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Community Blog: Building an Online Resource for Transfer Students (Part 2)
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Building an Online Resource for Transfer Students (Part 2)
By: Amber Baldridge & Taylor Kamin

 

Make sure you're caught up on "Building an Online Resource for Transfer Students (Part 1)."

As our subcommittee started to actually map out and plan the website, we wanted to be very intentional and thoughtful in our approach. In our initial meeting, we looked at our current website and the myriad of clicks and searches a potential transfer student might have to go through to find the information they were looking for. We wanted, as much as possible, to have the site follow the same thought process that a prospective transfer student might have and to answer their questions clearly. Finally, we wanted the site to be extremely user friendly.

 

In order to achieve these outcomes, we had to think carefully about a number of factors. The first was what to include. With any large scale project, it is important to determine who should be included and the same was true for our subcommittee and website. For the first meeting, Amber Baldrige, the Master’s Student Intern who was leading the project, brought together a representative from offices that most transfer students interact with. This included Admissions, Orientation, the Registrar’s Office, some Academic Advisors who specifically work with transfer students, our Academic Support office, and web designers from the Office of Undergraduate Studies (so we would know what was possible). In this meeting, we brainstormed what transfer students would be looking for on this website and what stumbling points many face through the transition. We then started to layout the blocks of content using this template, which helped us organize what links we would need and what would be on each subsection. 



(Click image to view larger)


Another one of the factors we considered was word choice. The common denominator between all transfer students is that they have attended another institution previously. This experience is excellent, however, it adds an extra layer of challenge because offices, programs, policies, and terms can vary greatly from institution to institution. Our subcommittee strived to be conscious of this transition and use as much everyday language as possible so even if they do not know our terms, they can still find their answer. 

For example, instead of naming the section about finances our university’s financial office’s name, we called it “Money Matters.” Instead of using the term “transfer articulation” which many would probably not be familiar with, we called that section “Transfer Credit.” We kept trying to put ourselves back in the shoes of our incoming students and aimed to catch ourselves from using buzzwords and campus specific lingo.

By having the topic areas and what we wanted to call each section, we now needed to figure out what to include on each page. As we reflected on our own preferences when trying to find information on any website, we decided that keeping the information succinct and straightforward was vital. We also strived to simplify every part of the transfer process so our students would not miss information in long paragraphs of text. We were also strategic and desired to keep the long-term maintenance of this site low, because we knew this website was starting as an internship project and we were unsure who would maintain the site long term. Rather than creating brand new content for every department that could quickly become outdated with dates or changes of procedures, the subcommittee wanted to highlight important information that would be less likely to change, or directly link to information that is housed on each individual department’s website so each department would still be in control of their content. 

When determining what to write, we kept in mind the key questions: Who, What, When, Where and Why:

·       Who needed to know this information? Is there anything unique that transfer students would need to know?

·       What did they need to know?

·       When did they need to complete something by?

·       Where could they go for more information (a website) or who could they talk to?

·       Why was this information important?

 

Aiming to answer these questions gave us direction in developing the text for each subsection. Here is a sample of what we included on the Orientation page:


As we mentioned in our first post, some of our sites would unintentionally bury information. We tried to keep the “three click rule” in mind. This rule is an unofficial web design strategy that suggests that your viewer should be able to find whatever they are looking for in less than three clicks. For us, click one would be the broad topic area (admission, academics, money, orientation, etc.), the second click would be the subcategory (how to apply, deadlines, etc.), and the last click if necessary would be to the exact location of the answer on the university’s specific department website. We wanted to make sure our links take the students directly to where they need to go. 


This can be seen in how we linked the Academic Curriculums. In talking to our transfer students through focus groups, we found that they really liked the curriculum models used in our Academic Bulletin that laid the curriculum for each major in eight semester blocks. However, most of those students didn’t see those models until they got to Orientation and mentioned how they could have been more proactive in choosing classes at their previous institution if they had known about the curriculum models sooner. This helped us to decide to link to the Bulletin's curriculum models instead of individual departmental websites or their curriculum models. This solved two issues for us: 1) it gave the students the most pertinent information they were looking for, and 2) it ensured that the information being linked to was always the most up to date and official curriculum. 

Finally, a common concern we heard from transfer students was that they do not feel like they get the same welcome as an incoming freshmen student. At times it feels like we roll out a red carpet for incoming freshmen with Preview Days, send off receptions, and class identity, but transfer students do not always feel welcomed in a similar manner. By developing a site specifically for them that speaks “their language”, we hope to be able to showcase how much the university truly values them as students.  Part of what we wanted to make possible with the website was an opportunity for “high touch” customer service interactions that would allow prospective transfer students to easily find the contact information for the people they needed to speak to. Nothing is more frustrating than being bounced between various offices because you do not know who will have the answer to your question. In addition to providing a “Contact Us” section on each page with as much specific information as possible, we also sought out a specific transfer contact person for each College/School. That individual will be responsible for answering College/School specific questions as they are able, and connecting transfer students with other individuals within the College/School who can also assist in answering questions and providing relevant information. We are continuing to discuss additional ways to provide a comparable welcome experience. 


Our goal has been to streamline the web experience for transfer students by creating a comprehensive, user-friendly website and ultimately better serve this important student population. Moving forward we will need to tackle suggesting adjustments to other departmental websites to provide more unified information and transfer friendly language to be targeted at all new students, and not just the incoming freshmen. Additionally, we hope to begin filming a set of campus information videos for new and current students to provide more detailed information on the academic and social resources available to them so they can begin to feel the Auburn Spirit and Campus Life before they arrive. We are also planning on continuing to increase the personalization transfer students can find on the site by rotating in timely transfer student spotlights from current students about their transfer experience, including transfer tips, encouragements, and reminders from people who have been in their shoes.

 

For anyone who is interested in developing your own transfer specific website, we highly encourage you to do it. This project took about a semester to create and that was greatly driven by Amber’s internship experience. We had two working committee meetings, and then broke to individually work on developing the subpages of the site. This project was significantly assisted by a simple web design system (WordPress) used by our university, which was new to Amber. With support from fellow web designers throughout the university and how to guides online, the site came together quickly.

 

We hope to be able to see the benefit of our new website as the new class of transfer students enters our university and hope that you are able to benefit from some of the lessons we learned throughout the development of our transfer specific website. 



 

 


 

 

 

 

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