Author Archives: Michael Roy

stub for RFP

February 13, 2009

Middlebury College Request for Proposals
to Redesign and Restructure its Web Presence

Contents

1. About Middlebury

2. About Middlebury’s Current Web Site

3. Our Audiences

4. About the Project

5. Project Scope

6. Deliverables

7. Proposal Requirements

8. Proposal Timetable

9. Contact Info

10. Appendix: Requirements; Links

NOTE: A conference call/Web presentation is scheduled for Friday, February 20, from 1-3 p.m. EDT. All vendors are invited to participate and ask questions about the RFP during this time. Kindly submit advance questions by close of business on Friday, February 20.

Conference call /webinar information and registration at:

https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/599076523

You may also see a web version of this RFP where you may ask questions and see answers to others’ questions at http://sites.middlebury.edu/webredostories/?p=51

QUESTIONS? Contact Tim Etchells, 802.443.5707, tetchell@middlebury.edu

The project blog, with all relevant documents and background, is at

http://go.middlebury.edu/webmakeover/

1. About Middlebury

Established in 1800, Middlebury College, located in Vermont’s scenic Champlain Valley, has long been one of the country’s top liberal arts colleges. Today, Middlebury offers its 2,350 undergraduate students and its approximately 500 graduate students a broad curriculum embracing the arts, humanities, literature, foreign languages, social sciences, and natural sciences, with special strengths in international studies and environmental studies.

In addition to its residential undergraduate college, Middlebury:

  • offers intensive language training each summer, in 10 languages, to more than 1,300 students through its Language Schools at two locations;

  • is home to the Bread Loaf School of English and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference every summer at Middlebury’s Bread Loaf Mountain Campus in Ripton and three other locations;

  • maintains Schools Abroad sites in a dozen countries and more than 30 cities;

  • is affiliated with the Monterey Institute of International Studies (MIIS), a California graduate school offering masters degrees in international policy and management, translation and Interpretation, and language education to more than 700 students.

To understand the institutional context in which this project takes place, we suggest that you read:

  1. Middlebury’s mission statement at http://www.middlebury.edu/academics/catalogs/catalog/about_midd/mission.htm

  2. Monterey’s mission & history statement

  3. Middlebury’s strategic plan “Knowledge Without Boundaries” at http://www.middlebury.edu/administration/planning

  4. Monterey’s strategic plan.

  5. Middlebury’s current capital campaign, designed to support our strategic plan, at www.middleburyinitiative.org

2. About Middlebury’s Current Web Site

The current www.middlebury.edu site runs on Microsoft Content Management Server. All content from the previous site was moved into the current Content Management System by Library & Information Services (LIS) and Communications staffers in 2004. What was then a 15,000 page site now totals about 50,000 pages of content. The site covers every academic department and college office, every athletic team, every museum gallery and performance space, all of the Residential Commons activities, etc. The content ranges from a home page with recent news items to the deepest recesses of departmental archives that in many cases pre-date the 2004 makeover.

Close to five years later, our Web site still “works,” meaning that it functions well enough that most people can (eventually) find what they’re looking for. But it is badly in need of a reorganization and a face-lift. Over the past few years, it’s also become increasingly clear that our “distributed editing” model is not working. More than 300 content providers, many inadequately trained, some touching their pages only once a year, and working with a relatively user-unfriendly CMS, have tried to keep the Web site up to date, with limited success. And even as the site aged, and grew, it became obvious that it was not keeping up with the latest advances in Web technology (Web 2.0 tools), in terms of dynamic content and interactivity. To overcome the limits of our current site, numerous offices and individuals have used systems external to the CMS such as WordPress and MediaWiki, creating auxiliaries to our core Web site, often with lack of integration of content and design. We need a new strategy.

With the expected mothballing of MCMS by Microsoft, this is the right time to make significant changes, in hopes of streamlining the public-facing site, and offering visitors and the College community access to the latest Web tools for maintaining and enhancing their own web engagement.

Our internal audience is 100 percent broadband connection with a screen resolution of 1024×768 or higher and only 3 percent of our external visitors are on dialup with 95 percent of them viewing our site at 1024×768 or higher. Internally, 62 percent of us use Internet Explorer with 26 percent favoring Firefox and 12 percent using Safari. Externally, 60 percent of our visitors use Internet Explorer, 26 percent Firefox and 14 percent Safari. Our current site is designed for Internet Explorer 6+, Firefox 2+, Safari 2+ and other browsers including Chrome and Opera. We do anticipate an increased use of hand-held devices (e.g. iPhone, Blackberry, Android).

3. Our Web Site Audiences
& What (We Think) They’re Looking For

Each of the schools (the undergraduate college, MIIS, Bread Loaf School of English, and the Language Schools) has a diverse audience. Each of the user categories below therefore represents a different demographic for each school. For example, prospective students are high school students for the undergraduate college, teachers for Bread Loaf, working professionals for MIIS, a mix of undergraduate and graduate students for Language Schools and Schools Abroad, and a significant number of international students for all schools. Some of these constituents use the site casually and infrequently; others use it daily if not hourly. They are (in alphabetical order):

  • Alumni: What’s new at the College; how my team/club/group is doing; why it’s still the place they love and remember, even as it changes dramatically to keep up with the times; ways to keep in touch with other alums, and with faculty and staff they remember

  • Current students: What’s new at the College; information on campus activities; info on dining, housing and social life issues; easy access to course and research materials; and ways to connect with faculty, staff, alumni, and each other

  • Donors: Ways to learn what’s new at the College; quick and easy gateways to make gifts; ways to target their gifts to programs they feel strongly about

  • Faculty: What’s new at the College; access to research materials; tools to promote research and facilitate collaboration; tools to facilitate class activities; ability to help student advisees navigate requirements, find educational and career resources; access information necessary to being an employee (HR, benefits, relevant forms)

  • Parents of current students: Information on what their students are up to (academics, athletics, extracurricular activities); what’s new at the College; key information to assist them (as in financial aid, calendars, etc.), and ways to connect with other parents

  • Prospective students & their families: Far and away our most important external audience, they want: current information on Middlebury and its programs; in particular, a sense of what it’s like to be a Middlebury student, where they might fit in on campus, and what life after Middlebury might look like

  • Staff: What’s new at the College; how to keep in touch with one another and with students and alumni; how to use College Web tools to make their working lives less stressful and more efficient; access information necessary to being an employee (HR, benefits, relevant forms)

  • Other friends of the College, including local community: What’s new at the College; events listings

4. About the Project

Middlebury seeks a partner to help us redesign and restructure the current Web presence of the undergraduate college at Middlebury [ www.middlebury.edu ] and the site of our affiliate, the Monterey Institute of International Studies [ www.miis.edu ], as well as the Summer Language Schools, the Schools Abroad, the Bread Loaf School of English, and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, which are part of the middlebury.edu domain.

This will be the next step in a process under way since September of 2008, when a Web makeover team appointed by the president began meeting with stakeholders on and off campus, surveying different constituencies (faculty, staff, students, alumni, prospective students), organizing focus groups, and generally gathering information on the strengths and weaknesses of the current site, and developing ideas about what we need to do to meet the needs of a Middlebury community that is increasingly reliant on access to Web-based content and tools.

Based on this work, the new Middlebury Web presence will include:

  • public-facing sites for both Middlebury and Monterey that are designed primarily for prospective students (and their families), alumni, donors, and the local community. Among the key areas of these sites will be admissions, financial aid, academics, athletics, the arts, and giving, as well as home pages and sub-sites for departments and offices.

  • internally-focused published sites that allow our various offices and departments to deliver information and services to students, faculty and staff.

  • personal, customizable pages created by faculty, staff, students and visitors, modeled on iGoogle, that will provide widget-based, customizable dashboards for our users to collect, organize, and share information relevant and useful to them. These are non-public homepages used by members of the community to personalize their web experiences.

The major goals are to:

  • streamline the public-facing sites, so that people can find exactly what they need, without tripping over all the things they don’t.

  • make it easier for prospective students and their families to discover and engage with Middlebury and its affiliated programs at a much-improved admissions site, using the latest Web tools and engaging, dynamic and interactive content.

  • provide up-to-date Web tools that any individual member of our audiences can use to create and personalize their Middlebury/Monterey Web experience with a “customized home page.”

  • promote and facilitate communication between and among our target audiences, and in particular promote increased engagement by alumni in the life of the College.

  • improve, standardize and update public-facing sites belonging to offices and departments, while at the same time giving students, faculty and staff access to flexible templates and dynamic content with which to tell their stories and do their work.

The primary objectives for the vendor’s involvement in this project are:

  • a comprehensive design blueprint and strategy for the public-facing sites for Middlebury, the Language Schools, the Bread Loaf programs, and Monterey.

  • a thorough review of the proposed “information architecture” for those sites and for the internally-focused site (see http://sites.middlebury.edu/webredo/2009/02/11/proposed-information-architecture/ for the the proposed IA).

  • design and process flows for the content and tools, some existing and some new, that will comprise our overall web presence.

Role of vendor in project: We have significant staffing and expertise to implement a new information architecture, build and program functionality, and convert our current Web presence. We are looking for a vendor to:

  • build overall blueprints for our Web presence,

  • create designs, and

  • devise strategies in collaboration with us to synthesize the various parts of our Web presence into a relatively seamless whole.

We expect that the public-facing Middlebury and MIIS sites will be relatively small and maintained by a core group of professional communicators and Web producers. We expect that Middlebury’s Library & Information Services staff, with help from the Communications office, will be building out the new design and information architecture of this site with Drupal, and using other tools as necessary, including ASP.net for the customized home pages. We will incorporate existing open source Drupal modules where possible, but also write our own code to interface with existing systems.

The design and structure must make it easy to access and serve up video, audio, Flash and other dynamic Web content.

This design project will specifically include creating as-seamless-as-possible interfaces with several vendor-produced and hosted Web sites, including the College Store and the alumni online community. In addition, we want to facilitate connections through the Middlebury site via widgets and “share” buttons with various networking Web sites, including Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Flickr, and iTunes University.

Specifically, the new site will interface with these existing systems:

  • A database of contact information run on Microsoft Active Directory

  • A calendar of events run on CollegeNet’s Resource25 using R25 Web Services

  • Feeds of content from an on-campus instance of WordPress

  • Feeds of content from an on-campus instance of MediaWiki

  • Streaming video from an on-campus instance of Flash Media Server using a custom developed Web service that can both upload and retrieve videos and audio

  • A Campus Map application using KML as a data source and interfacing with Google Maps

  • A Web service to deliver weather information from NOAA

  • College Store site running on an MBS system

  • Feeds of data from our Enterprise Resource Management system (Sungard Banner)

  • Exchange/webmail or other future e-mail delivery systems

In general, all information from external sources will be delivered to the public-facing Web site via XML Web services or RSS feeds for the front-end Web site. In addition, for personalized home pages and sites used primarily for in-house use by employees and students, interfaces may additionally include simple links to other Web sites and services, iCal, and SQL database queries.

5. Project Scope

The scope of the project includes the entire Web presence of the College, MIIS, and affiliated programs, except the following:

  • the College’s academic course management system, Segue, as well as other learning management systems currently running on various campuses, such as Moodle.

  • the College’s administrative/enterprise resource system (Banner), which serves Middlebury and Monterey students, faculty, and staff, though the design/structure of the site will need to accommodate feeds to the various Web sites from Banner.

  • the hosted online community called PantherNet (Harris) and Monterey’s iModules system, which serve alumni and students, though new designs will be applied to such services.

  • BreadNet, the Bread Loaf School of English internal conferencing system (currently deployed via FirstClass).

6. Deliverables

  • Information architecture review and finalization: The vendor shall work with an IA that we have developed, expand upon this work, and develop a tested IA as the foundation of the project.

  • Process flows for all transactional components, including end-users’ and content managers’ uses of the Web presence.

  • Wireframes, after completion of IA work.

  • Design concepts and elements.

  • After concepts are approved, treatments and design templates for a select number of differing page types, which could include the following:

    • Middlebury and Monterey home pages

    • Top level landing page (for example, Admissions)

    • Generic content page

    • Gateway or sitemap page (for example, Faculty & Staff)

    • Recent news headlines

    • News article

    • Profile page for community members (e.g. faculty, staff, or student)

    • Events listing

    • Frequently Asked Questions page

    • Wrapper with core design elements for integrating external systems into web site

    • Variations on these treatments to offer options to departments based on desired look, function, and usability

  • A design treatment and process diagram for the customizable personal home page.

  • Treatments and templates deliverables should be in file format to be agreed upon.

  • Style guides designed for ease of use by content creators and editors.

  • Provisions for W3C specification compliance and Section 508 ADA compliance.

  • Usability testing plan: from both visual branding and user experience points of view; note that usability review of site flow and structure should take place before design work.

  • Tentative schedule and plan of work to complete Monterey’s site for public launch in August 2009, and all Middlebury and MIIS sites by December 2009.

7. Proposal Requirements

Proposals should include the following information:

  • A descriptive outline of the methodology and processes that would be used on this project, including input required by Middlebury, how your firm handles project communications, and what tools you use.

  • Proposed timetable for two launches: MIIS in August 2009, and the rest by December 2009.

  • List of vendor’s project team members, including professional biographies.

  • Price break down by phase, with a specific list of vendor activities and deliverables. Include hourly rates for project team members. Also include built-in contingency work as required during implementation, and break out travel, lodging, and communication costs.

  • Links to examples of similar work, including examples of delivered and commented html and style sheets.

  • A list of assumptions made in developing your proposal.

  • References.

8. Proposal Timetable

Here is our schedule for evaluating proposals. If you intend to submit a proposal, please understand that it must be submitted by Friday, February 27, 2009, at 5 p.m. EST for full consideration.

Request for proposals issued: Friday, February 13, 2009

Conference call to clarify RFP and answer questions: Friday, February 20, 2009,

from 1-3 p.m. EST.

Proposals due: Friday, February 27, 2009,

5 p.m. EST

Finalists notified by: Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Vendor presentations completed by: Thursday, March 19, 2009

Vendors notified of final selection by: Monday, March 23, 2009

9. Contact Info

Proposals should be submitted electronically to:

Tim Etchells, director, interactive communications

tetchell@middlebury.edu

Contact info: e-mail, tetchell@middlebury.edu; phone, 802.443.5707; fax, 802.443.2071

10. Appendix: Requirements

As part of our work this fall, we conducted a series of focus groups and surveys, and commissioned ‘stakeholder reports’ from key campus offices. We have synthesized the results of this work into a raw requirements database that can be found at http://tinyurl.com/middwebdetails. Below you will find a summary of these requirements that convey the focus, scope, and direction of our project. This should not be taken as an exhaustive or complete description of the requirements, but is intended to provide a sense of the directions and ambitions. It is worth noting again that we intend to do the software development and integration for this, and are looking for help on the blueprints, IA, process modeling, design, and usability testing.

This section is organized into the following sections:

  1. General Design Concepts

  2. Information Architecture / Site Index / Navigation

  3. Customization and personalization

  4. Interfaces to Systems and Platforms

  5. Search

  6. Analytics, Content & Site Management, Authorizations & Permissions

10.1 General Design Concepts

  • Home page reflects Middlebury as the global liberal arts college (“One Midd”)

  • Give a strong sense of the place and people.

  • Engaging, interactive, dynamic content: site should be “cool”

  • Convey what it is really like to be a student.

  • Design easy to translate/function as text-only

  • Cross-platform and browser viewing with minimum of necessary plug-ins

  • Mobile Device Design/Support with pages that load quickly and are deliverable to Web-capable mobile phones & PDAs; feed information (e.g. sports scores updates, e-commerce info) to mobile devices

  • Middlebury-at-a-glance quick facts and info clearly accessed, dynamically updated

  • Easy to use, engaging admissions site that encourages prospective students to create a profile and personalize their experience

  • “Stories” that profile individual students, faculty, staff, alums to humanize the Middlebury/MIIS experiences and highlight the opportunities that await new students.

  • Improved academic department sites with more design flexibility via multiple templates, strong multimedia capabilities, embedded feeds of relevant events & information, and robust interlinking with other academic elements (course schedule, course websites)

  • Improved “Contact Us” placement & feature on sub-sites (contact us may be departmental contact, in addition to web content provider/maintainer)

  • Some flexibility in use of fonts, colors templates

  • Menu of widgets (described below) that can be embedded within a sub-site (e.g. faculty info, course info, calendars, etc.)

  • W3C specifications for standards

10.2 Information Architecture, Site Index, & Navigation

Site indexes, gateways

  • Design must include robust site index(es), including alphabetical listing of “official” Web sites

  • Gateways: indexes of sites for particular constituencies (students, alumni, faculty, etc.) See www.brynmawr.edu for example of targeted banners.

Improved navigation

Ideas that we have collected as part of our initial requirements gathering process include:

  • Clear direction to information about undergraduate college from the Middlebury home page

  • Ability to direct visitors to other programs (MIIS, Schools Abroad, Bread Loaf, etc.) without leaving front page, but not cluttered or confusing navigation

  • Minimal number of “layers” to navigate to reach destination page

  • Context aware navigation elements: personalized headers (e.g. menu options vary depending on constituency / sign-on); example: Header navigation shows links to Financial Aid services if you’re on financial aid, or to HR if you’re a staff member

10.3. Customization and Personalization

For both our external audiences (prospective students, visitors, etc.) and our internal audiences, we envision an environment that will allow users of the site to customize and personalize their home pages and their experiences of the site, similar to iGoogle. Potential content could include bookmarked pages, event feeds, weather, course schedules, targeted news and event items, facility hours, widgets from external websites, etc. Your proposal should speak to how you would help us flesh out these ideas in terms of information architecture, process flow diagrams, design, and advice about implementation (including technology advice).

10.4. Interfaces to Systems and Platforms

Design must accommodate interactive and multimedia features and applications that are already being used at Middlebury, as well as integration of external systems and future innovations. We do not expect a vendor to integrate these systems, but to propose a design and create templates that will integrate these materials in as seamless a manner as possible. What follows is a list of materials that a design must accomodate.

A. Multimedia (audio / visual / podcast ) interfaces for internally-created content such as:

  • Link to and embedding of Middlebury iTunesU site

  • Audio / video interviews

  • Interface for admissions video presentations

  • Videos for training (employees, student staff, etc.)

  • Virtual campus tours / exhibits

  • Embeddable audio/video of lectures, student performances & creative work, and campus PR, ideally requiring no separate or unusual plug-ins, or navigation to sub-sites or external apps, with full cross-browser/platform support

  • Currently running Flash media server (middmedia.middlebury.edu)

B. In-browser live chat/Q&A

  • Live chats with students and admissions officers, and potentially with other offices within the College; we are currently using Meebo and would happily continue if fully integrated into new site

C. Social software/Web 2.0 integration
We have a wide array of Web 2.0 applications and activities that are not presently meaningfully intergrated into our existing site. The new design needs to accommodate the following activities:

  • Allow people to share pages on social network of choice (e.g. del.icio.us, Facebook, etc.)

  • Commentable pages (as an option)

  • Integration of blogging and wiki technologies into range of different sites and sub-sites via RSS

  • Ability to coordinate with and embed external multimedia networks, like YouTube, Flickr, etc.

  • Links to allow users subscribe to RSS feeds through site

  • Tagging system to span multiple content sources in order to aggregate and view similar content / data

  • Bookmarking of individual pages for inclusion in customized homepages

D. Calendars and Events
We have an existing master calendar application that we wish to enhance to feed calendar information throughout the site. Here are thoughts about how this might manifest itself on the new site:

Provide utility for creating departmental / personal Web-based calendars and display of hours open/closed
Examples: bookstore, library branches, swimming pool, fitness center, dining halls

Enhanced master calendar functionality

– Sort Calendars by Interest, Topic, Date, etc. (Filters)

– Event Feeds (via RSS, iCal, email, email digest) to targeted users or to users who select certain event categories

– Allow users to RSVP to Event

– Enhance room reservations system

Examples: allow any user to make reservation and others to approve for all campus spaces; one-click mechanism to have event appear in Events Calendar

– User-uploaded photos for events; thumbnails display with events calendar and are clickable for event details

Box-Office integration with calendaring: from calendar, one-click to ticket purchase

External events calendaring

Examples: Enable a separate calendar that allows for marketing of off site events (such as those planned by College Advancement, Admissions, etc.). Make those events also accessible as feeds to the off-campus users.

E. Course Information

All course information is presently stored within Banner, our main administrative application. We will extract this information to provide course information throughout the site. We will want to use this information in faculty profiles, a course catalog application, and within department listings.

F. Faculty/Student Information

We want to integrate existing data stored in Banner along with new applications for storing additional information to provide for the ability to produce:

  • Dynamic faculty home pages (office hours, courses being taught, publications, C.V.)

  • Central database of faculty C.V., updated publications, & accomplishments

  • Faculty office hours

  • Database/portfolios of student research, work, volunteer activities, accomplishments

G. Maps, Campus Tours

We have a set of already existing maps that we wish to enhance and make available throughout the site. The new site will need to accommodate inclusion of the following geographic information resources that we have already developed or plan to develop internally:

  • Interactive world map showing location of all College programs as a visual representation of the global liberal arts college; indicate presence of study abroad, language schools; where people are from.

  • Virtual campus tour

  • Interactive campus map with directions to campus, including parking information

  • Dynamic listing of room/location features

H. Forms
In our discussions with the campus about what they would like to see in a new Web site, a major component that many offices wanted was the ability to easily collect information via Web forms, and (sometimes) to be able to manage that data via the Web

We will build and/or provide our authors the ability to build customizable forms for collecting data that allow things such as:

  • A general tool for allowing people to sign up for things (appointments, office hours, tutorials, music lessons, etc.)

  • Forms for allowing on-line donations that are easy to customize

  • Forms for event registration

  • Easy way to allow for storefronts/ecommerce

  • Grant proposal submissions

  • Simple feedback forms that deliver results in e-mail and .csv files

I. Media Galleries

  • Ability for departments, student groups and others to aggregate, annotate, and share media (audio, video, photos) within their design framework, including both internally and externally hosted media.

J. Newsletter Production and Distribution via Web
To serve both internal and external audiences, many departments produce newsletters that go out as print, email and RSS; we would like to provide a utility that makes it easy (for those willing to commit the time to writing, editing, and marketing) to produce an attractive newsletter.

10.5. Search

Search
We provide search through the google search appliance. We will want to integrate search throughout the site, and develop strategies for improving the accuracy of search results given the contraints of the chosen technology.

Our users have asked for:

  • Improved Search functionality

  • Scoped Search

  • Integrated search box in persistent banner (instead of link to search page)

10.6. Analytics, Content & Site Management, Authorizations & Permissions

Analytics

In the administrative environment that we provide for site administrators, we want to allow them access to tracking and analytics tool that will show web use statistics.

Content Management and Administrative Interfaces

With Drupal, we will need to think about how we design and deploy editing capabilities throughout the community. Here is a list of requirements for the editing environment. Since we have some control over how the editing environment manifests itself for our editors, this list may prove useful in designing the process workflows for the editors of our site.

  • Cross Browser Compatibility

  • Unified (common) editing interface across all content platforms (CMS, Blogs, wikis)

  • Must include foreign language character compatibility (Cyrillic, Kanji, etc.)

  • Editing site content needs to be easier and flexible: “as easy as commenting on a blog”

  • Provide for remote-access (off-campus) editing

  • A non-public test / development space for CMS pages

  • Improve granting of CMS authorizations

  • Provide for collaborative (multiple author) document creation/editing

  • Make it easy to incorporate images, audio, video and multimedia on site

Document and Page display and archiving

These features need to be visible within the design; LIS will address the technology to implement this.

  • Print functionality with proper formatting across browsers

  • Document emailing

  • Provide for archiving of key Web site content, documents

  • Provide for tagging and easy access to archived materials, including video archives

Authorization / Permissions
While the technical implementation of these features will fall to the staff of LIS, we anticipate the following controls that will need to be visible through the editing interface, and will require process diagrams and design work, informed by the constraints of Drupal.

  • Include social networks when possible with SSO

  • Provide for Guest Accounts

  • Integrate with LDAP/AD

  • Develop college-wide standard RSS profiles for user-types (students, faculty, staff)

  • Allow for Password/Authentication protected areas, including restricted / private blogs & wikis that uses AD groups and ad hoc groups.

  • Authorized users for content management; provide for temporary student employee permissions to edit content

  • Allow permissions to scale to the document level

Links

The following links may be helpful to find out more about the work done by the project team leading up to this moment.

main web makeover project Web site

http://go.middlebury.edu/webmakeover/

internet strategy taskforce report

http://sites.middlebury.edu/webredostories/?p=8

stakeholder reports

http://sites.middlebury.edu/webredostories/

requirements

http://tinyurl.com/middwebdetails

preliminary IA

http://sites.middlebury.edu/webredo/2009/02/11/proposed-information-architecture/

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Internet Strategy Taskforce: Spring 2008

IntroductionThis report emerged out of a semester long collaboration among a group of administrators and faculty to explore the ways that Middlebury can improve its web presence. While few constituents would point to Middlebury’s web site as one of the core challenges facing the institution, we view our online presence as an untapped arena of community, participation, and functionality that can better serve the college’s array of constituents and campuses. We believe that Middlebury can take a leadership role in using online media to represent ourselves to the world, and better embody the principles that the institution stands for. We realize that such a revitalization of our web presence will have costs; but we believe that the core investment will less be in material resources as much as a shift in the philosophy of engaging the web and a more efficient use of student, staff, and faculty time to make the online community an extension of Middlebury’s current practices.

Problems: What doesn’t work with Middlebury’s current web presence?
Middlebury College has a perfectly adequate website for conveying information about the institution, but we believe “adequate” is not representative of Middlebury. We should note that a website and a web presence are two different things, as Middlebury’s web presence is hardly limited to its site. There are “Middlebury”-labeled sites across the web, whether the tagged photos of a current student, a faculty’s blog, or an alumni group’s YouTube archive. While we could never hope nor wish to control every use of our institution in the online world, we can more effective facilitate access to sites that engage content creators to contribute to our own websites, and create an online community of participation that brings people into our own sites, rather than sends them out into satellite domains.

Beyond our broader web presence, there are some basic problems with our website. It lacks a high-degree of usability, it is not particularly well-liked or fully utilized by faculty and staff, and it seems somewhat restrictive, dated, and stale compared to other higher education sites. But the more compelling problems involve the site’s inability to capture the broad range of programs tied to the college, failure to invite active engagement and participation, and its static, text-heavy nature compared to the dynamic multimedia possibilities of the web.

The web does not effectively highlight the quality of scholarship and creative work that our faculty and students produce. We have researchers and artists that are tops in their fields, and students producing groundbreaking work, but the web does not currently share and distribute these works. Some faculty and students do have their own websites that promote and highlight their work, but they tend to be isolated from the main Middlebury website, often lacking clear links and continuity between sites. The effect is that the individuals represented on these satellite websites do not feel like part of the Middlebury online community, and the core website seems overly institutional and lacking personalized presence.

One chief problem is that Middlebury’s number of different constituencies is vast and varied – we need to be able to create a web presence that effectively serves all those constituencies, and manages the specific issue of external vs. internal users. Currently, every constituent encounters Middlebury’s website through a uniform design, with little customization for the vastly different places where Middlebury’s global presence reaches, and little attempt to target to the different uses that various users might have for our site, whether alums or faculty, prospectives or staff.

In short, we see a number of problems and untapped possibilities for Middlebury’s web presence:

  • Our website is frequently out-of-date in content, and lacks many design and usability features of peer institutions

  • Our website lacks opportunities for participation and engagement, serving mostly as a repository of static text-based information

  • Our website does not capture the creativity, innovation, and energy that Middlebury represents and produces in many tangible incarnations of pedagogy, research, creativity, and civic engagement

  • Our website is viewed by many “vested” constituents as serving only as an online “admissions brochure,” and thus faculty, staff, students, and alumni use other web services to communicate and engage with each other

What follows is a set of thinking points to build on as we try to re-envision Middlebury’s web presence. It is not a bounded set of recommendations to be followed and then abandoned upon completion. The web is not a stable entity, or a problem to be solved; rather, it is a dynamic, constantly evolving medium that needs internal care and updating. We have typically treated the web as a building project, hiring external contractors to design and construct it. We must conceive our web presence more like a garden, needing constant care, upkeep, and maintenance.

Possibilities: What more could Middlebury do on the web?
How can we use the internet to help realize our strategic plan, Knowledge without Boundaries, and our vision to become the Global Liberal Arts College of the 21st Century? Middlebury’s current web presence reflects neither the tenets of the college as an educational institution, nor the possibilities that today’s technology enables. Ultimately the goal should be to make Middlebury’s web presence not only have an appealing design that looks good, but maximize its usability as well, capturing the unique ability of the web to communicate and engage users in a wide range of registers. We offer the following set of keywords that encapsulate the broader possibilities that Middlebury can pursue via its web presence and better capture the essence of a Middlebury education through its online connections:

Our web presence must provide opportunities for participation.
One of the central tenets of Middlebury College is a belief in active learning – we teach students by engaging them in dialog, in creative expression, in community service, and in independent research. Our web presence can reflect this ethos of participation, enabling users to do more than browse through an online print document. Today’s online tools encourage the creation of user-generated content, and Middlebury’s web sites should reflect the input and contributions of all of the college community. Technologies like blogs, wikis, social networks, tagging and sharing collections, and discussion forums all fit with Middlebury’s educational philosophy of active learning and participation.
A key effect of online participation is to engage a broader range of members from the community, allowing students, alumni, staff, faculty, and supporters from all of corners of the Middlebury’s vast reach to find a place to engage with the ideas and practices happening at Middlebury’s many campuses. We imagine that participation will emerge out of the innovations that have already emerged online: blogging by faculty, administrators, and students; interactive online class discussions common throughout the curriculum; virtual worlds that allow for language immersion; social networks emerging in response to campus crises and controversies; online collaborative research across campuses; and even discussion threads branching off various items in our website. We hope to be able to embrace such participatory activities and incorporate them more organically into Middlebury’s web presence, rather than seeing them as add-ons external to the primary function of our website. As an institution, we must create clear incentives and reduce obstacles for online participation, following important academic trends in promoting open access research and developing digital scholarship; this will include making some changes in our handbook regarding tenure and promotion, creating clear expectations for student literacies and public presentation of their work, and sets of ethical guidelines for a “digital honor code.”

Middlebury’s web presence should foster and extend our community using a broad range of online tools.
The central notion of today’s “Web 2.0” is that user-generated content and social networks can create an engaged community to generate materials that exceed the limits of what can be created via a centralized top-down model of dissemination. By creating a robust and participatory online space, we can engage a broad array of individuals and allow them to become part of something bigger, a vibrant and active community that cuts across boundaries of nation, language, time zone, age, and social divides. As a residential college with a global presence, we can harness the possibilities of the web to make the our world both bigger and smaller – fostering connections to overcome boundaries, but reaching out to all constituencies to maximize engagement beyond the confines of our small Vermont town. Middlebury’s web presence needs to articulate and simultaneously to represent “Middlebury” as a new brand that stands for a world-wide network of learners and academic partners, with the physical academic-year campus in Vemont being just one node in this network: the other nodes, separated from the academic-year campus either along temporal or geographic lines, include MIIS, the Language Schools, the Schools Abroad (including connections between our C. V. Starr Middlebury Schools Abroad and partner institutions abroad), the four Bread Loaf campuses and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.

While we strongly believe that online learning communities will never replace the intimacy of the face-to-face education that is the essence of Middlebury, we can find ways to use the technology of social networks and participatory media as a complement to the crucial interactions that occur in the classrooms and the dorms. We might envision our web presence as offering an Online Commons to compliment our residential commons system – just as the residential commons allows for learning to overflow beyond the classrooms, our Online Commons can extend the reach of a Middlebury education to overcome boundaries of geography, time, and access. The Online Commons can be the central way that we frame our entire community as One Midd, forming ties among various campuses and constituencies.

Our web presence should be informed by the dual nature of Middlebury as the first ‘global liberal arts college’ by connecting a large number of small, intimate learning communities, where education continues to occur on a face-to-face basis, with instructors and students negotiating the process of accessing, reviewing, analyzing, and producing knowledge in direct communication with each other, while a global network delivers access to world-wide data repositories, with the goal that students have access to local learning in whatever geographic context is the most relevant to the object of their studies. In each “Middlebury” location, students learn from each other, as well as from their instructors, the local population, and the material world. This is the essential part of the college’s liberal arts mission and we should not try to replace this aspect of a Middlebury education with the web. The web presence should instead serve as the externalized archive that holds all these small “Middlebury College” communities together in the global network that is “Middlebury.”

The technology of the web allows for sites to be customizable, adapted to the specific uses and needs of users and communities.
Middlebury’s website can embrace a more flexible design and mode of use, allowing different constituencies to navigate and access the web distinctly. This might emerge in different versions of our site for different groups: an alumni site, a prospective student site, an internal administrative site, etc. Individual units should be free to pursue various design and interface possibilities to best capture the essence of their identity – the look and feel of a site for a visual arts department should inherently be different than the site for facilities; the College Handbook should not appear the same as a site for a student organization. The design of our web needs to reflect different content, uses, and attitudes, not a uniform standard devoid of personality and customization.

We envision another possibility for how the site might be navigated by users: a more flexible system by which each user could create their own personal profile to access content and links specifically tied to their interests and roles within the college. Such a profile-driven system could make Middlebury’s website more in line with the current trends in social software and personalized web content, a protocol much more interesting and engaging for younger users, and providing more robust and easy-to-use navigation for faculty, staff, alumni, and other members of the Middlebury community. It could also effectively serve to help share information about events on Middlebury as an alternative to the all-campus emails which now raise problems for many in the community. Given the possibilities of web design and interactions, we need to be sure that the way users engage with the web meets their particular needs and interests, not following a top-down model of homogeneous design and interface.

Middlebury’s web presence should embrace the multimedia essence of the medium.
The bulk of our current website can be described as “online print, with occasional illustrations.” Our web presence should utilize the broad range of media options that the web offers: sound, moving images, navigable virtual spaces, and interactive graphics along with text and static images. We should seek to communicate information in a manner that feels “digital native,” matching the most robust multimedia design in play at other sites, within higher education and beyond.

We should particularly leverage Middlebury’s many academic fields that could use multimedia to capture the experience of learning and research at Middlebury: interactive maps from Geography; audio conversations spanning across Languages and Schools Abroad; time-lapse videos of a Studio Art installation; podcasts of author readings from Breadloaf; visual simulations of Chemistry experiments; a visual gallery of documents from Middlebury’s archives on Vermont history created by American Studies students; demos of digital vision technologies from Computer Science; an interactive multimedia video from Film & Media Culture. Every academic program and school should be able to devise ways to make their corner of Middlebury’s web presence more dynamic and representative of the interactive and lively work that happens in classrooms. Likewise, administrative units can imagine ways to make more engaging tools to communicate their work and opportunities beyond online policies and forms. We need to think of multimedia options not just as nice “add-ons” to make our site more flashy, but as a core value for our web presence – we need to always ask how information can be conveyed most effectively online, and usually this involves opportunities beyond lengthy blocks of text.

These are the pillars that will drive our reimagination and redesign of our web presence into a customizable, multimedia, participatory community. The specific choices, procedures, and practices will flow from this vision, using technology and creativity to realize the possibilities of online media to extend Middlebury’s online presence and educational mission.

Plan: How do we move forward to strengthen Middlebury’s web presence?

The values of creating a multimedia, customizable, participatory, and community-based web presence should extend to the process of creating and implementing the design as well. Instead of hiring a consulting firm to design a site or sell us a “pre-fab” design, we hope that our web presence will emerge more organically from the Middlebury community. We hope to engage students specifically to marshal their talents and ideas in imagining what our web presence can be – using tools like wikis and blogs, we can create a community around the design and implementation of this project, creating buy-in and engagement from the very start of the process, and hopefully drawing upon internal resources most efficiently and cost-effectively. The site will still be designed, run, and maintained by Middlebury staff, but we hope to coordinate ongoing efforts from various constituents to keep the web a dynamic and innovative presence.

One important issue that must be grappled with is the balance between internal control and open participation – allowing members of our community to participate and contribute to our web sites brings potential risks of incorporating content that is not endorsed by the college. However, the benefits of participation and contributions from the entire community outweigh those potential risks, possibilities exhibited by numerous web projects across the world that corral the wisdom of many users to create a richer and more effective set of resources. We will develop clear policies to monitor and authenticate participation, and we believe that requiring contributions to be tied to a username will eliminate or reduce potentially volatile anonymous content. Ultimately, we believe that Middlebury’s core values of dialog, communication, and active learning and listening will be strengthened via a more open platform of participation, rather than a one-way flow of controlled information.

Once the College has endorsed this vision statement, we suggest the following steps be taken to move forward:

  • Create an online hub to foster discussion of this project among a wide array of constituencies and people throughout the Middlebury community, modeling the potential uses of the web throughout the design process.
  • Assemble a group of students with particular interests and expertise to research other websites and report on what is already being done effectively elsewhere. Empower students at all campuses to become more actively engaged to contribute to our web presence, including design, content updating, and maintenance.

  • Share our statement with many members of our community to solicit feedback, gather specific concerns and desires for how the web might be used most effectively, and generate a list of individuals particularly interested in working on this project, including faculty, staff, alumni, students, and funders from the full range of Middlebury programs and campuses.

  • Charge staff members with appropriate knowledge and skills to research various platforms and technical solutions that we might adopt, with an emphasis on open source tools that might be effectively customized and integrated into some of our existing software systems (such as Segue, WordPress, MediaWiki, etc.). One specific solution to be explored is the use of consortia (such as NITLE) to share online resources and platforms through existing or new networks

  • Devise a staffing workflow that can most effectively utilize the talents and abilities of existing staff members, while ensuring that maintaining our web presence is clearly a staff priority – we need to be sure that there is a clear sense of responsibility involved with the web, and it is not “orphaned” once any new systems are put in place.

  • Create an infrastructure for a permanent advisory board to oversee web presence to ensure that it continues to serve the wide range of Middlebury’s constituencies, and maintains maximum usability.

We’ve attached a list of stakeholders, and a set of questions to pose to a range of stakeholders to understand the problems, possibilities, and plan for moving forward

Stakeholders

A disclaimer – as the internet presents information on every aspect of Middlebury, every department and program is effectively a stakeholder. With this in mind we believe our process will provide opportunities for anyone who is interested to offer input. However, in an effort to be sure certain areas are included, this list identifies those areas.

By area, program or department:

  • All academic departments

  • LIS

  • Communications

  • CSO

  • College Advancement (APP)

  • Admissions

  • Human Resources

  • Project on Innovation, Creativity and Leadership

  • Spring Student Research Symposium

  • Environmental Council

  • SGA / Student organizations

  • Staff Council

  • Faculty Council

  • Athletics

  • Center for the Arts/Museum

  • Middlebury College Alumni Association

  • Monterey Institute for International Studies

  • Middlebury Language Schools

  • Bread Loaf School of English (including remote sites)

  • Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference

  • Schools Abroad

  • Strategic Communications Committee of the Board

  • President’s Staff

Questions

  • What impact does our web presence have on you and your role at Middlebury?

  • What would you change if you were given free reign over our web presence?

  • What would be the impact of keeping with the status quo for our web presence?

  • What three opportunities might the web help you take advantage of that you are not currently utilizing?

  • What three problems do you hear most often about our web presence?

  • What emerging trends (technology related or not) will have the most impact on your work moving forward?

  • What do you feel we must do in order to stay relevant/fresh as an institution?

  • What web sites do you visit/use most often and why? Are there aspects of those sites that you think could be incorporated into Middlebury’s presence?

  • Other comments?