in Digital Web

Portals aren’t solutions

Seth Meranda writes a heck of a post about so-called portal solutions. It’s a must read.

The institution was excited about this new tool, however they had one problem: current students weren’t using it. When the institution was asked why not, their response was: “The current students don’t know that this is where they are supposed to be. We need to spend more time, money and energy on converting the students.” (not verbatim, but the gist).

Wrong, they need to return the portal and reinvest time, money and energy into understanding what their students want.

We don’t have a portal solution where I work now, but my previous institution did. And I’ve seen rollouts of them at places I’ve consulted and in each case, the students hate them. They’re poorly thought out and while they offer the proverbial “one-stop shop” everyone is so giddy about, there are a bevy of reasons why they are panned by faculty and students alike.

They are poorly presented, they’re rigid and look nothing like the college’s web site. They can be clunky and hard to manage. As a web manager, they’re a real pain because they are usually run by IT, but contain web content like calendars and other modules. So they are redundant and need to be updated and managed or become obsolete.

He goes on to create a useful title that a buzzword PR person will steal and try to turn into something ridiculous like “blog coach”

We need to start navigating towards a more holistic, user-experience-centric approach. “Experience Architects” need to work with students (current and prospective) to determine online content and design. Student input needs to become the dominating impact on our future realignment strategies. The marketing team is no more in charge than the IT team, nor does registrar’s office have more clout than the housing department. The “Experience Architects” will hold the conversations with students, and both will work collaboratively.

The problem is universities and especially small colleges have yet to figure out what to do with web people. A lot of the content folks like me are in PR offices and we interface with the entire campus, with IT dealing with all of the technical issues.

It’s usually a nice marriage, but it’s not an ideal situation where some schools don’t even have a web budget, but cobble together pools of money for different areas to create a web budget. There is no chief web strategist, no college web strategy and instead you just have lots of different people making up their own ideas about this nebulous thing called “the web site”.

A web-based solution would probably be the best first step for something like this.

While it’s understandable the worry about what registrars want and what people working at the institutional level want to “make their jobs easier” would be the soup de jour; when we’re talking about investing in students, it needs to be more than just a buzzword.

If more innovation, collaboration and assessment of what students need was being done, we’d be able to go a lot further along in creating useful applications and leverage the talents within our own walls a lot better than we do.

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