity, it has a large ecosystem of available contributed modules, including functionality for analytics, optimization, e-commerce, marketing and automation.  

While Drupal 9 will be released in June 2020, the upgrade path from Drupal 8 to 9 is expected to be relatively minor as it shares the same codebase as Drupal 8*, so institutions looking to move to a new CMS earlier can move straight to Drupal 8, rather than wait for Drupal 9 to be released.

Drupal 8 represents a change not only in the technology but in the benefits available to any higher education institution either considering Drupal as a potential website platform or currently utilizing Drupal 7 as a platform.

*“Instead of working on Drupal 9 in a separate codebase, we are building Drupal 9 in Drupal 8. This means that we are adding new functionality as backward-compatible code and experimental features. Once the code becomes stable, we deprecate any old functionality.”  Dries Buytaert, co-founder, CTO, and chairman of the board, Acquia


This blog post was created in partnership with ImageX as a part of a series to explore the benefits of Drupal in the higher education space.

ImageX

Acquia Partner

Reimagine Digital. 

Founded in 2001, ImageX is an award-winning website design and consulting firm with headquarters in Vancouver, Canada, and Kiev, Ukraine. We have been specializing solely in Drupal development since 2006 because it’s the most adaptable, flexible and advanced platform leading the web today.

Our unwavering philosophy of quality obsession and beautiful user experience - not only for website visitors but those creating the content - has allowed us to deploy meaningful, innovative and successful websites for some of the most progressive global organizations. At ImageX, we pride ourselves on building sites that are as visually remarkable as they are powerful.

As a specialized Drupal firm, we handle everything from strategy, planning, design, information architecture to development, quality assurance and beyond. After launch, we work in conjunction with Acquia to tailor and create a support and service plan that meets our client's long term goals.

Sean Crowley

Sean Crowley

Area Vice President Acquia

Sean has worked in the digital space for over 9 years, working closely with hundreds of Higher Ed Institutions, non-profits, and enterprise organizations with their Digital Transformation roadmaps. From helping define programatic changes, to unlocking new ways to to engage prospective, current, and past audiences via technology, he's helped many institutions, organizations, and enterprises successfully evolve into a new age of digital engagement.