Communications works to redesign the Skidmore College website: A survey distributed to the student body will allow participants an early look at the new designs

Posted by Julia Leef

The Skidmore College website will undergo a complete transformation in its design, the details of which an ad hoc committee, comprised of members of the faculty and the Student Government Association, discussed on Feb. 20.

"We aim to improve many aspects of the College's Web presence, including the site's design and navigation," Forbush said. "The way we engage prospective students, and the way we package and display news, events and profiles of students, alumni and faculty."

Members include Dan Forbush, executive director of communications; Daniella Nordin, the College's online community manager; Robin Adams, interim director of Leadership Activities; Raiza Nazareth '12, vice president for communications and outreach on the SGA; Aaron Shifreen '13, vice president for Residential Affairs; Jessica Strasser '14, president of Wiecking; and Senator Amanda Roddy '14.

The College uses several online systems with a wide range of functionalities, such as Blackboard for course management, Acalog for the online catalog and the Content Management System, a customizable template responsible for displaying all of these systems.

"We have decided to switch from our current CMS to a new, very powerful one developed by OmniUpdate, which is being used by more than 600 colleges and universities," Forbush said. "It will run on OmniUpdate's servers and will be regularly maintained and upgraded by OmniUpdate staff, so that we will always have its most advanced version."

The new system also comes with a mobile platform, which facilitates access with smartphones, offers a more intuitive interface and integrates better with the College's student database, making the site easier to personalize.

Among the areas of the site that will be renovated are the home page, the current students page and the admissions page.

"We are looking for a website that will not only attract high school students to Skidmore, but also serve as an accessible and helpful platform for current students, faculty and staff," said Nazareth, whose ad hoc focus group consistently reviews the website redesigns. "Additionally, we would love for the website to be visually appealing and truly representative of Skidmore's creative nature."

In addition to making the site more appealing and helpful to prospective students, Forbush said the team would also like it to better reflect the creative thought ideal of the College by focusing more on student work and activities.

One way in which the committee hopes to achieve this is by exerting more effort in training student clubs and organizations to use the website's content management system's built-in template to create their own websites. This would keep them from having to outsource to a local designer, something that requires a budget most clubs do not have.

"It's basically like glorified Microsoft Word," Adams said. "Each person can control [his or her] own club's website, and it eliminates all need for htmls."

Another idea the committee discussed was expanding the Creative Thought Matters Photo Gallery, currently featured online, to places around the campus, such as the Murray-Aikins Dining Hall, the Williamson Sports Center and Palamountain Hall.

Other ways in which the committee hopes to emphasize student projects and activities on the website is through a new section in which students could talk about their experiences in internships, collaborative research and study abroad programs.

This area would also include links to the past projects and achievements of alumni, allowing current students to benefit from the foundations laid by graduates. Furthermore, the committee discussed the possibility of students posting their initiatives and fundraising efforts to reach out to the rest of the student body for donations and support, though there would most likely be a limit on the number of students who could post.

"We could take this space and say ‘here are the 10 Skidmore students who are raising money trying to do something fantastic,'" Adams said.

Along similar lines, there also will be a new section of the website called "Creative Space," which will most likely focus on students engaged in creative activities and spotlight student efforts. This area is available for viewing in the sample designs.

To receive feedback on their initial designs, the committee members distributed a survey to an audience comprised of prospective students, Junior Admissions Workshop participants, Saratoga Springs High School students, early decision admits, SGA members, members of the Alumni Board and members of the staff and faculty. The staff and faculty received the survey on Jan. 20, while the remaining groups received it at intervals over the following three weeks.

Those surveyed were offered two possible designs for the new website, Design A  and Design B . Of the 364 participants who responded, the majority preferred Design A, although many described both sites as having too much information.

"The websites are very overwhelming and my attention couldn't stay focused on the real reasons why I would be looking at this college," one participant said.

Overall, the participants concluded both designs were an improvement over the College's current website.

"We feel that if we were to implement either one of them, we would be ahead of where we are now," Forbush said.

Along with a new design, the committee is considering different ways to improve communications with current and prospective students. One possibility is increasing the College's usage of Facebook and other social media.

"Sometimes students would rather not go to an ‘official' website," said Nazareth, adding that it is easier to contact students on Facebook rather than the school website, especially when the SGA is spreading information about upcoming events.

Nordin said Facebook is a great tool for incoming students to meet other students in a private space, and to start building connections before coming onto campus. In addition, she says many current students use the site for ride boards, textbook swaps and homework help.

However, not everyone considered this the best option.

"My issue with Facebook and the Skidmore app is that a lot of people are wary of it," Shifreen said. "Checking all the disclaimer information might turn a lot of people off to it in the first place."

"Some of these are going to be fairly large projects," Forbush said. "And it may take a while to get them all done. We've got a lot to do."

The committee plans to draft a new student survey, run it by the SGA and then distribute it to the student body the week of March 5. The survey will also invite students to sign up for focus groups that will look at the new designs, which Forbush says will most likely happen the week of March 12.

The committee also decided to meet the following Monday for further discussion, and to consult further with Andy Camp, director of Web Development, about the redesigns.

Students who are interested in expressing their opinions on the new website designs should contact Forbush at dforbush@skidmore.edu.

Students may also follow Forbush's blog for continual updates on the redesign process.

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