Making web content shine

Making Web content shine was a case study and exploration of standard methods to make Web content valuable, clear, and easy to use. Over the course of the project, we discussed processes that can be used to evaluate and improve your Web content, technical skills, organization, structure, writing, marketing, social networking, and more.

Photo of a person writing on notebook.
Photo by Lukas on Pexels

How did this work?

The TRIO Student Success Program, was a Western Michigan University Web site selected to serve as an active model for the case study. As we evaluated methods of online communication and presentation of information we will used the TRIO Web site to build connections between theory and practice.

Establishing a project profile

Before we began planning plan how to develop and present effective content, it was helpful to know more about who would be using the website, their expectations, and specific needs. With this information we tailored how information would presented in order to support the goals of the organization and its customers.

What was TRIO SSP?

TRIO SSP was a federally funded leadership development program that helped first-generation, income-eligible college students and college students with disabilities in their transition to college and until graduation. TRIO SSP participants learned to have fun while achieving their personal and educational goals.

TRIO SSP was designed to assist eligible students by offering a variety of services tailored to meet their individual needs. The team would provide services to help students improve class performance and find the necessary resources (academic, financial, career, etc.) on campus and in the community so that the students could graduate and achieve their life goals.

For over 20 years TRIO SSP helped hundreds of WMU students obtain their baccalaureate degrees.

All services were FREE to program participants.

Notes on who would be using the TRIO SSP website

The TRIO SSP Web site had three primary groups: prospective customers, current customers, and past customers.

  • Prospective customers were those who may potentially request and receive services from TRIO SSP. They would visit the Web site to evaluate benefits of participation, value of services, next steps, and might ask for more detail or clarification.
  • Current customers were those who utilize the Web site to obtain time sensitive information, materials for participation, utilize guides and resources, and submit requests for personal assistance or service.
  • Past customers were those who have not been actively interacting with TRIO SSP and are evaluating new opportunities or reconsidering old options.

Each of these groups had unique needs. As we considered how to improve Web content on the TRIO SSP site, we endeavored to keep in mind each of these groups, their expectations, and how they would utilize information.

In addition to the primary groups, there were parents and staff who provided support and guidance to students who were prospective, current, and past customers. There was a chance for there to be specific needs that parents and staff had above and beyond those of students.

Distinct services cycles

For the TRIO SSP Web site, there were distinct annual service cycles. From September to April, the TRIO SSP was involved with teaching classes and delivering services to students in the program. For the Fall and Spring semester there were time sensitive opportunities to communicate to students.

During other times of the year students were recruited and/or considered for participation in the program.

Communicating with SSP customers

For communication, TRIO SSP used a Web site, e-mail accounts, an e-mail list, and the telephone.

In addition, there were probably links to the SSP from other campus and external websites. Exploring how students learned of the program presented opportunities to help develop, maintain, and improve a communication flow/process.

Other ways of getting the initial word out could also include in-class announcements (TRIO students were required to participate in courses affiliated with the program), bulletin boards, flyers, word-of-mouth, etc.

So in summary, there were many ways to get the attention of those served by TRIO SSP. Including: 

  1. Electronic
    • Individual e-mail
    • Mass e-mail
    • Web site
    • Referral links
    • Affiliate links
  2. Verbal
    • In class interactions
    • By phone
    • Face-to-face advising sessions
  3. Print
    • Newsletters
    • Flyers
    • Letters
    • Postcards
    • Posters

Initial Google Analytics web statistics review

TRIO SSP created a free Google Analytics account and began tracking stats, which provided a good base set of customer generated statistics to work from.

How well was our content performing at this point in time?

From the “Overview” report, we could see that there have been 549 visits and 803 pageviews. So, it looked like there are people visiting the site.

We could see that about 62% of our visitors were coming from search engine traffic. We might infer from this that the majority of our visitors were not familiar with the site, or hadn’t bookmarked the location — because they would otherwise come through as direct traffic.

The bounce rate was listed as 80.69%. This seemed like a high number. However, we didn’t jump to  correlate this number with a specific conclusion because potential customers immediately leaving the website could be following a link to another WMU website that didn’t have the traffic analysis tools installed. We kept the numbers in mind, and continued our analysis.

As we looked at the “Map Detail” report, we saw that the majority of our customers were coming from Michigan. However, there was some international traffic too. The largest regional source was Kalamazoo, with Allendale and Pontiac as the next top contributors.

The “Content” report showed us that the home page was the most viewed page. Next was “Staff,” “About Us,” and “Resource Information.”

The “Keyword Detail” report showed us that of the 62% of total web traffic originating from search engines that 151 visitors found the site by searching for “academic calendar,” 71 searched for “fye” which was short for first year experience,” and 5 searched for “fall welcome.” Our initial impression was that the search results weren’t correlating well with what content was being provided by the SSP website.

It is important to note that in the initial project team meeting we learned that the period when we were completing our review was not a ‘busy’ time of year for SSP. So these statistics weren’t representative of all anticipated traffic. We were still able form some conclusions about areas to explore further:

  1. We should look closer at the keyword and search engine results to find where “academic calendar” appears in the SSP website.
  2. We should see if the user traffic to the home, about, and staff pages correlate with the content SSP believes is most important for their customers.
  3. We should see if the geographical source of user traffic is representative of where SSP participants are located

Initial SSP site content evaluation

Next, we began an inventory and evaluation of content that was currently on the SSP Web site.

The TRIO SSP home page (pdf)had:

  • A main navigation tool with 17 links
  • One link to the SSP home page
  • 11 links related to SSP
  • 2 links to PDF forms
  • 1 external link to another office
  • 1 external link to the academic catalogs
  • 1 external link to download AdobeReader
  • A notice about a class closure
  • A list of program benefits
  • A collection of links to resources/information about upcoming semesters
  • A photo album of SSP events
  • Instructions about how to make an appointment with an advisor
  • A list of upcoming event dates
  • A TRiO SSP icon/badge

Initial impressions about the navigation tool

Take a look at the navigation tool.

TRIO SSP nav tool on 20070810.

Learning to listen to our internal designer’s voice can help us to see new things. How does the navigation tool make us feel? What does the text make us think of? Do we know where to start? What kinds of information do we think we will find?

Do you think there are a lot of links? As a new visitor to the site, I felt overwhelmed.

In my view, there was not an intuitive order or structure to the items listed in the main navigation tool. There were several links, all that obviously lead to more information, but the information was not grouped in a way that might lead the different customer types to the content that was specifically for them. We noted that this might be an area for improvement.

What was good about the current tool?

The PDF document links having icons is good. The icons help a site visitor to know what they are getting when the click the link. This is a good practice to indicate alternate media formats (i.e. content that is not in HTML format). Nothing is more frustrating than to find out that either you don’t have the correct software to display the document, or to have Acrobat Reader suddenly stall your computer while it launches to display the document.

The home page link was distinguished from all of the other links. This can sometimes be a good thing. Having the link simply be “TRIO SSP home” would be okay too. Without some way of distinguishing this link from the other content links in the site could result in users visiting the home page, then clicking the home link and expecting to have different content displayed — in a web stats report you can sometimes see this odd symptom where a user re-requests the page they are currently on.

Other impressions

Let’s talk about the external links to the “Center for Academic Support Programs home page” and the “Academic Catalogs.” Why are these links here? Well, the answer we might expect is “so that visitors can go to the CASP home page and also get to the academic catalogs.”

Okay.

But didn’t the visitor decide to visit the TRIO SSP page? If they were looking for CASP or academic catalogs, then they would have gone directly to or searched for those sites. These external links don’t directly have anything to do with why our customers came to OUR Web site.

One common bad habit in web content development is attempting to make each and every website a portal with access to everything else a user might someday need. Some pages should be portals (e.g. a University home page, the main page of a student information system portal, directories, indexes, etc.). Other pages should be destinations where visitors are able to get the information they were looking for vs. being directed to go somewhere else. Imagine if you stepped into a fast food restaurant, stepped up to the counter, and the service staff said “Welcome to our restaurant! Would you like to visit the shoe store across the street?” No, that would be weird. Your impression would probably be along the lines of “Um. What?”

So, why would you choose to include a similar interaction on your own web page?

“Okay, yeah we understand what you are saying, but we want these links anyway.”

I was afraid you were going to say that. 😉

Okay, if you must have these external links, at the very least don’t present them in the main navigation tool and without context as to why the links have value for your customer. Instead, do this: present a small piece of content that introduces your customer to the new/external content. Present the content in your main text area instead of in the navigation tool. For example:

Need help with your mid-term paper?
Visit the [linked]Center for Academic Support Programs'[/linked] [linked]Academic Skills Center[/linked] to receive free supplemental instruction and tutoring.

Build your own academic program portfolio
Use the online [linked]Academic Catalog[/linked] to build a portfolio of required and elective courses for your academic major.

Now, consider these blocks of content. Don’t they do a better job of getting the point across about why the links are valuable? These descriptions provide a stronger context about what can be obtained by following the link, and why the information is valuable.

Past experience leads me to suspect that the ‘Center for Academic Support Programs’ link will still ‘have to’ be in the main navigation — because it tied the TRIO SSP site to its parent institutional structure. Another alternative to consider for the CASP link was to still present it in the main navigation but to provide some context for why the link is there. We could add a short bit of text stating “TRIO SSP is part of WMU’s Center for Academic Support Programs”. At the very least this provides some explanation as to why the link is there. I would bet you a dollar that very little visitor traffic flows from TRIO back up to CASP through this link — so the value of this link to the visitor is still questionable.

Grouping similar content

We may be able to provide clarification to visitors and increase the ease-of-use of the main navigation by grouping links that have similar content.

Let’s try to classify some of the information to see if there are any apparent trends/categories.

TRIO SSP

Content: Home page for the site, active/up-to-date info (e.g. events, opportunties, etc.)

Audience: all

About Us

Content: Detail about the program

Audience: prospective

ANTH 1200

Content: Course description, and materials for students in TRIO courses

Audience: current

Campus Resources

Content: Index/directory of things that may be valuable to students

Audience: current

Financial Aid & Scholarships

Content: Index/directory of things that may be valuable to students

Audience: current

Internet Resources

Content: Index/directory of things that may be valuable to students

Audience: current

Newsletters

Content: Current/past news contaiing time based information presented in PDF format

Audience: current

Internship Opportunities

Content: Index/directory of things that may be valuable to students

Audience: current

SSP Application

Content: PDF form to apply to TRIO

Audience: prospective

Staff

Content: Staff directory with contact information

Audience: all

Tutor Request

Content: PDF form to request tutoring

Audience: current

Tutoring

Content: Index/directory to tutoring resources. NOTE: a link to the tutor request form is displayed in the content of this page in addition to the main navigation menu

Audience: current

UNIV 1020

Content: Course description, and materials for students in TRIO courses

Audience: current

Volunteering

Content: Description with link to Student Activities and Leadership Programs’ Volunteer Services

Audience: current

Center for Academic Support Programs

Content: Link to home page of parent organizational body

Audience: all

Most of the information is for current students. This does make sense, since most of the prospective students are direct recruits into the TRIO program — so the site is mostly about delivering information to students participating in the TRIO program.

Natural groupings

We have information about TRIO, contact information etc. The index/directory type pages are similar in that each presents a collection of categorized ‘helpful’ information. It seems like courses and tutoring might be similar — they both have something to do with academic activity. The internet resources might serve as an academic study aid.

Are we missing anything?

We didn’t have an online form where students could submit a question or ask for help. From the main navigation, I didn’t see directions to the TRIO offices. So, we suspected the team might want to add these in.

Prototype: Updated main navigation tool

Take a look at the old main navigation tool, compared to the updated one based on our evaluation.

RIO SSP nav tool on 20070810.
Original Navigation
TRIO SSP nav tool on 20070810.
Updated Nav

Do you think that the new main navigation tool is easier to understand and use than the original?

We added three basic headings: “current students,” “guides,” and “general information.” Re-organized the links under the categories, added an ‘ask a question’ link. Added the TRIO badge and info about the programs relationship to CASP. ANTH 1200 and UNVI 1020 were merged under ‘courses’ and ‘staff’ migrated to either ‘about trio’ or the ‘ask a question/contact’ page. The academic catalogs advertisement button likely would be migrated to the campus resources section, or be presented in an academic/advising guide. The PDF icons were removed, because we planned to convert those to interactive PHP online forms (making it so the visitor doesn’t have to have special software installed) — if we ended up not doing this conversion, then we planned to add the PDF icons back in.

Keep in mind this was a rough prototype, but I think you can understand some of the approaches to making the navigation tool a little clearer. A little later on, we planned to talk about the other content on the home page and within each section of the site.

SSP home page content review continued

With our initial content review of the main navigation tool complete we turned to review the remaining content on the TRIO SSP home page in detail.

Let’s do a count of individual elements on the home page. We will use the groupings we described earlier:

  • A notice about a class closure – 1 item
  • A list of program benefits – 7 items (counting the intro)
  • A collection of links to resources/information about upcoming semesters – 11 items
  • A photo album of SSP events – 8 items
  • Instructions about how to make an appointment with an advisor – 1 item
  • A list of upcoming event dates – 3 items
  • A TRiO SSP icon/badge – we won’t count this element because we migrated it to the main navigation tool

We had a grand total of 31 unique elements that a visitor to the TRIO SSP Web site could evaluate and utilize. We had content headings that are in use to organize the elements: Welcome 2007 Freshmen, and Photo Album. A longer text description stating “Here are some links that may help you as you look forward to the coming semester:” paired with a horizontal rule to separate groups of elements.

The physical dimensions of the home page in pixels was: 771 x 2074. On a computer running with a resolution of 800 x 600, a visitor has roughly 3.5 screens of information to scroll through, at 1024 x 768 there are roughly 2.7 screens of information. So, with the information presented on the home page, a standard user would be unable to review and consider all options without scrolling. If all of the information is valuable and necessary — this may be okay. Otherwise, there might be a need to to weed out some of the excess.

Taking a closer look at the content

Our first element on the page is an announcement box:

I like that an effort has been made to make the announcement standout from all of the other content. We can conclude that this information is for current SSP participants, and that the announcement is time sensitive — at some point it will be removed from the page.

NOTE: as we progress through the content, let’s keep a list of what purpose the information serves, who the audience is, and if the information is actionable.

  • Announcement
    Purpose: to inform
    Audience: current students
    Actionable: no

The next set of text was:

Welcome Freshmen!

Welcome to TRIO SSP, a place where participants learn to have fun while achieving their personal and educational goals.

This is a general headline and welcome message. These are pretty standard on Web pages. While friendly, the message doesn’t really fulfill any other function. I suspect that we, as Web users, are learning to filter out this type of text. It doesn’t hold much value, information, or actionable items for site visitors. If we were using this piece of text to promote TRIO SSP to potential customers, then we would want to be more specific about how students learn to have fun while achieving their personal and educational goals.

  • Intro text
    Purpose: salutation
    Audience: prospective students
    Actionable: no

After the welcome message we have a line of text and then a list of benefits. We will be looking at each benefit individually.

Some of the benefits of joining TRIO SSP include:

Two FREE WMU credits in Fall! As a freshman you have enrolled in our two-credit FYE 2100 class and will receive a tuition grant from the WMU Provost to cover the cost of this course (at least $400). FYE 2100 counts toward graduation and will include college-level academic skills and co-curricular activities.

As written, this is describing benefits of being in the TRIO SSP program.

However, the heading for the first benefit is bold and draws more attention than the intro line as a visitor reads this content. So we might infer that this information is for prospective customers. Or, it might be for current students. The problem is that who the announcement is intended for could be ambiguous — depending on how you read the text. If I can get “Two FREE WMU credits in Fall 2007”, do I have to be a TRIO SSP participant to qualify for the benefit? Or, can if I simply take FYE 2100 and have tuition for the course covered?

If this is only re-stating a benefit of the program (i.e. all TRIO SSP students must take FYE 2100), then this text might be better suited for the ‘About TRIO’ page, or an ‘Intro to TRIO’ guide page.

  • Two free credits
    Purpose: inform
    Audience: prospective students?
    Actionable: no

Let’s continue looking through the benefits text:

Attend Fall Welcome at a Discount! Get a jump start on your college experience with Fall Welcome. Arrive on campus early, get acquainted with campus and your classmates, buy your books, and learn about the WMU experience from faculty, staff, and students. If you receive a Federal Pell Grant, you are eligible for the Kellogg Scholarship which will cover $150 of the $220 cost of Fall Welcome.

This text is describing another benefit of the TRIO SSP program. If we thought of the TRIO SSP program as a process or series of events, then attending Fall Welcome is likely to occur near the beginning of the process. We may want to consider having an ‘Intro to SSP’ section that covers all of the things that students will participate in — this would serve as an overview to prospective customers, as well as an introduction for new program participants.

It seems like this text also might need more detail about how a student would go about receiving the discount on Fall Welcome, any relevant deadlines etc.

  • Fall Welcome at a discount
    Purpose: inform
    Audience: prospective, current students
    Actionable: no

The remaining benefits text follows a similar pattern to those we have examined thus far:

Priority Registration! Each semester you will have the ability to register for classes on the first day of registration (before most of the other 19,000 WMU undergraduates). Get the classes you need when you need them.

Scholarships! All SSP participants are eligible for yearly Spirit Scholarships. If you receive a Pell Grant, you are also eligible for a $200-$600 SSP scholarship every year.

Caring, Knowledgeable Staff! SSP’s well trained, knowledgeable and compassionate professional and student staff are always here to help you solve problems and celebrate successes.

Lots More! Leadership development opportunities, volunteer experiences, use of our computer lab and laptop borrowing program, scholarship opportunities, cultural enrichment activities, employment opportunities, graduate school preparation, career exploration…

All of this is informational text and is not actionable. Most of this seems like it belongs in the ‘About’ page rather than being on the home page. It is possible that this text is here because there are different recruiting cycles during the year — and the text was necessary for recruitment into the program. However, during our initial project meeting it sounded like most of the students in the program were hand picked — so recruitment wouldn’t be the main goal of the site. If any of these items are actionable or time sensitive, then it would likely be better to present them in a different way — for example, in an event/announcement area on the home page with links to full detail.

The next section of the home page contains a series of links:

Here are some links that may help you as you look forward to the coming semester:

Read more about TRIO SSP!

Browse though the Photo Album to see us in action!

Information about the Math Placement Exam

Log in to take the Math Placement Exam

Academic Advising for Undergraduates

Look at the Undergraduate Catalog for lots of valuable information.

Look at the the General Education Guide.

Academic Skills Center (provides Content Tutoring, Supplemental Instruction, College Success Seminars, and Effective Reading Seminars)

Intellectual Skills Development Program (to learn more about entry-level competencies in reading, writing, and mathematics)

University Curriculum (for students who have not yet declared a major)

Writing Center (for students who want to improve their writing

This section might be easier to use, in terms of determining purpose/function, by adding a simple, short heading: “Helpful links,” “Get ready for Fall.”

The first link in the list, “Read more about TRIO SSP!” duplicates our ‘About’ link in the main navigation. If students don’t understand what TRIO SSP is by this point in time, then we have done something wrong in our customer service process. This link probably should not be here.

There is a link to the Photo Album. This is also a redundant link — the photo album is displayed directly after this section of ‘helpful links.’ I would recommend cutting this link.

The next two links are about the Math Placement Exam. This exam is an important step for new students to find the right mathematics course to start in. I would recommend merging these two into one item or guide about the Math Placement Exam.

We have a link to Academic Advising for Undergraduates. This link would benefit from some additional detail about why Academic Advising is important and valuable. The same holds true for the General Education Guide — when the link is presented by itself, with no context as to what the guide is and why it is valuable the visitor is left to figure everything out for themselves — they have to explore each link, go to a new page and start the information evaluation process all over again.

Finally we have links to other Center for Academic Program services as well as to University Curriculum. Each of these links are essentially referrals to other sites/services. We need to think more about how we go about doing referrals. Do we want to make them look more like advertisements? Should they be presented in the context of a case study or guide? We will revisit this issue later on in the case study.

At the end of the main column, we have the “Photo Album“. It would appear that these photos are being presented to the visitor in order to show examples of what TRIO SSP students do during a typical semester.

Let’s review the Web stats to see how many people have been looking at the photo albums.

From July through the end of August stats for the photo albums were:

  • Staff retreat – 5 views
  • Welcome picnic – 7 views
  • Pumpkin decorating contest – 1 views
  • Learning styles seminar – 5 views
  • Can drive – 0 views
  • To do show – 2 views
  • Mini-curriculum fair – 2 views
  • International festival – 6 views

So, out of 813 total page views, the total views for all of the photo albums was 28. Roughly 3% of all page views were of the photo albums. If these albums are intended to be a useful tool for demonstrating the community and value of the SSP, our current implementation is not performing well.

We may want to consider moving the information to a different place on the page (e.g. not at the bottom of a page a user has to scroll through three screens to get to). The photos might work more effectively if we showed one at a time, included a caption about the event, provided a link to a photo albums or case study page that provided more detail. From our set of photos we could randomly load one out of 30 or more photos at a time. This content might also perform better if presented along with relevant event announcements. For example, if October were coming up we might want to promote a pumpkin carving contest and show photos from last year.

The remaining content we have to review resides in the right hand column of the home page. Here we find one bit of text that tells students to “Call to schedule an appointment with an advisor” and three important semester dates.

We may want to consider a re-write for the advertisement to include a value proposition: “Want to graduate in fou
r years?
Get your academic plan together! Call (269) 387-1234 to schedule an appointment with an academic advisor”.

The important dates might benefit from a heading. Without text explaining what these dates are, we have to spend a little extra time figuring out why the dates are there, and why they are important to us. Most of these dates might work more effectively with a ‘start of the semester’ check list.

Conclusions

All in all, most of the content on the home page is ‘good’ in some way or another. However, it may not be placed in the right location. We have a lot of text that seems to belong in the ‘About’ page. We have historical material in the photo albums that could be a good tool, but are not performing as desired in their current location. Finally, we have a large collection of links that might benefit by being reorganized into a ‘start of the semester’ check list along with important dates.

We are done with our initial content review of the home page. Our next step is to think about what options we have for improving the home page.

Are there any patterns we see? Are there groups/categories we can use to organize our content? What should we be doing with the home page? What type of information should students be able to get from the home page? Are we serving all of our audiences with the information presented?

Think about these questions. What do you think would work?

Tomorrow we will be having our project team meeting. We will be talking about some of these questions. In our next post, we’ll talk a little more about improvements to the home page.

Notes from project team meeting #2

Today Carol and I met, reviewed the home page evaluation, figured out some goals for the home page, and discussed the different audience needs.

Moving forward, the home page content will be designed to primarily serve current students. A basic needs inventory helped us to determine that this audience will need information about:

  • advising
  • academic resources
  • TRIO SSP class materials and information
  • getting ready for the first semester
  • career counseling
  • intro/guide to financial aid

Content will be grouped into areas for:

  • active/actionable information
  • announcements
  • event information
  • volunteer opportunities
  • featured resources
  • important dates
  • promotion of advising

The ‘splash’ graphic immediately below the top of the page will be removed. The decision was based on consideration of the value this element presents to students. As implemented, the splash graphic presents non-dynamic images that serve no specific function other than to make the page look attractive and welcoming. In place of the splash graphic we will be including a photo from the ‘photo albums’ along with a brief caption and link to related photo album or event detail. We will use a snipet of code to facilitate random loading of the image. In considering this change, we reviewed the new Parent and Family Programs Web site — where we found that the splash graphic was not used, and a single, attractive photo representing parents and students supports the content/message/purpose of the page. On the Parent and Family Programs site, the image randomly loads. We will probably ask our friends who developed the Parent site to share the code they used to implement this nice feature. By re-purposing existing resources we save development time while nurturing inter-office relations.

In lieu of a content management system (which will eventually be rolled out and support many dynamic features) we will be using open source blog software (probably blogger.com) to author information to the ‘active/actionable content’ section of the new home page. The blog software will allow us to easily syndicate content in an RSS feed — providing alternative information distribution methods and establishing the potential for future information ‘mash-ups‘.

To populate the content from the blog to the TRIO SSP Web site, we will be developing/adapting a PHP script to grab information from the RSS feed and render it within the home page of the TRIO SSP Web site each time the page is loaded.

Our current goal is to prototype the new TRIO SSP home page, do a review with stakeholders in the SSP office, make revisions to the prototype, and publish a finished home page over the next week.

As we move forward we will be discussing some technical details about web development. The scope of this case study will enable us to provide explanation about what we are doing in terms of PHP, HTML, and CSS development as well as graphic design and software applications. Our commentary may not be able to fully address the needs of all skill levels. So, if something doesn’t make sense, please ask. We may answer your question or refer you to supplemental resources.

Blog develompent announcements tradeoff/decision

During our last project meeting we further discussed the pros and cons of using a blog to handle announcements for TRIO SSP students.

TRIO SSP is currently using an e-mailing list to send notifications of events/announcements. Information is also published to the front page of the SSP site. This method appears to be working pretty well (e.g. no students have complained about this method, and students have been attending events). The blog would be another way of getting information out to students. But, other than the RSS feature it doesn’t really enhance the communication methods beyond where they are presently at. We may revisit using the blog in the future, but for now it seems that it is not essential or necessary to improving delivery of services/content/information. So a decision was made to move the blog idea to a ‘future/someday’ file.

For those of you who are interested in how we would have implemented this feature I am including links to a few online tutorials below that describe how an RSS feed from a blog can be accessed and re-published using PHP.

Blog resources

Signup for a free blog at blogger.com. Read Blogger help pages and the FTP help information.

Learning PHP

If you are interesting beginning to learn PHP, try W3Schools.com’s PHP tutorial.

Code our own PHP RSS stuff

If you want to learn how to code your own PHP to display information for an RSS feed, try:

Use someone else’s code to get up and running quickly

If you want to quickly implement, or adapt existing code, try:

Prototype: SSP home page

Using the profile and evaluation notes from previous sessions, we developed a prototype SSP home page (PDF).

The prototype included the main navigation tool we discussed earlier. A few additional items have been added (we will probably continue to revise/simplify presentation of navigational items — at this point we are adding additional navigational items so that we know what other new information we plan to include in the new site).

We retained the welcome message. The information presented in this block/group of content was deemed to still be important for prospective/new students. Later during the semester we might consider switching the welcome message out to something else. But, at the start of the semester, the welcome message was still needed.

We have added a head titled “Information for current students.” Announcements/blurbs were re-written by Carol and included in this prototype .

In the right hand column, we have three main headings: “Advising contacts,” “Important dates,” and “Plan your degree.” Using these headings we have grouped similar information together. As we move forward we will likely consider adding stronger visual cues to distinguish each group from the others. For example, a calendar icon for important dates.

Overall, the length of the page has been dramatically reduced. Initial impressions of the announcement/blurbs is that they feel a little too long. We may want to look into having shorter announcements with links to further detail. However, prior to making a change we will have to discuss in detail each of the announcements to determine if such a change makes sense.

End of Case Study

We paused further development of the home page and focused on the other sections and content on the site and ultimately brought the project to an end as work on new priorities for the remaining semester began.

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