GW unveils updated Web site

The address hasn’t change, but GW’s new home on the World Wide Web is a different place.

The new site, unveiled Monday, will allow students to access grades, schedules and account information over the Web. And new graphics, photos and images have replaced the old, mostly text-based format.

The updated version of www.gwu.edu is the product of more than a year and a half of planning and design aimed to make it more attractive and user-friendly.

Alexa Kim, a senior programmer/analyst on the Computer Information and Resource Center’s Web Development Team, said she browsed the sites of dozens of other universities – including Georgetown, Stanford and Boston universities – for ideas to update GW’s site.

“We analyzed our own needs by looking at what GW currently had, what other universities were doing and at other Web sites in general,” Kim said. “The students were our first priority, since the Web site is designed mainly as a tool to get information from. We wanted the new site to be as useful as possible.”

Kim said that meant adding new graphics and images that would make the site more attractive, while still ensuring the site would load quickly. The team also wanted to make the site accessible through the Lynx system used on GWIS2, which is text-based and does not support graphics.

In the fall of 1996, the Web Working Group was created by a group of administrators who believed the University’s Web site needed improvement. The group, composed entirely of volunteers, developed a list of changes to make to the site, but soon realized none of them had the time to take on the project in addition to their other responsibilities.

“We started vomiting ideas on each other,” Kim said. “We had an entire meeting on calendars alone. We knew we wanted pictures, something better looking, but nobody had time to create it.”

So CIRC created the Web Development Team. The team, which is funded in part through the Board of Trustees’ Technology Initiative, was charged with expanding and implementing the ideas that were developed by the Web Working Group.

According to Kim, the group’s first charge was to revamp the current page. That included adding graphics and coming up with a way to make the information contained on the old page more appealing to the eye.

The new page features photos of University and D.C. landmarks. Links are grouped by the six constituencies the team felt would use the Web site most often: current students, prospective students, faculty and researchers, alumni, parents and visitors, and staff. The team also added a search engine, which enables users to search the entire Web site by typing in a keyword.

“The design is much more attractive, more image-oriented, but it is still small in terms of loading time. It had to be accessible to current students,” Kim said. “The point is not to be flashy; information is the bottom line, but it has to be eye-appealing to keep you interested.”

Kim said the unveiling of the site was the end of phase one of the project. Phase two will add new pages to the site and update the information contained on it. She said the designers have left the site flexible so new sites can be added as needed.

Deborah Snelgrove, director of Student and Academic Support Services Communication, said she hopes to continue working with Kim on phase two to make sure student services are well-represented in the redesign.

Snelgrove said some of the information available on the site is still very basic, but she said she hopes SASSComm will be able to develop its own pages to help develop the University’s site.

“Right now, if a prospective student is looking for information about Greek life, for example, there is no direct link,” Snelgrove said. “Ultimately, we want a student life link that will include information on subjects like Greek life.”

Snelgrove cited the undergraduate admissions site as one of the sites she hopes to develop. Currently prospective students can fill out the first part of the University’s application online, and Snelgrove said she hopes to be able to put GW’s recruitment video and an audio library online as well.

“It would be great to have audio clips of quotes from people at the University,” Snelgrove said.

Snelgrove said online information about admissions, the financial aid office, the Student Activities Center, international student services and the Community Living and Learning Center eventually will be incorporated on the Web site. Snelgrove said she hopes to be able to include features such as “virtual tours” of residence halls on the site.

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