Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Hey Students!

How do you think about the Vol State website? Not what do you think, but how do you think?

It's been a while since I posted around here, so I'll remind everyone that I'm the webmaster here at Volunteer State Community College. I'm working on redesigning the website, both visually and structurally. Some of you may remember we did a survey back in February. One of the biggest issues the survey revealed is problems finding stuff. I've developed a theory around this problem and I'd like some student feedback and even suggestions.

I think the current website is structured around the way the employees understand and think about Vol State. If you're familiar with the org chart, it's a lot easier to find your way around the site. But I think that interrupts the flow of thoughts that go through site visitors' heads, especially students. It's great that we have an org chart and that we as employees understand it, but do any of you students know it's something we publish to the public? Do you even care? I don't say that to sound mean, I'm simply pointing out that our org chart probably doesn't figure in to the stuff you spend your days doing (and probably shouldn't).

I'm trying to restructure the navigation around what type of user you are, and then around the sorts of goals a specific type of user would be most likely to have in mind. Since we have over 7,000 students and less than 500 employees, you guys make up our biggest user group and get my top priority.

For example, I think students come to the site thinking about things like "Money". And then you think about things like "Where to get it" and "Where to pay my fees." So in your mind, Financial Aid (who can help you get money) and the College Foundation (who offer scholarships) are probably linked to the Business Office (where you pay your fees).

So what are the sorts of goals you have in mind when you come to the website? Obviously stuff like "Check my email" and "Log into eLearn" are big ones (and I've got the traffic logs to prove it). What specific questions do you come searching for answers to? What big ideas can these questions be grouped into in order to help you find what you are looking for?


John said...

I think one of the greatest things is the way Tennessee Tech University has a drop down box to select your options from and then I really like the redesign of the Austin Peay State University. APSU has the greatest college website redesign I have seen in a while. I would glad to offer more ideas for the site just hit me up.

Derek said...

Thanks John.

I'd love to "hit you up", but your profile isn't public and I have no contact information for you (not even a last name). My rambling response to your comment is probably better suited for email, but since I can't do that, I'll just go ahead and publish it to the world. :)

I really like the APSU redesign as well, and as oddball as their old "people jumping in a field" design was, I thought that was one of the best looking sites among our Tennessee Board of Regents peers.

I'm satisfied some people will accuse me of ripping off the APSU design when we launch, but I've been researching design trends in higher ed for more than a year now and I can tell we've just taken some inspiration from the same sources. In other words, I'm ripping off some of the same people that APSU is ripping off. :)

It can get kind of embarrassing. Cornell's site in particular has "inspired" lots of schools. But I don't think a normal person would notice or care. And I don't think any of us college and university webmasters would deny finding inspiration from other sites and purposefully trying to follow trends and current best practices. After we launch, I may blog about exactly where I took my inspirations from. It's only fair.

I have mixed feelings about the TTU quick links (I'm a Tech alumnus by the way). I like the purpose it serves, but I think it's poorly executed. For example, it's always bugged me that you can select the lines they used to divide up the categories. And if you do you get a "page not found" error. There are ways to code such a menu where that's impossible, and still have the visual divide between sections. I'm approaching the same idea with an interface "inspired" by Notre Dame. :)

J.V. said...

What about something like a student email directory, like they have on Tennessee Tech website.

Derek said...

The student email look up may be a good idea. It should be possible to pull off with a slightly modified version of the code used to look up contact info for faculty and staff. I'm not sure why we don't already have such a feature, to be honest with you. It may have something to do with security concerns and keeping student info private, but obviously if other TN schools are doing it there's no law against it. I'll ask around and see if there's a specific reason for not offering a feature like that.

Thanks for the input JV.