Monthly Archives: November 2012

What’s there to do in Oswego? Kwame Belle’s Bucket List has answers.

Student-produced, student-focused web video has long been a goal of ours, and this year we’re thrilled to have not one but two hit video serials. In addition to the previously-mentioned freshman advice series Alyssa Explains It All, we have Kwame Belle’s Bucket List, which introduces viewers to interesting facets of our campus and community.

Kwame has been one of my best bloggers and this year stepped up to a social media internship, which requires producing some major work or works. One day he mentioned an idea he had of a bucket list where he solicited things to do before he graduated– in the Oswego community as well as around campus — and blog about doing them. I suggested a video series directed by talented graduate assistant Kevin Graham, and subsequently learned we’re all fans of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservation series, which influenced the project.

In “Hitting the Ice,” Kwame gets skating tips from Olivia Boersen, captain of the Laker women’s hockey team.

Thus Kwame Belle’s Bucket List unfolds as a bit of a travelogue (minus Bourdain’s excessive drinking and swearing), as Kwame pursues each episode in a journalistic vein. He’ll interview fellow students partaking in a polar plunge, locals learning how to rock-climb or the captain of the women’s hockey team showing him skating tips. Kwame himself is a character, an engaging host and eager participant, never afraid of how foolish he may look in the process. He also brings intellectual heft to the proceedings: During an apple-picking episode, he juxtaposed the freshman and senior experience, discussed Sir Isaac Newton and pondered the anthropology of dating.

Since our major social media efforts should meet a goal, the bucket list answers one of the biggest questions from prospective and current students: What’s there to do in Oswego? We’re a small city on Lake Ontario and while scenery and a charming downtown are draws, we’re far from a metropolitan or cosmopolitan area. Students considering Oswego wonder if they’ll find anything to do and frequently ask the question.

We’ve focused on things to do that characterize the campus, town and region. For example, Kwame went fishing from the banks of the Oswego River for a recent episode; to send him on a chartered boat trip would have made for good video but would have represented something not affordable to most students. That he spent one episode soliciting opinions from students, which led to some subsequent shows, and seeks feedback via social media makes it interactive and somewhat user-driven.

The series draws respectable numbers — not as high as Alyssa’s, but constantly building — and has developed an ardent following among members of the campus community and alumni. The episodes are longer than I generally recommend for web video, but they create a compelling tale with the help of other characters and guides, so watching a whole episode is worth it. With he and Kevin working hard from a meaty roster of ideas, the main challenge will be when Kwame fulfills the ultimate item on his bucket list … and graduates from Oswego. Wherever he goes from here, it’s good to know his video adventures will live on.

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nate silver and the rise of analytics: what it means to you.

As the election drew near, many political and stats junkies (like me) became fans of Nate Silver, aka @fivethirtyeight, the shrewd political number-cruncher and blogger for the New York Times. His way of aggregating the most reliable presidential polls into megapolls, and factoring in those polls’ historical accuracies, was considered by some to be as revolutionary as the introduction of “Moneyball” — or use of undervalued stats — on baseball.

Like anyone who develops a following, Silver soon drew his shares of detractors. Newsmen, pundits and politicians alike scoffed at his methodology, and Silver tended to respond quite intelligently with an unrivaled grasp of statistics. Even as the news networks hyped the election as anyone’s game last week, Silver said his estimations “represent powerful evidence against the idea that the race is a ‘tossup.’ A tossup race isn’t likely to produce 19 leads for one candidate and one for the other —  any more than a fair coin is likely to come up heads 19 times and tails just once in 20 tosses.” And, yes, unless Florida reverses course, he will have called 50 of 50 states correctly. That he even triggered the briefly popular Is Nate Silver A Witch? website tells something about his crossover success.

But let’s forget politics for a moment (please!); what’s impressive here is the rise of analytics writ large. Silver succeeded by keen understanding of statistics, willingness to discard dubious assumptions and eagerness to innovate. In higher education, we always talk about working smarter not harder and trying innovative things … then everyone rushes to “best practices” and well-plowed ground and research (like that on “Millennials”) based on questionable assumptions.

It all starts with data. Working with the web and social media avails us to a wealth of analytics and metrics via Google and other methods. But as Silver cautions, it’s about looking for the right data, not necessarily the most obvious or easiest. Avinash Kaushik, perhaps one of the top experts in web analytics, jokes that “hits” is short for “how idiots track success” … i.e. the number of visits to your website tells you only surface information. Instead, he says, look at things like bounce rates (how many people visit one page and immediately leave), average number of pages per visit and what paths and tasks users complete while on your site.

Google’s In-Page Analytics (seen above) is one of my favorite tools for seeing where visitors go after hitting a page. Those orange tags are click-through percentages, which you can roll over for numbers. I look at our home page using this tool very frequently to see what is and isn’t working, and regularly check other key pages. It’s interesting to see that sometimes switching out a picture or changing wording can have an impact on click rates. Among the most basic tips:

  • Pics of students work better than anything else. (Except maybe sunsets, but that’s a whole other story.)
  • Pics of logos and/or clip art are virtually useless. The only logo anyone ever clicks is the Oswego logo at the top left to get back to the home page.
  • Don’t overpromise or mislead with link names. I’ve seen pages where users think they are getting one thing because of a page name, only to realize the info they seek is not there. In cases like these, a user is more likely to leave our site entirely than go back. (We’ve seen this fixed by merely changing a link or page name.)
  • If your page has an embedded video but a very low average time on page, it’s pretty clear that video isn’t getting watched much. You can correlate with YouTube views — there’s a chance they’re watching it on YouTube — but you can often spot a dog quickly. This also ties into our data that shows videos about students and/or made by students tend to do much better than any other videos.

Another great Google Analytics feature is event tracking, which lets you see microtrends. With our new megadropdown headers and Popular Links, developer Rick Buck inserted a Google event tracking code to get a finer picture of who clicks where. The Academics part of the header rules, as it does in breakout tracking. This underscores our longtime push that good academic content and information architecture remain key to a college website’s success.

In addition to looking small, we look big. We recently completed our third month of compiling, filing and sharing a monthly web and social media analytics report, which has provided clues into what works and what doesn’t. We will learn even more as we add and hone various measurements and see trends in longer spans of data.

On a related note, you should also look long-term and not be so hasty that you change things too quickly. Silver’s data worked because he had large sample sizes. You need to track a page for at least a month (maybe more) to ensure you have a good enough sample size to judge user activity. A day or two is too small a sample size to glean a full picture.

Some colleges are showing a need and desire to invest in data. Ithaca College, for example, recently hired Colleen Clark as a full-time marketing analyst, and Colleen describes what that entails in this interview with Karine Joly of Higher Ed Experts. Not all colleges are in a position to hire full-time web analysts, but institutions should ensure that at least one (probably more) people in their organization have enough training, knowledge and — importantly — time to look at stats and trends.

Because as Nate Silver showed with this election, relying on conventional wisdom and erratic statistics get you results that are only as good as their flawed data. The more data you have, the better you understand it, the more effectively you implement what it shows, the higher the chances you can start achieving some real wins … whatever you do.

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sitewide refresh and responsive design: teamwork, usability and action.

At the end of Friday, we officially launched a new look for key pages of oswego.edu, with goals of improving three things: 1) navigation, 2) aesthetics and 3) usability via responsive design.

The oswego.edu homepage, October 2010 to November 2012.

New oswego.edu homepage, launched Nov. 2, 2012.

The first thing users will notice are a megadropdown menu (seen open below) where key pages under our various sections (About, Academics, Admissions, Student Life, Alumni & Supporters, Athletics and News & Events) will now be available from anywhere on our site. Also quite notable is a new Popular Links feature on every page, where users will be able to access our 10 most-visited sites — such as email, the MyOswego student and faculty gateway, Angel online learning, A-Z Index and Penfield Library. In short, users should be able to access most top actions from anywhere on our site. Hard to improve a site’s usability more in one fell swoop.

Homepage with dropdown navigation drawer open.

We’re also quite pleased with what we consider a more eye-friendly look. Switching the font to Droid Sans with a better point size produced greater legibility. With the pagewidth going from 950 to 1170 pixels, we also have a wider field to compensate. The homepage takes advantage with larger photos in its various levels of information, which puts a premium on impactful photography and content that lends itself to this magnified stage.

What may be least obvious, but the biggest accomplishment, is the site’s transition to a responsive design that detects browsers or viewports — desktops, tablets and smartphones — and adjusts accordingly. Rick Buck, our very talented developer, coordinated the back end work, with Devin Kerr, who has been teaching graphic design at our college, using his design and CSS skills to create the look of the templates. Before he graduated, stellar student worker James Daniello (who’s available for hire!) added some fine coding work. The content, direction, design and development were a team effort as we bounced ideas and information off one another throughout the process.

Since I’ve endured two full redesigns at Oswego, doing something more in-between — a refresh, as we call it — was both (somewhat) less stressful and reflects the incremental redesign concept promoted by eduStyle‘s Stewart Foss. Rick and I are big fans of incremental and iterative redesign concepts, as well as agile project management. So plenty of theory and technical know-how went into this project.

But in addition to know-how, we also pulled out some can-do. Many talk about this kind of thing, but we were blessed to be able to take action. It did take more than a bit of lobbying, creative approaches, presentations, proofs of concept and old-fashioned teamwork … but in the end, we think all that work paid off.

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