The web is a ubiquitous tool used every single day by every single student, faculty and staff member at the University of Alberta. It has become as basic an infrastructure need to the academy as classrooms and chalkboards. A well-executed web strategy is a critical component in attracting and retaining the best students, staff and faculty in Alberta, Canada and from around the world, and it is therefore essential that the university deploy time, energy and resources in this area. Failing to do so will continue to result in a diminished online experience for students and faculty at the University of Alberta.
In fact, people across our campuses are telling us what we need to do better, and we are committed to listening. We recently completed an online web survey that resulted in 2,700 responses from students, faculty, staff, alumni and other members of the community. Around 200 of the respondents also volunteered to be part of our online Feedback Forum so they could take an active part in determining the future of the U of A’s digital environment. If you would like to join the online Feedback Forum, please sign up here. In addition, web engagement sessions continue to take place with deans, chairs, faculty and staff in all faculties and administrative units. As they identify their specific needs across all of our platforms, these needs are being added to the overall university web strategy.
Most university sites, our own included, are primarily focused on the wants and needs of departments. This collective myopia has resulted in a website that leaves users bewildered and frustrated, and as a whole it serves no one well. The new vision, above all else, commits to a user-centred design, where the needs and wants of our audiences are put first. A cohesive online environment will have an immediate, positive impact on our audiences, allowing people to quickly find the content they need in a design that represents and reflects our leadership position as a post-secondary institution. It will also provide them an integrated experience with their university’s communications tools and learning platforms.
So what does this really mean? Are we spending $3.5 million over three years on a website? No. We are building expertise critically needed at this university, expertise that will help us fully realize the institution’s digital future. Resources are being re-allocated and in some cases augmented to develop and execute a re-architecting and integrating of our key datasets across the university. We are measuring all aspects of this work using comprehensive analytics. We are also using the best in open-source features along with our current enterprise systems, leveraging industry partners for key components only when required. The university is in fact already taking some big steps in the right direction. Some examples include:
- In December 2010, an agreement was signed with Google to provide students, faculty and staff with Google Apps for Education—a key building block for our vision as we move forward.
- In late March, U of A students were invited to begin making the switch over to Google Apps for Education. In the first nine days, 23,000 students made the switch.
- We have begun migrating eClass to Moodle 2.0, a robust open-source learning management system that offers an improved set of features for instructors and students, and which integrates with Google.
- In the fall of 2010, UAlberta became the first Canadian Foursquare Campus, and already has more than 10,000 check ins at our campus locations. The university is also utilizing a variety of other social media platforms to interact with students, faculty and staff, including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Tumblr and Memolane.
- A uAlberta app has been designed for the iPhone, with other platforms (Blackberry, Android) in development—providing easy access to U of A news, events, courses, timetables, maps of campus and transit information.
Enabled by our web, mobile, social networks and IT systems capabilities, we hope to create the best, leading-edge digital infrastructure for teaching and learning at any Canadian university. Our initiative will tap into an interdisciplinary team of faculty experts and online technology leaders who will collaborate in designing and implementing a fully accessible, usable and mobile digital environment as part of a new five-year IT plan under development. That environment will integrate features from Google, Moodle, our social media networks and our core data in Peoplesoft, libraries and research. This initiative has already received tremendous support and input from our faculties, units, students and alumni, and will require continued commitment from the entire university community. We encourage your feedback as we move towards our ultimate goal of becoming the best example of a post-secondary digital learning environment in the country.
If you have any questions about the university’s web strategy, I would be happy to answer them here on the blog or via email.
Executive director, web strategy