Wednesday, September 28, 2005

A virtual identity crisis

So, today I’m wondering about our virtual presence. We’ve got a website but it is terribly out of date. It hasn’t been touched since our webspinner/tutor graduated last December. Despite this, students often say they heard about us from our website. We don’t have an OWL and no funds, personnel, or energy to start one in the near future. So what is the purpose of our website? Will students really go there for writing help instead of a handbook site or a more comprehensive site (like Purdue's)? How do we find out about our web users? Does anyone visit our website and decide from that not to use our services? Basically, right now, we could tell students about our services on one page and not sink a lot of time or energy into our site. If that’s our purpose then why do more than that?

Yet, I wonder if I should really consider the tutors the main audience. I could include more things that matter to them—schedules, the tutor manual, announcements, and sites to show students while tutoring. Would any of this need to be password protected? They seem like the most likely users.

Anyone know about who visits their websites and why? Is there a way to track this—maybe with a pop-up survey or something? Or, I suppose, we could do a focus group of writing center clients and see which of them have been to the site. That wouldn’t give us faculty or tutor users though. Hmm…


PS: I just read the comment from "anonymous" about the metaphors for online tutoring--see last post; good questions, anonymous. I think we can think about that in terms of online spaces in general. Not only who uses my space (my questions above) but what do I want them to feel in this space. I guess my missing metaphor for the physical space carries over to the virtual one, too. I guess I'm just as nervous about a webspace looking ragged, amateur, unkempt as I am about the physical writing center. What's the virtual equivalent of a shockingly ugly lazy boy?


At 7:31 PM, Blogger Michelle said...

There are a couple options, from what I know of websites: if you want to know who visits your website, you could install a stats counter on your website; they tend to range from easy to install to difficult, from free to costing something, and can include a wide range of information (depending on what you want to know: how often your site gets hit, IP logs, etc.). You can actually find quite a few web trackers by doing a Google search; many offer statistics, web analytics, and a whole slew of other information, some of which can be personalized.

If you're looking for more specific information regarding why people have come to your website, or how they found it, a pop-up survey might be doable, but keep in mind that many folks have pop-up blockers in their browsers that disallow pop-ups to appear.

Even though you say you have no personnel, funds, or energy for something along these lines, I presume your website is hosted on a server hosted somewhere on campus, which (hopefully) means you have an IT department. If there's a programmer employed, he or she might be able to put something together that could be secretly or openly attached to your website, giving you the information you want.

With all this in mind, though, let me know if I can be of some help, since I might be able to lend a hand or investigating further how you could implement something that could give you the data you'd like to know.

At 1:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Recently, it became clear at my institution that websites are (for the most part) now only intended for external marketing (to prospective students and families, alums, etc.). Little or no resources will be put into support for websites as internal resources (for students, for example).

This has changed my answer to your good question. Now that I know -- in terms of institutional priorities, at least -- who should be viewing the web site, I have a better sense of what I want it to feel like. But, still, I feel torn. When I had imagined the writing center website I hoped to help develop, it was a website with resources for students and faculty.

I'm not sure I'd let the physical space of the writing center be so adjusted by institutional priorities. Why do I feel so willing to allow institutional priorities to shape the virtual space?

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A: a shockingly good-looking lazy boy...why be ugly in virtual space?!

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