New website continues to develop academic websites and the student dashboard

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

The current college website launched on April 26th to an enormous amount of positive feedback. The website was redesigned to be more attractive, more usable and more content-centered. Changes such as putting feature stories in the center of the home page and moving links to academic departments to the home page were designed to better reflect the personality of Swarthmore to outside visitors, including alumni and prospective students.

Kelly Mueller, Manager of Web Information Projects, remembers that “we wanted it to happen before the reading week started… we felt like it couldn’t be a non-event on campus, because so much work went into it… it touched most of the offices on campus.” For example, when content for the new athletic website had to be moved from the old system to the new one, fifteen volunteers from offices all over campus spent an entire day of their time helping out. While “there was some confusion about where things had moved to” during the initial launch period, most of the feedback was positive.

Many of the suggestions for improvement center around the student dashboard. The student dashboard has always been a popular feature–it received 258,798 pageviews in September of 2005, almost 100,000 more than the college home page itself–and actually inspired the creation of three new dashboards in April–one for faculty and staff, one for parents, and one for visitors. All three have been popular–the faculty dashboard logged 20,606 pageviews in September 2006.

“There are an enormous number of requests for new links on the student dashboard,” said Eric Behrens ’92, Associate Director of ITS and Academic Computing and project director for the launch. “Right now it’s very locked down, but we are hoping to allow people to add their own links to their own personal dashboard to make it more flexible and truly portal-like. This is a direction we know we’re heading, but we just don’t know how fast we can get there.”

Post-launch, the website development team has focused on two key priorities– a new “student life” website that will be featured in a tab along the top of the website, and new sites for academic departments. The “student life” website will seek to organize all of the “deeper information” about student life into one place and make sure that it is useful and up-to-date. The Dashboard focuses on students’ daily needs, but the “student life” website will organize information about things like the alcohol policy, career services, and the Intercultural Center. “We’re just getting to the student feedback point,” said Mueller, who expects there to be at least one focus group and some student testing of the website in the next few months, for a hopeful launch date before next semester.

One major change in the new website design involved moving all of the links to academic departments to the front page. Because of this move, pageviews of the various departments have shot up dramatically. For example, the Chemistry department went from 1,161 pageviews in September 2005 to 2,078 in September 2006, a rise of 79%. Dance went from 601 to 1,319 over the same period, for an increase of 119%, and Sociology and Anthropology jumped from 889 pageviews to 1,308, for an increase of 47%.

With more people viewing the academic pages, “we want to make sure that every department is keeping their site up-to-date and in good shape,” said Behrens. “A large part of this is training… we want to leave the department in a position to care for their website on an ongoing basis.” Departments are prioritized for new site development through “a combination of need and readiness.” New sites for Education and Political Science have already been unveiled, and sites for Religion, History, and Public Policy are in development, with Women’s Studies and Latin American Studies in the pre-preparation stages. In addition to academic departments, the new Career Services page has already been completed and launched, and Financial Aid is currently being worked on.

It’s not only the academic departments that have been grabbing more eyeballs. The average daily sessions logged across the entire site, where a “session” is defined as a series of clicks by an individual visitor over a period of time, increased from 26,042 in September 2005 to 32,619 in September 2006, a 25% increase. This suggests that more individual visitors have been visiting Swarthmore on the web. Similarly, the vast majority of individual pages on the website saw pageviews increase between September 2005 and September 2006. One exception was the Academics home page, which had a 35% decrease in pageviews, easily explained by the fact that the academic departments can now be reached via the home page. Athletics, on the other hand, had a 99% increase in pageviews, with 17,576 in September 2005 and 34,950 in September 2006. “If you were a magazine editor and your circulation doubled,” said Behrens, “you’d pop the cork on the champagne bottle!”

Behrens felt that the website development was “a great process for Swarthmore to go through, because it’s so self-reflective as an institution… this is the sort of thing it was designed to do.” Mueller agreed, adding that this project “has to be one of the most interesting things you can do, because it touches on so many areas, from design to technology… it’s a tall order, but it’s been tremendously interesting and rewarding to work with so many people.”

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