I was spurred by a comment by Middlebury student George Altshuler on Tim Spears’ blog to make a change to our online Events Calendar. George commented that a student-created listed of Middlebury events provided through Google Calendars via RSS really should have been created by Middlebury College staff. Specifically, George believes,
“Middlebury needs an events calendar on its website that allows you to create a profile and allows you to select types of events you’re interested. Other schools have this, and for the amount of money the school has (and we pay) there is absolutely no good excuse for not having it.”
Our current Events Calendar was coded by Middlebury student Tyler Kremberg during the time he worked for LIS as a web programmer, about three years ago. It reads information directly from our administrative scheduling database, Resource 25 (which in turn gets much of its scheduling information from Banner), and displays it on the web with a bit more decoration than the default R25 calendar. At the time this was developed, RSS was only beginning to gain widespread popularity on websites – less than 10% of surveyed web users knew what it was.
Since that time, we in Web Services have badly wanted to recode the Events Calendar to include some of the features George is asking us to provide. However, when I speak of “Web Services” in terms of coding staff, I’m really talking about myself and Travis Stafford, who has been working with us for the last year and a half. Prior to three years ago, LIS didn’t have a full time web programmer outside of Banner and Segue, for two years before that LIS had only a Webmaster and a graduate student intern, and before that just the Webmaster. Much of the work in Web Services over the last five years has been creating a central Content Management Server and migrating all of the web sites and web applications into that framework. So while I’ve wanted to redevelop the Events Calendar for the last two years, I’ve been working on creating an online Directory that will work for both Middlebury and MIIS (and others too…), an online Donor Roll that reads directly from Banner, an automated Dining menu that allows you to provide feedback, a new site for the Museum of Art, an interactive Campus Map, and many other applications. And that’s my excuse for why we don’t have an interactive Events Calendar.
But that doesn’t mean that we can’t make improvements on what we do have. Today I’ve added RSS feeds for all of the Event Types listing on the Events Calendar. Just click on one of the types in the left navigation bar and you’ll be able to subscribe to a feed of those events. This took me about a half hour to do, so it’s probably something I should have done a while ago. Developing feeds for the front page of the calendar and the student organizations is going to be a bit more complex, but it’s something I’m aiming to do, probably some time this week. Not exactly a fully database-driven, user-personalizable solution, but it should give users some more flexibility in getting event information.
Let me conclude by saying that I welcome and invite comments here on ways that we can improve our website and our web applications. Middlebury has chartered a group to look at developing strategies for online services and, while I’m not included in that group, I will attempt to pass along any recommendations given to me. I take special note of anything our students suggest, since I so rarely hear from them on this topic.
If you’re curious about what Web Services is up to in terms of improvements to our website and web applications, I encourage you to subscribe to this blog. Also, check out the link to “my priorities” on the right. I keep that updated with the projects I’m working on. As to when we’ll see something like a user-personalizable events calendar, you might notice a line item there labelled “Personal Dashboard Application”….