Project River Teeth

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Revitalizing the Site of a Long-lived Literary Journal


Challenge: The Creative Writing department at Ball State University had newly acquired the long-lived literary publication, River Teeth: a journal of nonfiction narrative, from its original creators/editors at Ashland University. The journal’s website needed to be re-created entirely. The BSU team longed to create a dynamic, modern website that could stand above other literary journals, upholding foundational concepts, established branding, more user-friendly, and, of course, improved function and purpose for the necessities, e.g., regular online publications, subscriptions, and submissions. And because they were a university publication, they would also need to employ the hands of student interns.

Setting Students Up for Success in WordPress

The Creative Writing faculty had purchased the web builder platform Divi for WordPress. They needed a capable website designer/developer to take on the task of learning and building in the new platform and of teaching them how to use it as well. The website would also be quite intricate, moving over an abundance of archived materials from one website to another. I was able to quickly teach myself how Divi worked and what I could do with it. Fortunately, I had prior experience with WordPress Avada, which was somewhat similar. In learning mode, I took on the initial step of designing a site that would parallel the original site in regard to offerings and concept but also go above and beyond when it came to clarity and function and with illustrating the journal’s “personality” and themes.

Brainstorming and feedback began with my shared outline of material from the old site to confirm what would stay and what should be most prominent. I began designing frames and inviting collaboration from the faculty team through shared Google Docs and in Zoom meetings. The Successive Approximation Model of feedback and development worked well here, and the site is still a work in progress as we continue to build, shape, and revise. I have created the main pages of the site with high-quality imagery and some animation.

Because faculty also needed to employ the work of student interns in building the new site and to post material moving forward, I needing to make the act of creating posts and uploading media less complicated for them. The WordPress Dashboard needed to be more understandable and easier to use, and students needed ongoing support. Student interns would change with each passing semester, and some would be more technically capable than others.

In simplifying processes, I was able to employ the use of plugins for post types and taxonomies for categorization, e.g., printed issues, news stories, and book reviews. Through Divi, I was able to create a unique template design for each specific post type which allowed me to keep the “classic” post editor on the front end. In the classic post editor, students are able to simply copy/paste the text, add the featured image and a proper date and category, and the post shows up beautifully on the proper page as according to the pre-designed post-type template. I was also able to create organizing folders for the site’s media gallery as well as a customized Dashboard admin menu. I created “sample posts” for each post type that identified what needed to be included and what changes need to be made in the post editor before the post is published. Those sample posts are there for students to reference again and again.

The old site was a classic Wordpress template utilizing a basic content management system.

Customized Dashboard & Media Gallery