Coordinating a University Web Presence

Judy Hallman <judy_hallman@unc.edu>
Campus Webmaster
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

This paper is online at http://www.unc.edu/~hallman/www6.html.

Abstract

The rapid development of the World Wide Web offers universities unprecedented possibilities for communication with internal and external audiences. A university's Web presence requires not only the attention of information technology personnel, but also careful consideration by the entire campus community.

In developing administrative arrangements to govern the management of a Campus Web service, the university should pay attention to ensuring that the creativity and utility of home pages is not hampered by unnecessary bureaucratic procedures or overly rest rictive standards.

At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH), a centrally coordinated support system and guidelines for publication make Web publishing accessible to everyone in the University community. In a campuswide effort centered around a volunteer group called the Web-Walkers, the University attempts to present a corporate image, portraying academic excellence, cutting-edge research, and public service at the University while, at the same time, allowing full academic freedom of expression.

This paper presents an overview of the UNC-CH Campus Web service, including its development, governance, strengths, weaknesses, and considerations for the future.

About UNC-CH

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which was the first state university to open its doors (1795), belongs to a select group of 58 research campuses forming the Association of American Universities. Fall 1995 enrollment included more than 15,000 undergraduates and more than 8,000 graduate and professional students.

History of the Campus Information Service

In Fall 1987, the Information Services group of the University's Computation Center was asked to plan and coordinate a campuswide information system using VTX software running on a DEC VAX computer. Information Services set up a team within the Computation Center and a campuswide advisory committee that identified content and drafted and tested the initial menus.

The VTX service announced in August 1988 included the student handbook, event calendars, employment opportunities, newsletters, and a University facts brochure. A few public terminals were available on campus.

The service grew to include a wide range of information, such as the campus directory, Chapel Hill Transit Guide, course catalogs, and the Human Resources manual. Most of the information was entered and/or processed by the Computation Center. By December 1992, the service linked to other University of North Carolina campuses, such as North Carolina State University in Raleigh, and search capabilities (via WAIS) were provided, as well as the VTX search option.

Gopher service was provided in parallel with the VTX service from 1993 until the VTX service was eliminated in July 1994. Then the campus began to replace gopher with World Wide Web. The first campus home page was online in Fall 1994. It was replaced in December 1994 and revamped again in August 1996.

Campus Servers

Schools, departments, organizations, and projects may choose the server they wish to use or maintain their own servers. There are two major Web sites operated by Information Technology Services: one (www.unc.edu) houses the University's home page and provides Web space for personal pages, and also for academic, research, and student organization Web pages; the other Web site provides administrative Web services, such as the campus directories and Student Information Services. We recommend that groups not go to the bother and expense of buying machines and hiring people just to set up their own Web servers. There are, however, at least 35 Web sites at UNC-CH that are linked from the Campus Web. A list of campus servers–with the contact person and information about the hardware and software in use–is available in the Web.

Web-Walkers

Since Fall 1993, people on the UNC-CH campus who are interested in helping to build the campuswide information service have gathered monthly to discuss new technology and features and how they are being used. This group, called Web-Walkers, has been instrumental in forming a cohesion for campus information services.

Developing Policies and Procedures

In Spring 1995, the Associate Provost for Information Technology appointed a committee to recommend guidelines governing publication and maintenance of campus Web pages. The 17-member committee, chaired by the Health Affairs Associate Vice-Chancellor for Planning, contained representatives from the libraries, university relations, public service, research, student affairs, and the student body, as well as Information Technology Services and the Web-Walkers. The committee and subcommittees met frequently during the spring and summer and submitted a final report in December that provided insights into the Web's importance to the University as well as recommending guidelines and actions.

As policies and procedures were formulated, they were made public in the Campus Web. They were completed and announced just in time for the Fall Semester (1995).

During Summer 1996, the policies and procedures were revised to separate policies and guidelines from procedures, and to provide clearer, more concise instructions. No fundamental changes were made. During Fall 1996, University Counsel reviewed the policies and guidelines and made a few minor changes.

Rights and Responsibilities

Personal pages: UNC-CH does not distinguish among faculty, staff, and student Web pages. Individuals may put personal Web pages on www.unc.edu and they may put links to their home pages in the Online Campus Directory. If you look up a person in the UNC-CH Online Campus Directory, you obtain his or her e-mail address and home page URL, as well as campus address and phone number. Individuals can also modify (using Web forms) their online privacy flags in the Online Campus Directory to suppress the display of some information.

University pages: Top level pages are the responsibility of the Office of the Vice Chancellor for University Advancement, which is advised by the Campus Webmaster and Web-Walkers.

Requirements for linking pages into the Campus Web: Before linking pages for a group into the Campus Web, we require a letter, on letterhead, from the department chair, organization president, administrative unit director, or leader of the group, that designates the Web Information Coordinator and describes the procedures for reviewing and updating the group's pages. We maintain an online file of UNC-CH Web Information Coordinators.

Guidelines

Personal pages: We encourage people to create Web pages that represent themselves and the University well by giving them guidelines and examples. We also suggest that they consider that potential future employers may read their Web pages. We occasionally select a personal page as the "Featured Campus Web Site."

Pages for groups: In guidelines for group Web pages, we emphasize the need for a backup person and suggest that the group's Web page designers carefully consider the links they make to Web pages outside their group's directory.

Corresponding with the University via Web pages: The home page for each person and each group is supposed to have a clickable mailer.

The Comments button on most of the top level pages directs mail to info@unc.edu, which is forwarded to the Campus Webmaster. The Campus Webmaster forwards most questions to the appropriate resource and keeps a log of the e-mail. Comments help identify inadequacies in the service. We encourage groups to process their e-mail in a similar fashion.

Training

Information Technology Services provides excellent computer classes and documentation for Creating Web Pages at UNC-CH. In addition, some "how to" instructions and tools are provided in the Campus Web; for example, there are instructions for converting Microsoft Word and PageMaker documents to HTML and for using a program that will split up large text fil es.

Redesigning the Campus Home Page

While the first home page (Fall 1994) was designed by Information Technology Services, the Web-Walkers have been responsible for subsequent revisions, first in December 1994 (resulting from the October Web-Walkers meeting) and then again during the period from February through July 1996 (see the meeting summaries for February 7, February 14, February 21, March 6, April 3, and June 19). Whoever wanted to come to the meetings could participate. As an initial step in the process, we wrote a mission statement for our Web service. A few subcommittees were formed to plan the lower level pages and the graphics.

Not all the feedback on the new home page, which was installed in August 1996, has been positive. Some users have complained that the new graphic doesn't look scholarly or academic, while others think having the first letter of the main information categories spell Carolina is artificial. In fact, the categories were chosen first. The design team recognized that with a little topic rearranging, the home page could spell out Carolina while serving the intended purpose.

Coordinated Anarchy (also known as "Development")

While it is important for the top-level University Web pages to have a common look and feel, no one wants to inhibit the creativity departments, schools and organizations bring to their page designs. Here are just a few examples of independent, creative work that contributes to the overall goals of the Campus Web.

SunSITE (Sun Software, Information and Technology Exchange; a joint venture between Sun Microsystems Computer Corporation and UNC-CH), under the guidance of Paul Jones and Judson Knott, is a shining example of what bright, creative, students can do with a little guidance and direction. SunSITE was one of the first WWW sites in the world, and it continues to be in the forefront. Use of the latest Web technology at UNC-CH usually appears on SunSITE first. SunSITE managers pass on newly acquired skills to the campus via Web-Walker presentations, as well as through publications, including these:

The Fifth Estate, the first online student publication at UNC-CH, was initiated by Ryan Thornburg, a senior Journalism major. The Fifth Estate was designed for the Web with a goal "to strengthen our community by building ties to the ideas all around us."

Simple Start, a program designed to facilitate the instructional use of Internet technologies, is providing faculty and students with exciting tools, templates, and electronic discussions (or forums) for scholarly communication.

Carolina Courses Online enables students from around the world with access to the appropriate technology to earn college credit by taking courses electronically.

Student Personal Information: A variety of personal information, such as grades and bills, is available for students via a secure server.

Admissions applications and application status information are available through the Web.

The School of Medicine is launching PC applications off of a WWW-based menu.

The School of Information and Library Science and the School of Journalism and Mass Communication teach students how to use the Internet and World Wide Web as communication tools. Many of the Web pages for departments and research projects were developed by students of these programs. A wonderful variety of Web-based information services created as final projects by students enrolled in INLS 181 is available online.

Student organizations are encouraged to create home pages.

Obstacles and Foot-Dragging

Although there has been remarkable agreement, unity in purpose, and sharing among those who provide UNC-CH Web sites and services, there are some weak areas.

Committee recommendations: The Committee for Coordination of University Web Documents submitted its report in December 1995, but it seems to have fallen into a hole. For example, in addition to the Web-Walkers, which is a voluntary group, the Committee recommended the appointment of two more formal advisory committees: one to monitor governance-related issues and one to address technical and support issues. These committees have not yet been appointed. Other recommendations in the report have similarly stalled. Further, the report itself has not been made available online.

Inadequate campus network: Although UNC-CH is a major research university, funding for the campus network has been very slow in coming. Fiber optics are finally being installed. Even so, several major units are not on the campus proper and require ISDN or T1 services. For example, News Services was never included in the old campus network because their offices are on the wrong side of the street, and the new fiber network hasn't gotten there yet. The same is true for the Student Union, which houses the student newspaper, the Daily Tar Heel.

Lack of priority within Information Technology Services: Information Technology Services' highest priority items include completing the fiber optics network and providing reliable e-mail services but do not include any explicit statements regarding the World Wide Web service. Clearly, the areas Information Technology Services is focusing on must have priority over Web service development; however, they leave very little staff time or funding for the Web.

Lack of priority in the administration: While the University administration is committed to providing information technology infrastructure and services for the campus, the Campus Web lacks information from and about campus leadership.

Campuswide lack of staff: The World Wide Web has not reduced the time it takes to prepare publications; in most cases, the effort has increased. Underfunded, understaffed organizations do not have time or Web development skills and typically lack a strong Web presence.

Challenges

Support for Web page developers: Information Technology Services and the Web-Walkers are challenged to provide cutting-edge hardware, software, and consulting support for the Web page developers on campus, making sure that the tools developers need are available and that the developers are able to use the tools most effectively.

Electronic documents as the primary source of information: A shift in the process of preparing publications will result in publication and maintenance of documents online first, and producing printed copy, as needed, from the online version. This is how Vital Events, the newsletter of the Carolina Population Center, has been published since September, 1995. For large campuswide publications, like catalogs, departments may wish to maintain their own sections, with the printed copy resulting from the publications office gathering the sections into a central collection.

Expand use of hyperlinks: Campus information lends itself to extensive use of hyperlinks, such as course catalogs to class schedules, to syllabi, to class projects, to class forums, to faculty vita, to faculty research, to public service, and so on. Web Information Coordinators are challenged to find ways to automate the generation and maintenance of such links.

Provide new forms of public service: University Web pages provide a wonderful opportunity to extend knowledge-based services to the citizens of the state and to enhance the quality of life for all people in the state (one aspect of the mission of UNC-CH). "Ask-an-expert" services can be provided in a variety of forms. For example, a few of the UNC-CH libraries (such as the Academic Affairs Library, the Health Sciences Library, and the Carolina Population Center Library) will field questions from the public, as well as the University community, as time allows. Duke University's Healthy Devil and Columbia University's Go Ask Alice provide a wide-range of health information for the public, together with an opportunity to ask questions. These services could be expanded to include electronic forums on Web pages for a larger range of topics, particularly for Research Centers.

Students, as well as faculty and staff, could provide training to members of the local community who are not knowledgeable about the Internet or its resources, and who don't realize how Internet resources can be used to improve their lives.

Collaboration: Community networks, such as RTPnet, provide an opportunity for collaboration among universities, local governments, libraries, schools, churches, and other non-profit agencies.

Conclusion

Campus Web services have changed from "nice to have" services to essential public relations tools, providing outreach for the campuses and establishing their corporate images. The Web gives new meaning to the phrase "life-long learning."

About the Author

Judy Hallman is Campuswide Information Systems Manager in Information Technology Services at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH). She is Webmaster of the UNC-CH Home Page

Judy has worked toward a community information service, RTPnet (previously known as Triangle Free-Net), for the local area for more than six years. She is Executive Director and Vice President of Public Information Network, Inc. (the parent organization of RTPnet).

She authored a chapter on CWISs for the book The Internet Unleashed, published by Sams.net, now in its Second Edition (ISBN 0-672-30714-6), 1995. Judy also authored the chapter "A Regional Free-Net and Internet Access," published in The Internet Initiative: Libraries Providing Internet Services & How They Plan, Pay, and Manage, by the American Library Association, 1995 (ISBN 0-8389-0668-0).


Last modified: 1996 Dec 13