By Erin Bradley
On Oct. 10, students, faculty and the general public logged onto their computers and began to navigate the new Bethel College website. Although everything was not as in place as the designers hoped, the website was launched the week of Fall Fest in honor of the 125th anniversary.
Many on campus reacted with appreciation for the new look, while others expressed disappointment in how the focus turned away from current students and faculty toward future and prospective students.
“It does look nice, which I noticed right away,” Martin Olson, senior from Denver, Colo., said. “I was a little disappointed that so much of the information had been removed, or moved, but since a lot of it is still accessible through ThresherConnect, I suppose it’s not too big of a deal.”
When planning for the launch of the new website, the web core team decided to hire a vendor who knew the program to set up ThresherConnect so that students and faculty would have a smooth transition when the website launched.
“Sadly, that plan didn’t come together as we had outlined,” Lori Livengood, vice president of marketing and communications, said. “We decided that we were going to pull information off the public site for current students and faculty and staff. We already had ThresherConnect, so it made sense rather than building a third site to utilize the resources that we have and to really make that more of an internal site, an intranet.”
The push to launch a new website began in 2007 when they went live with the last redesign. With the continual changes of technology and standards for websites, the website planning group knew that they would have to begin planning changes from the beginning.
With this redesign, the goal was to reach out to future students and make the public website actually for the public without confusing items for faculty, staff, and students. To counteract this, they were going to provide a separate entity for those who are currently on campus.
“When we prioritized how we determined what projects to work on or what information to put on the website, prospective students were always the first and most important audience,” Livengood said. “That’s how most all students find information about colleges or supplement the information we send to them.”
“It’s important that we make sure that they can easily find what they need. So, prospective students have always been the initial audience. Its just that when we made the website in 2006 and launched it in 2007, we tried to address all audience with that one site. So, the challenge becomes that there is a ton of information out there that prospective students don’t have interest in. It becomes confusing,” Livengood added.
Putting together the actual website came together through the work of the Institutional Communications staff, along with the help of Nathan Bartel’s, professor of Literary Studies, and the IMS staff.
Each member had their own hand in making the website what it is. Darrel Voth, communications coordinator, put together the look and a prototype for the concept design; Jesse Kaufman, web developer, put it all together in computer terms; Anna Yoder, web editor, posted all the content onto pages; Melanie Zuercher, writer and editor, edited all the content on every page; Tim Buller, Information and Media Services (IMS) team leader, helped with troubleshooting and providing guidance for best practices for web management. Livengood oversaw all production of the website and checked everything on time.
To work on the ThresherConnect aspect of the website, the group went through training in July to learn more about the program. At this training event, the group met and contracted a vendor who knew the backside of the program to work on the look and to migrate content over to the ThresherConnect website.
“Unfortunately, despite constant pressure to work on ThresherConnect and to meet deadlines, the vendor did not fulfill his obligations. The original date for him to turn over the architecture and content migration was Sept. 24. We didn’t go live until Oct. 9,” Livengood said. “So, we had to look for ways to still provide this information, acknowledging that we weren’t going to provide the user experience that we wanted to provide or that we were trying to achieve. In order for the public site to have the largest effect on recruitment for this coming year, we needed to go live during this heavy recruitment month.”
As many students have commented, although the design is nice to look at, it is frustrating to use. The staff has acknowledged this issue and is working towards doing what they had initially set out to do.
IMS is working to learn the program and began putting into action what they had initially hoped for ThresherConnect. Their priorities as of right now are to migrate over the information that students, faculty, and staff are having problems accessing, and then giving it a cleaner and more organized look.
“We put together some patches and we know it is not the user experience that current student and faculty deserve, nor what we wanted to provide,” Livengood said. “In fact, we haven’t even really celebrated or acknowledged the launch of the public cite because for me it doesn’t feel like we did our job, we didn’t do what we set out to do. We aren’t finished yet.”