Web Roundtable 2004

Co-hosted by Dartmouth Computing Services and Office of Public Affairs

Around the table

California Institute of Technology (CalTech)

Gail Anderson, Director, Electronic Media Publications

Electronic Media is a department in Public Relations that is responsible for institute-level sites. It has three staff members plus a volunteer.

  • A director.
  • An Oracle programmer.
  • A third person who does a little of everything.
  • An alumni programmer.

The group runs its own servers for news and calendaring services, and uses a custom-built content management system for its sites.

The main news page, CalTech Today, is completely automated using the ACS content management system. Once news is approved, it is posted directly on the site. A designer prepares an image to accompany each story.

Although most divisions have distinct identities, Electronic Media has started working on divisional sites over the past year, starting with Undergraduate Admissions, Alumni, and Biology.

Since going live, up-to-date data is seen as being as important as visual identity; news information is now being integrated into the new sites, starting with Biology.

The group has had a positive experience with the senior administration for some time and is looking forward to working with a new provost.

University of Chicago

Sara Worrell-Berg, Senior Web Designer (Project Manager and Developer)

Mission, Governance, Resources

The Web Services group is a department in Networking Services & Information Technology, which reports to the CIO. (There is also a dotted line relationship with the server administrators.)

There are 20 staff members with several new hires to come. The group is half funded by IT, the other half is billed to departmental clients, including hosting charges. This allows the group to focus, at least part of the time, for the greater good of the university. The steering committee includes the PR/news office.

The group is responsible for core site and enterprise-level systems with individual departments. The emphasis is on useable, accessible Web sites.

Recent and Upcoming Projects

  • A site for admitted undergraduate students.
  • Redesign projects for the UChicago museums.
  • Building custom Web applications in conjunction with Sungard BSR Advance Web Community for alumni Web services. Applications may be expanded for use by students and staff in the future.
  • Redesigning and expanding the core site in 2005.

Core Site Process

The News office works with Web Services to originate stories and art for the home page. All other requests for content, design, and structural changes are evaluated, and final decisions are made by Therese Allen-Vassar, director. The core site is in the process of a redesign.

Columbia University

Sharene Azimi, Senior Producer

Columbia’s Digital Knowledge Ventures — a group of 30 — was originally created to produce multimedia materials for distance-learning. Over the past year, 1.5 staff have focused on the core site. Sharene is producer for this new Web Team, and a part-time multimedia developer does the maintenance. DKV also has Flash animators, database administrators, programmers, and content editors available.

Previously, no one had editorial oversight over the top levels of Columbia’s core site. DKV established and documented a process and works with a Web advisory committee on major changes. There are dotted-line relationships to the network and central computing group. Very controversial issues go through the VP of Information Systems and the Provost. The new site went live in December, 2004, after six months of intensive work. The style guide went live about two months later. A basic template consisting of a CU banner and footer is available for official sites.

The group has worked with various administrative offices around campus, including athletics, alumni relations, and public affairs — which uses a DKV-built application to post news to the home page. The larger DKV staff still develops many academic-oriented projects, such as conference archives, online directories, and e-learning sites.

The group charges for work that is not related to the core site.

Dartmouth College

Rick Adams, Director of Publications
Jay Collier, Associate Director, Web Publishing Services
Martin Grant, Web Managing Editor

Public Affairs redesigned Dartmouth’s gateway site, which launched in August, 2004, after an 18-month re-review process. Public Affairs is responsible for the production and editorial maintenance of static gateway pages via GoLive. Public Affairs also provides image and CSS files for sites managed by Web Publishing Services, although there is not currently a visual identity system or official logotype at Dartmouth. A Web Oversight Committee has become less active this year. A special service-level agreement between Public Affairs and Web Publishing ended this year.

Web Publishing Services, a division of Computing Services, serves 60+ departmental clients, including Public Affairs, using the OmniUpdate content management system. Common templates, some with custom graphics, are integrated with distributed content development. The group provides clients with architectural, editorial, content design, and production guidance, as needed. Application development is handled by a different Computing division.

A variety of groups with specialized skills sets focus on distinct areas of Web production at Dartmouth: Public Affairs, Web Publishing, Development, and Curricular Computing.

Duke University

David Jarmul, Associate Vice President of News and Communications

David started working at Duke three years ago at the same time as the new head of IT, with whom he works closely. He is in charge of all news and communications and was hired with a mandate to bring order to Web — and all other — communications. A core site redesign was completed two years ago.

The Office of Web Services was established a year ago with seven people reporting to IT, but working closely with Public Affairs. The group’s role is not to serve as a “job shop,” but to support “strategic harmony and cohesion” among various Web developers on campus, set common standards, and maintain information about vendors. The group charges for its work. XML syndication is a current project.

Public Affairs goal is to present Duke to the world as a “seamless university” rather than a collection of individual departments. To that end, a campus-wide approach to content management is underway using Zope. In addition, magazine portals are in development for research, the arts, and public policy.

The group produced a site for the recent presidential presidential inauguration with a journalistic approach to a main news event.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Susan Curran, Web Content Editor
Suzana Lisanti, Senior Web Strategist
Jeff Reed, Team Leader, Web Communication Services

The core site was redesigned by Pentagram about a year and a half ago. The main theme (color and image) changes regularly (every day or two) and is provided by: Web staff (1/3); students, faculty, and staff (1/3); and commissioned contractors (1/3). Colors change throughout the core site. Invention, reinvention, and collaboration are part of the gestalt of the site. Various departments use the top banner and, in some cases (Admissions), use the color of the day.

The News office recently went through redesign and recoded sites with meta tags. News stories are cross-linked with the core site by meta tags, and the FileMaker Pro news database acts as a special-purpose content management system for news stories.

Standards are encouraged, but MIT doesn’t want all sites to look the same. The only official MIT element is the logo, which must appear on every MIT page.

Web Communications Services consists of four consultants providing free services (business analysis, architecture, and strategy) and cost-recovery site development. They work with MIT’s Publishing Services Bureau and a stable of outside vendors. They provide Web publishing information, evangelizing, access issues, identity design, and resources. Enterprise-wide applications are in a different department.

University of Pennsylvania

Deni Kasrel, Director, Web and Publishing Services

The Web Services group is in the Office of University Communications, which is separate from the IT department, and it is not a cost recovery group. The staff of three FTEs includes two Web editors who are HTML specialists. Members of another publications team write content, but are not officially assigned to Web Services.

Web standards and guidelines are enforced on the central/core site and high-level administrative sites, but are not otherwise strictly enforced except for the required elements. Templates are downloadable and free.

Recent Projects

  • Research at Penn. Developed with outside vendors. An annual print report is integrated with the site. The approval process included the Provost and Vice Provost of Research.
  • Arts & Culture at Penn. The focus is on museums, galleries, performances, film, literary arts, and academic programs. A custom CMS was built by a vendor; events listings are pushed to the main calendar. The group is now planning a marketing campaign to include special offers, public relations, and collaboration with other culture groups in the area.
  • President and Provost sites.

Princeton University

Reed Meister, Director of Web Communications and Strategic Projects
Evelyn Tu, Communications Web Specialist

The Office of Communications and the Office of Information Technology work as partners on the Web. Over the past couple of years, front-line responsibility for the core site and the Web has moved to the Office of Communications (where Reed and Evelyn are located), which continues to work in partnership with Office of IT. Two new positions will soon be filled in Communications: a Web project manager/editor/writer, and a Web solutions architect and site designer (who will be the lead on design and usability).

The goal for the Communications Web team is to provide a centralized service and coordinate both internal staff and outside vendors. In the coming months, they will start to provide a wider variety of services, including strategic communications analysis, information architecture, aesthetic and functional design, content writing and editing, and content management implementation. The professional photographer on the Communications team keeps Web design needs in mind when shooting.

Main projects in 2004: selection and implementation of a content management system, and a redesign of the core site and the News@Princeton site. The stakeholder review process took longer than expected; plans are to go live in February.

Rice University

Suzanne Sutphin Stehr, Web Managing Editor

The Web managing editor (Suzanne) and a production specialist report to the VP of Public Affairs. The mandate from the new president is to make the core site more usable.

Graphic designers are in the Communications Group, and that department is moving toward hiring designers who can do both print and Web work. Major programming is outsourced. (The cost-recovery IT Web Services group works in Cold Fusion, which is not used for Suzanne’s projects). Content management is fully working and functional.

Core Site Changes

  • Home page drop-down box is gone. Now audience-focused pages (student, faculty, staff, etc.) can be accessed in one click. All news and events on each page are dynamically driven from a database with multiple-page assignments and publish/expiration times.
  • There is an image alternative if a browser doesn’t have Flash installed.

Recent Initiatives

Students drive the design of the student home page: random images (submitted by students) and user polls are an overwhelming success. Graduate students are much harder to find and poll. They need more specific things than undergraduates.

Stanford University

Scott Stocker, Director of Web Communications

People

The core Web team is in the Office of University Communications, which also includes News and Public Affairs. The group consists of three people: a director/strategist, editor, and graphic designer.

Portfolio

  • Top-level university Web site.
  • Daily updates of news site (Stanford Report).
    • Publications department moved from Quark to InDesign. The content management system then reads exported InDesign XML data into the site.
  • Events calendar.
    • Developed Java application instead of commercial application.
    • Five hundred groups, 6000 events per year.
    • No approval required, although users are trained to standards.
  • Templates for departmental sites (20-30 sites).
  • Stanford Web Guide
  • Google Search Appliance guidelines

Yale University

Don Filer, Associate Secretary of the University
Patrick Lynch, Director, MedMedia Group

President Richard Levin has charged the Secretary’s Office with addressing problems with the “blue” (core) sites, and developing a new design that would move beyond directory lists to present content that speaks to university goals, including to foreign audiences. He is looking at a six-month timeline.

The current core site is supported by central IT (technology support) and the University Printer (designers), although neither see themselves as having responsibility for the site. The VP of Finance recently created a new Publishing Services group, including Web publishing, to centralize some Web services. Responsibility for the core pages will likely be assigned to the Secretary’s division.

The Yale Medical School (YSM) has a dedicated Web Design & Development group (100 percent cost recovery) in IT. There are eight FTEs (1.5 supported by funding) for core Web identity for YSM and IT. Five are producers (design, HTML, CSS) and three are programmers/DBAs.

Pat is currently working on new template designs that move toward an “affiliated identity” and clarify basic concepts, but don’t mandate colors, pictures, or fonts. (Core links across the top are mandatory.)

YSM’s custom-built calendar is now online, filtered for approval, with data for print calendars coming from the database.

YSM Portfolio and Recent Projects

Web communications and governance

What would you do if you were free to set up your team any way you wanted? What would be your dream scenario for Web communications and governance?

Why the Web Matters

Start by asking: What are you trying to accomplish with communications on the Web? Possibilities:

  • Improve communication between and amongst constituents. It’s the most flexible, cost-effective way to communicate. Foster the relationships between and among the constituents of the university, including international audiences.
  • Tell the story. Publications departments are realizing the Web is the number one communications tool to show the world who we are and what we do, including branding. The core site is an organizational and navigational springboard to the university.
  • Improve measurable results. Support university goals of attracting people and resources. The Web’s a primary tool for doing business.

Telling the Story

What happens if a person’s primary window into a school is through a search engine, say a Google university search, instead of a home page?

Then the user misses the institution’s story as told by the communication professionals, the central story about the “soul” of the institution. Senior officials know that story; they are immersed in it. The core site needs to re-enforce it. This requires a clear sense of who you are and what you want to communicate to the world. These core sites turn the important initiatives of the university into reality on the Web through stories that can be immediately understood: a sense of the place.

In addition to the core site, other high-level sites support the institution-wide stories: history, research, culture, community.

Examples of “telling the story” by central communications groups include Columbia 250, Penn in Practice, MIT Capital Campaign (“X Marks the Spot”).

It is also important to distribute knowledge about the main university stories — to reinforce key messages — throughout the institution, so that there will be a shared vision of what the university is all about. Then, many other groups can reinforce those messages. (Note that these key messages should ring true, and not just be marketing messages.)

Finally, don’t forget the “wow” factor. Delightful Web communications should be part of the plan.

Constituency Communications

Interactive communications with constituencies are a key theme for the dream scenario, so …

Determine the direction of communications. Is the goal to “send out information” or to enable communication between and among constituency groups? Are we pushing or pulling information?

Then, identify the most important audiences and goals. Alums? Fundraising? Recruitment?

Finally, consider the external and internal audience as one. Prospective students, faculty, and staff all want to know what is happening at the institution, so distribute key messages so multiple groups can reinforce them. Transparency is shown to benefit the perception of the university.

Example: Proctor academy. A journal and photo blog started as “Chuck’s Corner” in 1999, and was then was integrated into the home page, with stories about the day-to-day experience at the school. Students, faculty, and parents can add comments.

Collaboration and Mentorship

Two important aspects of the dream team revolve around collaboration and mentorship.

First of all, it would be great to build a single home/office for all the people who are telling the institutions’ story: Web, news, publications, and interpersonal communication specialists. Try to find people who can appreciate their colleagues’ skills and perspectives. Working together, the group can identify whole systems (ontologies) that would help organize the information.

Make sure the production people are located in proximity to the communicators, so they can build upon each others’ information and energy. Strategists should spend time in the trenches to learn what is realistically possible.

Once the team is established, it could raise the bar of mentorship, providing templates, best practices, and set an example, mentoring content providers and raising standards throughout the university.

Team members could also prevent redundancy. (Example: Produce a single site with visitor information rather than having it spread around various subsites.)

One way to start building this collaborative model is through user groups: monthly lunches, mailings lists, brown-bag lunches.

Quality Assurance

Another aspect of the dream scenario is quality assurance. On many university subsites, the design, navigation, and other functions are not effective or usable.

The dream scenario would include optimizing the user experience, and focusing not only on usability but also on delight and inspiration.

Central content management can be used as a tool to encourage compliance with basic design standards. Then, through continued mentoring, the group can encourage higher standards throughout the Web production community.

Policies are also needed to reinforce content updating and archiving, but: Who writes it? Who enforces it? Who manages the legal issues regarding old content, including fees? How do we get the old stuff unlinked or off the site?

Improved Efficiency

Thus envisioned, the dream team would be able to more efficiently triage resources through managed resources, such as content management, production services, etc. Resources could be determined based primarily on institutional strategy, making the difficult decisions about which initiatives receive focused attention.

Scope and Authority

In order to achieve success, the team would have a clearly-defined scope, the authority to turn goals into reality, and agreed-upon methods for measuring success. Questions to ask:

  • What sites and services does the team manage, such as the core site, central (department) sites, calendar, etc.?
  • Does scope include policy development, including archiving, updating, maintenance, and enforcement/legal issues?
  • Does the team set standards for the university? If so, make sure the team includes people who can keep an eye on what’s possible, as well as an eye on reality in the trenches.
  • Does the team charge for its services? If so, are they working for the university’s needs or the needs of paying customers?

The dream team must be charged with the authority to lead and to succeed. Accountability is important, so metrics must be agreed upon by the group and its champion.

Although the president should be on board, the team must lead. Engage the people who want to be part of the process. Show them why it’s in their best interest to participate. Offer tools, empower content providers.

Challenges to be Overcome

  • Confusing visual identity and off-target messages (both for visitors and for internal audiences).
  • Poor design and architecture.
  • Messy processes; sloppy maintenance.
  • No policies for archiving, enforcement.
  • Low level of staffing and resources.
  • Coordinating various groups and processes.

Optimal Roles

  • Enterprise identity, and graphic design and interface standards.
  • Core site architecture, content creation, editing, and maintenance.
  • Optimizing the user experience: not just functional but inspirational (telling stories).
  • Accessability issues and other policy mandates.
  • CMS, search, and other common tools.
  • Mentoring: setting an example for the institution. Provide mentoring to folks outside the team’s scope, or offer them the content management system. Save producers for core projects.

The President’s Perspective

These are all great ideas, but what if there isn’t enough time to get all this done? What can be done now?

Make sure the President agrees on the strategic goals that need to be supported and the standards that need to be achieved. Then, determine what can be done right away, along with the metrics to determine success.

Spotlight on content management

How deep do we go in applying a Web content management system in the university Web presence? How do we best make the case to management? Will there be a charge to internal audiences to use it? How will training be provided? What are the pros and cons of open source and proprietary commercial systems?

Spotlight on Princeton

Four years ago, the Web strategy task force decided that content management was needed in order to simplify the management of content and design and reduce the number of technical people required to make updates. Hundreds of people have received Dreamweaver, training and then developed sites of widely-varying levels of quality. The goal was to roll out a solution, as widely as possible, to ease high-quality Web publishing throughout the University.

Princeton originally selected a system called eGrail, but it was acquired by another company and no longer met Princeton’s needs.

At the beginning of this year, Reed’s group identified 50 new open source and proprietary candidates based on a list of 180 functional items. Open source was considered as long as a systems integration vendor was available to stand behind the product. Syndication of content across schools and departments was an important feature, so that news stories could be distributed to different pages on sites.

The group issued formal RFPs to 15 vendors and 12 responded. (Atomz, Ektron, and RedDot did not respond.) The top five systems were evaluated in depth: Zope/Plone, Typo3, Extrafin, Red Bridge Interactive, and Roxen. (Three were open source and two proprietary.) Each company was given design templates, made presentations, and allowed hands-on experience. Thirty strategic, production and technical colleagues from across campus evaluated the demos.

The unanimous decision was for Roxen, a Swedish company expanding into the U.S. market. An unlimited campus-wide license was acquired, as well as an annual support and version maintenance agreement. The VP of Information Technology and the VP of Public Affairs — who is also the Vice President and Secretary of the University — approved the deal.

Technical and functional implementation of the University’s new core Web site on Roxen CMS (not yet opened to the public) went smoothly over the summer, with two people working on back-end administration, including LDAP integration. There are four servers: one for testing and development, one for content administration, and two load-balanced for delivery.

Content approval for the new core Web site has taken longer than originally expected, due to strong sense of ownership by some campus groups. Reed’s group raised awareness through presentations to cabinet members and their staff. (Observation: Cornell has defined official “curators” for sections of their new site.) Expected launch is February.

Training has been a partnership between Communications and OIT. The cross-platform, WYSIWYG editor works on both Mac and Windows. Roxen delivered source code to Princeton.

It is clear that top-level support is needed to approve enough staff to roll out the system to more of the campus. It is anticipated that there will be no charge to departments for the content management system. Additional charges will be applied for graphic and functional design and special development efforts.

The Office of Communications is seeking as much functional and design consistency as possible. They will be providing standard templates along with the content management rollout. However, design services will be available to develop custom templates for departments that need them.

The system uses advanced, tableless CSS, XSLT,  XML and is built on an internal MySQL database. Multiple style sheets are available, including print, legacy browser, aural, and Braille readout.

Spotlight on Dartmouth

In December 2002, Jay’s group had maximized the number of clients it could serve with the system it had inherited. They made the case for being able to increase their client roster incrementally, without adding staff, by implementing a light-weight content management system.

The top features requested by clients focused primarily on browser-based page editing for static content. Although dynamically-syndicated database-backed content was desired, the budgetary reality led the discovery team to select a light-weight system called OmniUpdate. Dartmouth started with a hosted solution (the OU staging server communicates with the campus Apache server via secure SFTP), and will migrate to an on-campus appliance when Network Services staff deem necessary.

Lightweight FTP solutions are very flexible; they allow for dynamic elements (via server-side scripting and include files), and are easy for people to understand and use. Purely dynamic systems can be more complex, need higher hardware requirements, and necessitate more user training.

The first sites were launched in two months, with user training taking an average of one hour each. Since early summer 2003, over 70 sites have begun using the standard templates, of which over 60 are in the OmniUpdate CMS.

A transitional goal is to get users comfortable with role- and page-based content approval and the concept of locked-down page templates with editable areas. Some sites are published immediately by staff; others have multiple approval steps, such as the IT site, which has 25 editors and two-to-four levels of approval: authors, group leaders, and a copyeditor.

Shifting content to an enterprise system, if needed in the future, would be easier because the current code is well-structured and would be easy to convert. The templates are all built from server-side includes and a stripped-down table layout. Graphic design elements are provided by Public Affairs. The next standard iteration will include fully tableless templates.

Spotlight on Chicago

Chicago has also contracted with OmniUpdate as an interim solution due to its low-cost and simplicity, as some departments were going their own way with Web design vendors making small, custom CMS solutions for individual sites. Sara warns against site re-design as part of implementing a CMS. See Resources for Sara’s recommended links on content management.

Public event calendars

Current Status

  • Stanford: Custom-built application, with upgrade planned.
  • MIT: Custom-built application, with upgrade planned within the year. Funding for programmer approved.
  • Duke: Custom-built application with decision on future development imminent.
  • Princeton: Moving away from Web Event to a component of the Roxen CMS or to a similar XML-based solution for the calendar.
  • Dartmouth: Custom-built application not actively maintained.

Focus on the Stanford Calendar

Stanford built a custom application in six months, and both the calendar site and its administrative system is maintained by Scott. Focus groups (students, administrators, Registrar, Public Programs, Student Activities) were convened during development to show wireframes for feedback.

The back end is Apache/Tomcat, Java/JSP, and MySQL. The system exports: static HTML calendars (at least every four hours), vCal (iCal, Oracle Calendar, Outlook), XML to be exported into RSS feeds, data available for other sites, and manual e-mails.

No approval is required; items are post-reviewed by student administrators. The same event can be input by multiple sponsors. Can be entered in multiple categories.

One other item worth mentioning is an innovative use of plasma screens around campus to advertise event information. This system is maintained by a group of students on campus. They use commercial software called CoolSign to control the rotations on the screens, and event information is pulled from our public event calendar via exported XML files. Groups can also upload short videos they make themselves. If anyone has interest in this video-billboard system, let Scott know and he can provide more information.

Features in the Optimal Calendar System

Categorization

Events need to be associated with multiple categories. Metadata conventions could be developed with library staff.

  • Event categories, such as lectures, movies, and performances.
  • Subject categories. Detailed hierarchy needed. For example, a lectures category is large and cross-listing by subject would be useful.

Editorial Process

Author
  • Sponsor types: University, departments, organizations.
  • Authorized editors should be able to be associated with one or more sponsors.
  • Types of events: One-time and recurring events, single sponsor and multi-sponsor.
Edit/Approve
  • Options should be available for either direct publishing or required approval for editorial quality control.
Approve
  • Should an ombudsman/gatekeeper be identified for final approval or answering inquiries?
Publish
  • Should there be a delay before publishing?

Data Integration

Is integration with other calendars required, such as other institutions or community groups? Currently: Stanford is sharing with Palo Alto, and CalTech is sharing with Pasadena.

No calendars are currently linking to room scheduling systems, although Stanford wants to make sure a room is scheduled before an event is posted. Resource25 is in use at Stanford and Dartmouth.

No calendars are currently linking to personal or group calendars managed in Oracle Calendar.

Multiple Syndication Options

Events should be able to be filtered by category, sponsor, place, or public/private. Distribution options:

  • HTML – Main calendar presentation.
  • HTML – Custom sub-calendars with distinct presentation templates, such as a specific departments public events.
  • HTML – Include files for upcoming events.
  • RSS – Defined format for time-based events.
  • E-mail – Requested for specific categories or groups.
  • iCal/vCal/CalDEV – for exchange with other clients.
  • Export to handheld PDAs.
  • Personal calendars, special events, and special calendars.

Other Systems

Open Source

Commercial

  • Oracle Calendar (in use at MIT, Dartmouth, UChicago, Stanford).

Next Steps

  • Explore options with sub-group (MIT, Stanford, Dartmouth). Deliverables: Requirements document and process recommendation.
  • Report to full Roundtable membership.

Search strategies

What engines are you currently using? What do you do to help make searches more successful? What strategies will you use to give Web content meaning in the future?

Current Search Engines

  • Columbia: Verity Ultraseek and free Google.
  • Dartmouth: Verity Ultraseek
  • MIT: Verity and free Google. Migrating to Google appliance.
  • Penn: free Google.
  • Rice: Google appliance.
  • Yale: Verity (free Google).

Google allows keyword control for high-level results control. For example, a Rice search for “hotels” yields their own Rice information page on local hotels at the top of search results. Those placements, however, may be ignored by people who are accustomed to sponsored advertising in that location.

Note that the free Google only indexes monthly, on average, but it does use page ranking based on the results from the entire Web. The Google Search appliance only bases ranks on internal links.

The Google appliance cost is higher than Verity, but Google is a powerful brand name that users prefer, so the price differential may be determined to be worthwhile.

Every Google result comes out of the search engine as XML, which gets transformed by stylesheets to HTML. You can write a query to get raw XML and send it to your own XML parser or another application.

Aggregate searches from multiple databases can be effective, including enterprise search engines. Example: Columbia (multiple options), SUNY Buffalo (integrated with pre-defined keyword results), Cornell (tabbed).

Improving Results

Start by looking at Web server logs and search engine logs to find the top search terms being entered by users.  Are those items difficult to find through other navigation methods? Why do you think these terms are being input?

Load up on metatags. Verity uses them. Google weighs them along with page content. Use Dublin Core or other structured meta tag strategies

On the Horizon

The WWW Consortium is promoting the Semantic Web, also called Web 2.0. The goal is to make Web content more meaningful by adding classification information to textual markup through XML tagging.

Do we start marking up our content now? First, we need to have a consistent schema for classification that can be applied. In the future, a search engine will be able to discriminate between the phrase “As you like it” and another occurence as a book title.

Once content has more meaning, those themes can be connected to provide greater effectiveness of search results. Topic mapping is one way these relationships may be displayed.

Applying brain-based learning techniques

Several Main Points

Professor Jernstedt reports that there are three main components of learning: cognitive, social, and emotional. People are most engaged when all three are present, and interactivity on these levels is key to engaging learners and success in retaining knowledge. “Doing is learning.”

As much as 95 percent of brain activity (processing) is not within active consciousness. The emotional centers of the brain can send signals to the integration (conscious) center based on unconscious stimuli. You may not understand why a given experience upsets you, because you haven’t consciously noticed some of the stimuli your brain reacts to. Therefore, pay attention to the unintended messages of communications.

Recommended book: The Blank Slate, Steven Pinker. How the brain works.

Follow-up Discussion

How to Be More Interactive?

Use action words (verbs instead of nouns) to engage users; passive language makes passive users.

Pose questions to engage users, such as “Looking for a person?” Use participatory polls and other features on a home page as a way to engage the user. Rice’s student gateway polls have been very popular.

Ask specific questions on topical material to the audience, then have a faculty expert share an opinion, as well as show how the Web audience responded. For example, ask “Now that Arafat is dead, what would you do in the middle east?” Then, along with the results, link to “what our professor would do.”

Include to-do lists. Add a checklist to the admission site to engage prospective students.

How to Support the Social Aspect of Learning?

The University of Chicago and Dartmouth College provide discussion groups for accepted and new students before they make a decision to attend. It’s an early opportunity to build relationships. Other options include hosted blog journals to help people feel like they are more a part of the community.

Images have an affect on how people think about themselves: “This photo makes me proud of my school.” Rice students submit images for their very popular gateway page.

MIT uses a variety of changing graphics and images to demonstrate the many social aspects of the school. They’ve found that people look for the photographer/graphic artist credit to see if they know the creator.

Finally, work to develop a real feeling of place through the whole core site, through the navigation, including a clear sense of where the real institution is located, in both physical and cultural geography; give a sense of the local environment.

How to Be More Emotionally Engaging?

Some users may engage more with imagery than with text, and may not know why. Visual designs hit on an emotional part of the brain, and may trigger subconscious processing.

Symbolism is important in design: sacred geometry, such as the spiral/nautilus shell, may include universal shapes wired into the visual center of the brain that are more naturally pleasing.

Selection of imagery is also very important. Columbia gets fan mail about their photography because it reinforces a good feeling about their experience at the university and the city.

Any design or layout has to keep the target audience in mind. CalTech finds that biology majors care much more about biology pictures than about other imagery.

How to Be More Aware of Unconscious Messaging?

A Web experience should be simple and easy to use: unconscious. Move technology into the background. Pay attention to where people are looking on the screen (summary).

Be aware of the differences between novices and experts; each need different kinds of information for intuitive learning. Experts know the most relevant variables in a process (and ignore the rest of the information), so they use their brains and attention much more efficiently and need less information to accomplish tasks than beginners. This makes a strong case for usability testing with both novices and experts.

Developing online experiences that work on multiple levels, both conscious and unconscious, requires a team of people with diverse skills — design, writing, usability, interaction, communication — who can together build a body of tacit knowledge.

Knowledge management for the Web community of practice, therefore, will become more and more important.

Finally, the tone of a Web page not only influences the external community; it can affect, and perhaps change, the way the internal audience thinks of itself and the institution.

What’s next?

CalTech has offered to host in February 2006. That’s great!

Unfortunately, that date is more than a year away. In the meantime, we’ll consider a mini-roundtable or virtual meeting. MIT offered the use of an audio bridge to host a virtual meeting in about six months.

Since this is a distributed group, the incoming host institution will take the lead on the formatting and timing for its meeting.

One question to be resolved is: How many people should be invited? Currently, fourteen schools are invited each year: Brown, CalTech, Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Duke, Harvard, MIT, Penn, Princeton, Rice, Stanford, and Yale.

We have found that 10-15 participants should be the maximum. Perhaps next year, every school can send one participant and, if there are schools that do not participate, those openings can be available for up to two per institution. Schools that are near the current location could have first choice on the open slots. Also, to accommodate more seats around the table, an extra half-day session should be added at the beginning (starting mid-day Wednesday).

Resources

Governance

Web Standards

Content Management

Usability

Calendars

(Note from Jay: Chris Jernstedt said that there are three components of learning: cognitive, social, and emotional. For me, this conference embodied all three. I have been sparked by new ways of seeing and thinking about my work: the big picture. I have enjoyed getting to know each of you better — some for the third year — and see how we’re each growing in our professional roles. And I get that feeling of inspiration (and comfort) spending time with people who are also at the center of this swirling, chaotic world of university Web communications. Thank you for joining us at Dartmouth. I look forward to seeing you next year.)

This report is adapted from notes provided by Rick Adams, Jay Collier, Patrick Lynch, Suzanne Sutphin Stehr, and Sara Worrell-Berg. Edited by Jay Collier. 11/24/04, 12/4/04, 12/8/04.

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