New University Website

Dear members of the University community / Boozhoo / Aanii / Kwe kwe

At the end of September, in time for the Ontario Universities’ Fair (OUF), the University launched a new website.

On the old website, visitors did not have access to course sections and their respective description, nor did they have access to a faculty directory. There was little information about campus life in Barrie.  There was no consistent structure to the program information. “Page not found” was one of the most popular areas visited.  In short, the old site contained far too much information, much of it obsolete, including outdated references and dead links.  We were receiving complaints on a daily basis from applicants who could not find the information they needed.

The new website has generated internal criticism about the availability, completeness, accuracy or translation of some information.  All of these concerns are being addressed, and we’re doing more in the weeks ahead to correct any shortcomings.  But the complaints from students applying to Laurentian have dropped dramatically, because they are now finding what they need.

The new website was designed taking into account the information that users are looking for. Since November 1st alone, the University website has received 327,680 unique page views, for an average of 3.28 pages per visit and the duration of an average site visit of 3.22 minutes.  Users now have fewer “clicks” to find the information they are looking for, due in part to the new expandable menus from the main page.  Over 70% of visitors return.  And, visits from mobile phones are up compared with the previous website.

The most fundamental change with the new University website is that information which had been targeting current students can now be found on a new Student Portal (which has had more than 9,400 unique page views).  Information relevant to our faculty and staff can now be found in a Staff Portal (which has had more than 3,300 unique page views).  Over 250 users have already uploaded information on the intranet.  Moving content aimed at faculty, current students and staff to other platforms/intranets is absolutely the right approach.  We are catching up with some other universities and organizations that have been streaming information this way for some time.

The roll-out of a website is a complex operation, and it was my decision to launch an imperfect product, recognizing the challenges that come with that, in order to provide applicants what they needed in this recruitment season.

One of the challenges in the roll-out of the web was being able to source consistent and accurate data from multiple departments.  As we move from manual to automated processes, and from fragmented to centralized databases, we will see this improve allowing the University to deliver full academic calendars “at a glance” and reflecting personnel information more accurately.

The intent is to have a comparable information structure across all programs, which includes a program overview page featuring the language, campus and delivery mode, department contact information, admission requirements, employment prospects and credit transfers.  There will be subpages for course sections, degree options and requirements, and faculty members. Steps have been taken in the past few weeks to address some issues regarding degree options and requirements in particular.  For examples, a lot of new content has been uploaded over the past few days especially in Social Sciences and Humanities thanks to work of Dean Elizabeth Dawes.

I and my colleagues have certainly learned from the experience of rolling out a new website, and we do want to respond to the concerns we’ve heard, and make sure we’re well-positioned going forward.  Thus, I am creating a Website Advisory Group, co-chaired by the Vice-President, Academic and Provost and a faculty member appointed by the President and serving on Senate, to advise the University’s Chief Information Officer (Luc Roy) and the Chief of Staff (Chris Mercer) on the next phases of the roll-out of the new website.  The co-chairs will recruit members of the Website Advisory Group, which will include a total of seven faculty members (one per Faculty including one from Barrie, one from federated universities and one from the Library and the co-chair, ensuring linguistic and gender balance), as well as student, staff and alumni representatives.  The mandate of this Website Advisory Group will be completed no later than August 2013.  The direction to the effect that information aimed at University faculty, staff and students shall reside on an Intranet stands.  The efforts of the Website Advisory Group shall focus in priority on the webpage sections or features which have the most traffic from external users (we have measurable data to track this).

A number of suggestions were made at November 20th Senate meeting on this matter, including posting on the Intranet regular updates to the number of visits per webpage, and finding ways to better communicate to current students where they can access key information.  I have also committed to providing at Senate in January key content parameters as to the information expected (and not desired) on each program’s webpage (based on market research), with a process flow-chart of who is to submit or draft content and updates, who signs off for accuracy including translation, and who is responsible for ongoing updates and accuracy, all with associated timelines.  These key content parameters and process flow-chart will be validated over time by the Website Advisory Group.

Current improvement priorities include uploading the course and degree requirements (several have been updated for the faculty of social sciences and humanities, with more to come, including formatting and linking to course descriptions).  Access to an edit site through LUNET will be provided so that departments can update their information and faculty profiles.  The deans’ pages will be uploaded, while the Athletics homage and imagery on many pages will be updated.

I want to thank the 180 faculty members who have sent their profiles.  These will be posted in the weeks to come.  The course directory is also being updated with improved search functionality by subject area and keyword.

In addition to the new University website and intranet, a new student applicant portal has launched.  Over 20% of applicants have registered to this site so far for September 2013.  Online applications for residence (and other services) are now open earlier and increase access for students.  Many forms are being converted to online input to ease the application process for students.

Many staff members have worked very long hours to produce a new, user-friendly and attractive website, with the aim of maximizing the automation of content updates moving forward.  I look forward to the next set of improvements to our dynamic web presence and communications, to nationally showcase our exceptional teaching and research.

As always, I welcome comments on the blog or any other matter: you can reach me at dominicgiroux@laurentian.ca, or you can join the 4,700 people who follow me on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

Merci, Thank You, Miigwech.

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