University to launch new website

(Edmonton) The University of Alberta is about to launch an up-to-the-minute website that links to its entire community better than ever before.

U of A faculty, students, staff, alumni and donors, along with the rest of the world, will see a high-tech, design-savvy site that is not only easier to use, but also makes more room for social media and offers quick, easy access for mobile devices, says Jennifer Chesney, executive director of the university’s web strategy.

“We want to increase engagement with all of our university audiences by creating a U of A online environment based on their needs, and what they want to see on our website,” said Chesney. “We are giving them what they asked for.”

The new website also leads the way towards the university’s vision of “becoming Canada’s best example of a post-secondary digital learning environment enabled by web, mobile and social networks,” Chesney added.
The new site is set to go live in early September.

The website design and new features were created based on the strength of feedback from 2,700 students, staff, faculty and donors gathered in a web survey last February, making it a true collaboration of the needs and wants that were expressed by the U of A online community, said Chesney. The U of A’s web strategy team also took into account information gleaned from Google analytics, as well as input from faculties and administrative units.

Users will see several new features to make life easier, including:

• A look-up list of all the undergraduate and graduate degrees the U of A offers, as well as continuing education programs;

• “UAlberta in one minute,” a video info-graphic that tells of the university’s impact nationally and internationally, introducing the U of A to audiences with little or no previous knowledge of the university;

• Videos by students devoted to sharing the experience of being at the U of A;

• Website accessibility from any brand of mobile device;

• Mapping of all U of A campuses, featuring richly detailed 3-D models and 360-degree interactive photos created by U of A industrial design students, of all buildings;

• University news sources, such as Expressnews, faculty news, alumni news and Bears and Pandas news are consolidated into one site so that users can subscribe; and

• A consolidated calendar of university events, replacing three separate calendars.

Upcoming web additions will include recruitment sites for prospective national and international students, offering quick, efficient access to information.

One of the key elements of the new website is a strong integration of social media on all of the web pages, Chesney noted.

“In our social media portfolio, we now have more than 15,000 different connections with friends or followers, across different U of A social media accounts, and we have seen, in Twitter alone, more than a 120 per cent increase in followers since September 2010.

“Students, faculty, staff and others in the U of A community continue to join the social media networks in droves, and we are incorporating that in the appropriate channels.”

Over the summer, the web team threw open the tweaking process to more than 200 students, faculty, staff, alumni and donors through online usability studies. This was important in ensuring the design process was widely shared, Chesney said.

“This was seen and talked about by the whole U of A community and we are proud of that. It engaged people at all levels.”

Fine tuning of the website will continue in coming weeks, as users start to see a feedback mechanism asking about the pages they are on. Chesney encourages them to respond. “We are constantly improving the site through a combination of user-centered design choices based on scientific data.”