After six years with the same website, Eastern was past due for a change.
EWU unveiled their new homepage August 6. The new domain not only provides a better interface for future students, but it also makes connecting with the university via Twitter, Flickr, Facebook and other networking sites much easier for students. Kinks still need to be worked through within the site, but administrators are optimistic about its success and are planning the first wave of additions.
The process started over two years ago when the EWU web design team hired a consultant and picked through problems with the former site. The team consists of project manager John Kissick, Colin Turnbull, Betsy Knox, Kit Frantzich, Sam Buzby and students Josh Stetson and James Olson.
“One of our problems was that prospective students had to go through current student information … to get to stuff that was relevant to them,” project manager John Kissick said.
The new homepage features clear links for current students, future students, faculty and alumni. The future student page looks like a polished brochure with information set against a Palouse field backdrop. The current student page substitutes function for flash with clear headings and bulleted links.
Navigation has improved throughout the site. “The old site … changed every time you went to a new page,” said Kissick. “If you look at the new site, it has global variables, so no matter what page you’re on, you always have those to navigate by.”
The site also utilizes Web 2.0 technologies, making the website a hub connecting the university’s other Web content. Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube widgets can be found throughout the site, allowing users to receive university alerts or check out photos of the campus.
The way students can search for teachers or news from specific departments has also changed. Instead of using a directory or navigating to a department homepage, students can just use the search bar.
The new Google-powered search bar features a filter for people, programs, EWU-specific topics and information on the Web.
Kissick warns that the search bar may be glitchy the first couple times students use it. “We use Google search, and the problem with that is that we don’t have access to their algorithms,” he said.
Search results may also direct users to pages on the old site for the first month because some of the older documents are still being migrated over to the new site. Google creates search hierarchies based off the number of hits a page gets, which will also cause this problem until the new pages are used more.
Kissick said that glitches were expected and are the reason the school decided to launch the site before the academic year started. He added that their office is only receiving five calls a week concerning glitches as opposed to the 20 he received when the site first launched.
The team is already beginning to work on new features. The next addition will be a blog space for professors, followed by a mobile version of the site.
The Web team’s ultimate goal is to make the site more of an “intranet” where each student has a tailored portal site with links personalized to them and their interests. “The thing with a website is that it’s either constantly evolving, or it’s dead,” Kissick said.
The old site will continue to be up while bugs are worked on and pages are migrated, but a “death date” has been submitted and is waiting approval from chief information officer Gary Pratt and marketing and communications Vice President Mike Westfall.