Archive for the 'Web & Media Services' Category

Big Improvements Measured in Davenport’s Main Site Navigation and Usability

One of the strategic goals set forth by the university for 2010-2011 fiscal year charged the web team and marketing department with “Improving navigation and usability of Davenport’s web presence.”  To achieve this goal, the decision was made to use a “Goal-Directed Design” approach to redesign and re-architect the website.  Members of the web team and Office of Project Management met with various departments of the university that have a presence on the main site to identify the primary audiences and goals for their area of the site.  Working together, they ranked these audiences and goals and built architectures to best serve them.

A little over six months have passed since the new site fully launched.  During this time, the web team has collected extensive analytics data about how people use the site.  We collected similar data for the previous version of the site.

We are happy to report the data shows a large improvement in the usability and navigation of the site.  Users, both internal and external, are finding what they need on the site more often, and in fewer clicks.  One of the primary metrics we use are navigation funnels  which allow us to observe if users are following a particular navigation path (i.e. achieving a goal we have identified).  We can see not only if they achieve the goal, but also, see what page they went to if they leave the path.  An example of one of these funnels is a prospective transfer student starting on the Admissions homepage and follow a path through to the Apply Now page.  A visualization of one of these funnels can be seen on the right.

The previous version of the site had a user success rate for pathway conversions that varied from 45% to 55%.  The new site has boosted this rate to over 75% to 90%. These increases are achieved primarily through shortening the pathways and improving the calls to action and labelling.  A few examples of boosts in success:

Pathway Success Rate
Transfer Admission 75%
High School Admissions 79%
MBA Admissions 84%
Program Information 87%

Now that we know our site architecture is working and getting our users where we want them to go, we will be using this data to focus our calls to action more effectively in support of univerisity strategic goals. The web team and marketing department will continue to parse the analytics data and identify both successes and areas of improvement to continue increasing the usability of our site.  Stayed tuned for further updates.

Waterfalling Down

Below you will see the stages of a sequential software development process called the Waterfall technique  in which progress is seen as flowing steadily downwards (like a waterfall) through the phases of Conception, Initiation, Analysis, Design, Construction, Testing and Maintenance.:


The general supporting theory of the waterfall technique is that bugs found at earlier stages in the waterfall technique of software development saves time and money rather than if they are found at later stages in the software development process. So, a bug in requirements gathering if found at the requirements gathering phase is far less expensive (50-200 times less expensive) than if it is found at the implementation phase. Due to this the waterfall technique of manufacturing and software development stresses time spent up front in the early phases for more complete documentation and information gathering.

Some generally accepted criticisms of the water fall technique:

  • The widely held belief that it is impossible for any non-trivial project to get one phase of a software products life-cycle perfected, before moving on to the next phases and learning from them. Often the act of moving through a software creation project is by it’s nature exploratory, meaning that shareholders and users often don’t know what they want or how to communicate it in terms of requirements. Requirements may change constantly. Designers and Developers have little control over these scenarios and if customers change the design after the design phase is completed (for example) it invariably means rework and increased time to implementation, particularly if (as in the waterfall model) a large amount of time has been spent up front.
  • Developers may not be aware of the difficulty of a particular element of the software. Meaning that it may not become clear UNTIL implementation that part of an application is far more difficult than originally planned for. Often, is this is the case it is better to change the design than to continue to use a design based on faulty predictions.

This is just a fraction of the discussion surrounding the waterfall technique of developing software. For a hard hitting critical look at waterfall technique check out Steve McConnell’s ‘Code Complete’  where he suggests that Design is a problem that can never be fully known and therefore no phase of development can ever be fully defined which is problematic for the waterfall technique of software development that is based on complete knowledge and finalization of phases.

Odyssey HMS

Homer’s Odyssey HMS

One of the more interesting ways to learn an application is by having a project that requires the use of an application that you have yet to learn. So what do you do if the application that you need to use to manage a project is Project Management Software? But enough about Basecamp! I want to talk about Odyssey HMS.

Over this past summer and fall, the Project Management Office (PMO) has been working with the Rob Engblom (Housing) and Paul Ballard (Student Affairs) to roll out Odyssey HMS. Odyssey HMS is an application by CBORD that allows Davenport to manage student housing for the 500 beds at the main campus. In addition, we also purchased Odyssey HMS Judicial and incident reporting module for all students at all campuses.

When a Project Manager rolls out a software application, many times we work with three groups of people: The vendor that we are purchasing the application from (the company with a good looking salesperson that promises everything), our co-workers in ITS who are stuck with the job of getting the hardware and software working (aka Heroes), and most importantly, the end –users who will be running this software to make their job more productive (the reason why we are all here). Sometimes it’s a fine line to walk to make all happy. If I had to rank the people that I need to please the most, it is the Users, then IT and finally the vendor.

In late September, Ian from CBord, came to Davenport for a week of training. The housing application works great and will be ready to go ahead of schedule. The original go live was November 1. However, the judicial module will need a web component written by our Web Team and this may be a 3+ month process. The system was designed for 5-6 users to write up incidents with students however the Student Affairs area would like the ability for all employees (700+ people) to have access.

In the case of this project, my ITS thanks goes to Merrick Richardson, Shawn Raymond, and Mark Fay for their help. During the project, one that is not wrapped up yet because the judicial module does not do nearly what we were sold (as stated above), I learned a great phrase from Von (or was it Mark). All sales people will say “Yes. Our product integrates with [insert name of erp, database, or legacy system here].” This really means that the web team and database team will have to write a series of programs to actually make this work.

(The views expressed by this blogger, Ron, are not necessarily those of the station. Any rebroadcast or transmission in electronic or mechanical form without the expressed written consent of Detroit Tiger baseball are prohibited)

Signs, signs, everywhere a sign

As more students embrace a technology-filled lifestyle filled with smartphones, netbooks and other wireless devices, the days of effectively reaching the university’s target audience with flyers and bulletin board postings on tack boards are waning.

The rapid distribution of information to visitors, students and faculty while reducing the usage of paper has become an important issue for Davenport University as it continues to strengthen its unified communications strategy. As students continue to increase their expectations of having their on-campus environment being an extension of their increasingly digital lifestyle, several factors have converged to make rapid communications to their target audiences a high priority.

You may have noticed the recent installation of large screens within your campus’s welcome area, lounge or other area where people convene or walk by.  These screens, otherwise known as digital signage displays, can deliver instant, timely information by utilizing multimedia elements such as images, video, flash movies using subtle animation, and news tickers/alerts powered by RSS feeds.

Digital Signage DiagramInformation regarding events, course changes, cancellations, room changes, student activities, sports, weather, and alert notifications can be delivered campus or system-wide in a matter of minutes.  A long-term objective is to have a networked system of displays that provides DU campuses with the immediacy of communications to reach visitors, students and faculty across all points of contact; these points of contact can replace existing noticeboards with dynamic, eye-catching screens that can show everything from alerts to lunch menus and details of school clubs and events.
This involves the principles of one-to-one marketing – a process where messages are tailored (as much as possible) to the intended recipient at intended locations, rather than pushing the message out to every pair of eyes and ears everywhere. Using content management systems similar to those that power the university’s various web sites, content can be scheduled to change throughout the day or over a period of time to specific demographic groups that convene in specific locales. Students typically congregate in areas such as student centers, hallways, libraries, cafeterias and bookstores.
When you visit the main campus on August 25th for our annual meeting, you can see examples of these digital signage points in action. Once you enter the Student Center’s main entrances, you’ll be greeted by a promotion entitled “Davenport University’s Points of Pride”. At the end of the event (1:00 p.m.), promotions and schedules for the Student Center are programmed to resume their normally scheduled display times.
Within the next two weeks, we’ll discuss the process of how to submit requests for content.  As fall semester continues, we’ll offer instructional videos explaining the technology behind the screens by taking a glance at the web-based digital signage content management system and its various functionalites.  Stay tuned. ;)

Single Sign-On

Single Sign-On (SSO) is a system that is used to link independent websites into a single cohesive experience. If an individual signs-on to ANY of these independent systems (intranet, main website, portal for example at Davenport) you are effectively authenticated into all of them. SSO minimizes the number of times that a user must type in their credentials.

The largest criticism of Single Sign-On is that if your SSO system goes down there is no way to authenticate into all of your properties. This is a legitimate concern and a way for a fall back sign on for the individual properties should be implemented.

Another point of interest (as far as criticism) is that the feeling of cohesion that SSO provides to people leads them into believing that they are on the same Website. In other words, authenticating into a protected site informs people that they are moving from one application to another, and without that we are sometimes confused about our current context.

Some of the benefits to SSO:

  • reduces the need for many systems to maintain passwords
  • reduces time spend entering passwords
  • less calls requesting passwords

Davenport employs Central Authentication Service (or CAS) as our SSO protocol. Here is a link to the CAS entry on wikipedia that does a better job of explaining how the protocol works than I can do.

As I mentioned before CAS (SSO) allows us to link together many different applications under the same authentication protocol. We have many applications that require SSO authentication not to mention our top three properties (Main Site, Intranet, Portal) which all use CAS (SSO).

Any further questions please post a comment or contact the webteam directly.