New Report from Eduserv on UK Higher Education Website Management

Over on my future web blog I’ve just posted on a new report from the UK, on the management of websites in Higher Education.

I’ll probably be adding more of the web management stuff there in the future and, when I can find a suitable person, giving over this blog so it can function purely as an admissions blog.

You are the weakest link, goodbye.

Usability news is always a good source of material and here’s a great article on common problems with linking. One of the problems with using links like ‘Click here’ or ‘Read more’ is that it does not help search engines understand your content. In the decentralised world of university website management, where faculties and institutes on separate websites are linking to each others sites, we could all do our users a favour and provide more meaningful links which contain the page’s targeted key words.

Missing content, out of date content and poor navigation: External evaluator’s conclusions

I recently blogged about the poor evaluation that Lund’s research pages got in a recent research evaluation (although the research itself was judged, in many cases, of being world class). Now I’ve got more detail about what was wrong with the pages. The biggest usability issues are:

– Missing content

– Out of date content

– Poor navigation

I found this out by sending a questionnaire (using the very groovy Questback) to the evaluators; this got a 35% response rate which was not too shabby. Here’s a table showing the problems they encountered:

evaluators-responsesI asked them if they felt the pages they looked at added to the credibility of Lund; not unsurprisingly only about half said yes.

All the data from the survey, including the evaluator’s opinions on what should be fixed immediately.

Reading – the text is too short

Forum magazine (the organ of DIK, a Swedish union) has a feature about one of my favourite subjects, reading on the web. The author is Tomas Dalström, the article’s in Swedish, but the main points are:

– Text is more attractive than pictures

– The most common mistake is to have text which is too short

– 92% of readers look at text first, not the pictures

When I first read this, I was surprised by the ‘text is often too short’ comment, but (unless my Swedish has gone completely haywire) he qualifies this by explaining that short text often lacks the necessary words to lock in the readers interest. One of the cool things about the article is that he links content to cash, that all texts are used in some way and have the potential to generate either a profit or, unfortunately, a loss if incorrect. Words equal money – I like that.

I think that there is a happy medium to be found, clearly you don’t want text which is so short that you struggle to get your meaning across. But I still remain to be convinced that reading longer texts on a computer screen is something we can do with any degree of success.

Raspberry Frog has a similar feature about reading, going back over Jakob Nielsen’s eye tracking work. It has some examples of good practice, in their opinion, from the non-profit sector.

And finally, speaking of the non profit sector check out User Experience for Non-Profits which has a good article on recruiting research participants.


Research Pages of Lund University – ‘absence of a comprehensive web presence’

Over the last year an external evaluation, by over 100 international evaluators, has been assessing the quality of research at Lund. The evaluation is called RQ08. The final report is out now, with several key areas highlighted as being of the highest international standard – good job.

 But the evaluators also said that our web pages suck.

I blogged about this subject (with pretty much the same conclusion) a month ago, where I discussed my own review of our research pages. The main conclusion of the RQ08 report says:

 “…the absence of a comprehensive English web presence robbed many of the panels of a facility that they would normally expect to exploit in an assessment such as they have just undertaken…”

 So, the research evaluation itself may have been made more difficult, or even affected, by the lack of good web pages.

Here are some of their comments, the page references are to the entire report.

“On the basis of information provided on the School’s web pages, it seems like if (sic) the research activities at Campus Helsingborg would not be very extensive.”

Page 163

“I had particular difficulties navigating the departmental web-site. This is somewhat unevenly organised.”

Page 178

 “The Panel has tried to obtain some information through the DCE web-site. It has helped significantly, yet it did not provide the full picture of the research organizational structure…it did not give information concerning full dimension of such (ongoing) projects and further introduced a few elements of difficulty since some projects are repeated in different areas.”

Page 402

“We believe that much of this information can be made available with no or little pain to the faculty people, by properly populating a Web information system that we think the university anyway lacks.”

Page 453

The evaluators had a strong motivation to try and find information, I seriously doubt that many of our visitors would make the same effort.

So what now? Well, as I suggested in my review of the research pages we really need to understand what tasks users of the research pages are trying to do. We also need to figure out the best metrics to measure the performance of any changes we make. Watch this space.

 Please comment on this – what problems have you encountered on our research pages? What could be better?  

Results of a Consultant’s Review of Lund’s English Website – Coast Digital

Apologies – long post….

I received the reports from Coast Digital describing both an expert review and usability test of – the english web pages of our university. And I can breath again….

 The expert review found (this is more or less directly quoted from the report’s executive summary):

  • Overall, the website seems to include the functionality needed to support basic user tasks of finding and selecting a course to study. No bugs or errors were encountered during the test.
  • Coast Digital recommend that we look at the wider competitor set to identify new visual and functionality trends. We should evaluate the strong points from our peers and look to incorporate them into a new web design – an evolution of the existing website
  • Overall, the content of the website could be better structured – the existing sitemaps needs to be evaluated and re-structured
  • The visual impact of the website needs to be updated – the website is devoid of supporting imagery to ‘sell’ the university to overseas students
  • The on-page size of the website needs adjusting to a wider, fixed (or flexible) layout

Most Critical Issues and Recommendations

These were ranked on a scale of severity, thus:
  • Low, cosmetic or minor, creating minimal difficulty
  • Medium, causes some problems to completing the task
  • High, the user is prevented from carrying out their task

And none of the critical issues scored higher than ‘low’:

  • Relevance of the search query results               severity: low
  • User orientation – breadcrumb trail                  severity: low
  • Make internal, in-line links more visible          severity: low
  • Increase the leading of the main-section text  severity: low
  • Confused left hand navigation                          severity: low
First, I’m really pleased with the job coastDigital did; they turned this around quickly and gave me a professional report with usable recommendations. 
How do I feel about this? After all these are the pages with, for the most part, my name on the bottom. Overall, there were no big surprises. When I started this job a year ago I put most of my time on the site into improving the ease with which students could find courses or programmes – this was, and still is, their number one task. I felt that we’d achieved an acceptable level of functionality regarding this task – this report goes some way to confirming this. However, it’s clear that we need to lift the ambition of the site now, really start to use it to fulfil more of the tasks our users want to do and improve its usability even more. 
There will be a Part II to this, and possibly a III, when I summarise their Usability Report and then a priority list of things to work on.

Google Makes You Stupid. Part II

A while ago I blogged about Nicholas Carr’s article ‘Is Google Making Us Stupid?’, I noticed that there was a piece in the Guardian (by Charles Arthur) which explores this a bit more and gives another angle on the themes I commented on in my entry ‘Professors Don’t Read’. The main point is:

– It’s very hard to read lots of text on a computer screen