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  In short, the old site contained far too much information, much of it obsolete, including outdated references and dead links.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.

Recognizing excellence, recruiting students … growing moustaches

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

There has been plenty of excitement around the University in this busy fall season.  The Maclean’s annual university rankings were released a few days ago and I was very happy to see Laurentian’s overall ranking climb again.  Although no rankings are perfect, it is always nice to see our momentum in both Sudbury and Barrie captured by some of the national rankings. In the past two years we have increased our overall position in Maclean’s by seven ranks, to 11th in the primarily undergraduate category – the biggest jump of any university in Canada during that period.

This improvement over the past two years is due largely to the fact that relative to other universities, we have done a better job of protecting our student-faculty ratio, our operating budget per student has increased, a greater proportion of our students are winning national awards, and faculty members have secured more research grants.

On another exciting note, the 2011 Ontario Universities’ Fair (OUF) was held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on October 14-16th.  The OUF is an important opportunity for us to introduce ourselves to thousands of high school students and their parents who are seeking information about post-secondary options.  This year, the fair attracted over 118,000 attendees over the three-day period.

Laurentian University had a new element this year that was staged for a real “5D” Laurentian University experience, featuring a residence room, a replica of the rock-climbing wall at Sudbury’s Athletics Centre, and even an actual beach.  We were delighted by the positive feedback and thrilled to have received a record number of potential students and parents to our exhibit. I’d like to thank our students, faculty, staff and alumni who attended the fair and did such a wonderful job representing our growing University.  We are still receiving rave reviews!

On October 28th, I had the great pleasure of presenting long-term service awards to members of our Laurentian community.  The Chancellor, Board Chair Floyd Laughren and I were humbled to present this special recognition for 15, 20, 25, 30, 35 and 40 years of service to so many deserving staff.  In total, we were celebrating over 3,200 years of service at Laurentian University. Their collective efforts remind us all, again, that the success of any organization starts with its people.  This group has had an impressive impact on the University, helping to bring Laurentian to the place we stand today. I congratulate each of them and look forward to the many more years ahead.   I also want to acknowledge and thank those who we celebrated at our retirement celebration.  We were able to pay tribute to the faculty and staff who have recently retired or will soon retire from a career at Laurentian University.  Congratulations on a well-deserved retirement and best wishes to all.

Over 472 students graduated this Fall. Two convocation ceremonies were held on October 29th on the Sudbury campus. Several key awards were presented. Dr. Carol Kauppi was celebrated as the recipient of the Laurentian University Research Excellence Award for 2010-2011.  Dr. Kauppi is a full professor in the School of Social Work and since 2009 has been Director of the Centre for Research in Social Justice and Policy.  In 2010, she was successful in securing a grant of $1M from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.  This single grant provides 5-year funding for the Poverty, Homelessness and Migration project.  Great work Dr. Kauppi and congratulations on this very special award.

The other award that was presented went to Dr. Hoi Cheu from the Department of English for his excellence in teaching. Dr. Cheu accepted the Teaching Excellence Award for his contributions to Laurentian University.  As part of our community, he has vastly impacted his students and is dedicated to their progress and success.  I would like to extend my congratulations to him for his work.

Laurentian University launched its United Way campaign on October 4th with a kick-off breakfast that welcomed 154 people and raised $1,100 for the campaign. The campaign is in full swing with another fundraiser which started on November 3rd. Tickets for a draw to see an all Canadian hockey game, the Toronto Maple Leafs vs Vancouver Canucks in Toronto on December 17th at 7 pm, are available from November 3rd, 2011 and can be purchased for $5. The draw will be held on November 30th at 12:30 p.m. in the Great Hall.  This year we hope to raise $40,000 for this worthy cause, with the pledge drive ending on December 23rd.

Finally, this month is moustache season and I will be participating in my first Movember. This month-long event challenges men from every corner of Canada as well as around the world, to help support prostate cancer awareness by growing a moustache in November. We are all excited to do our part in raising awareness for men’s health this month.  Funds raised in Canada will go to support research on prostate cancer, the most common form of male cancer.  So if you see someone who looks like me, walking around campus over the next month sporting a moustache, chances are it will be me. To support the Laurentian Team by making a donation, you can go here for my page, or here for team captain, Dr. David Lesbarrères’ page.

As usual, I welcome comments and questions on the topics discussed in my blog postings, or any other matter that may be of concern to you. My email is: dominicgiroux@laurentian.ca .

You can also join the 2,500 people who follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Merci/Thank you/Miigwech