Current Speeches

Rodney Erickson Remarks Web Conference 2004
June 15, 2004

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Slide 1 - Title Slide

In only one decade, the Web has evolved at Penn State from being cool technology of interest only to people in Academic Computing to being a strategic tool that is a real workhorse.

I' ve watched it grow, I've struggled along with others to figure out the best ways to harness the Web for higher education.

I've conferred with people who have long experience with the Web like Russ Vaught, Gary Augustson, John Harwood, and others in ITS for their ideas and recommendations.

Today will try to give you the context for Web development at Penn State and talk about Penn State's evolving web strategies.

Slide 2 - Context for Web Development

The Knowledge Business of higher education is becoming global in scope and increasingly competitive.

The University is focusing on developing quality educational programs and services.

At the same time, there are financial constraints from state support and from tuition.
The Internet has great potential for helping us communicate Penn State=s message and to provide better services more effectively.

More and more households are using the Web.

Prospective students are increasingly turning to the web for information and impressions about the environment of a campus, making subjective judgments about fit.

Slide 3 - University Web Strategies and Directions Report

The Web as this audience knows well is still evolving. It is also decentralized technology and has developed independently in different parts of the University.

Web technology has revolutionized many of our core functions at Penn State.

A Task Force was formed in 1999 to study how the Web could be used more effectively to help Penn State fulfill its mission.

The Task Force report has provided a road map for us and also set forth many challenges.

The Task Force advocated ways to make the University's web presence more coherent and we have made some progress in this regard.

Slide 4 - Penn State needs a Strong Web Presence

People realized very quickly that Web sites mean different things to different people. Web sites have multiple audiences and purposes.

Today, web pages are used:
- to recruit and retain students and faculty (our top priority)
- to communicate our scholarship
- to inform and reassure families
- to inform current faculty, staff and students
- to involve alumni
- to handle e-Commerce
- overall, to provide better services more efficiently

Slide 5 - Penn State's Home Page

Our current home page was produced in 2001 and overall has been quite effective. When we benchmark with other CIC pages, Penn State's home page is still one of the best. You can all take pride in what you do.

But, our web presence can be even stronger. One of the key words is consistency.

We are doing some things very well online. For example, the eLion advising system, the new Penn State Portal, handling online applications in the Admissions Office. Students are activating their Personal Web Space accounts at increasing rates and learning to communicate in this important medium.

Slide 6 - Web Site Goals

Our web site needs to describe Penn State's range of resources internally and externally (multiple campuses, majors, student organizations, housing options, etc.) in a way that shows that we are ONE University.

Penn State needs to show who we are, where we are going, what our strengths are.

Our Web site should help answer the question, "What makes Penn State, Penn State? What is it that ties us all together?

A committee under the direction of Steve MacCarthy in University Relations has started to review Penn State's home page. They will benchmark with other CIC and peer institutions and propose several alternative designs for the home page. When the final design is selected and put online, the committee will develop standards that will most likely include some common design elements and/or links that all pages (except personal and faculty pages) will use.

- The home page will have a focus on Penn State's external audience.

- Internal audiences will be served by an alternative page like the Penn State Portal or Penn State Live.

Let me also make it very clear that there is no interest in limiting creativity on individual faculty, staff or student pages.

Slide 7- University of Pennsylvania

Russ Vaught has reviewed hundreds of web pages and has found a few examples that we can learn from. My comments to this audience of web professionals may be a little like giving financial advice to Warren Buffet or telling Julia Child how to cook, but please bear with me. Step back and look at the bigger picture.

Here is the home page for the University of Pennsylvania.

Penn does a nice job on their web site, particularly in consistent layout and navigation.

Note the main topics listed along the left side and in the blue bar across the screen.

You would never know that Penn was an inner-city campus from this picture.

Slide 8 - University of Pennsylvania Prospective Students Page

The second-level pages retain the Penn identity by continuing the same layout, again using the same topics on the left side and the same items in the blue bar. This makes the site very user friendly.

Slide 9 - University of Chicago Home Page

This is the home page of the University of Chicago. This pictures on this page change every few seconds, which you can=t see here. It catches your attention.

There is good use of white space on this page and the entire page can be seen on one screen. No scrolling is needed.

Slide 10 - University of Chicago Academic Units Page

At some university sites, it is very difficult to find the academic units page.

But, the University of Chicago clearly spells out what the units are.

It uses the same navigation as the home page. The block of text at the top is even the same except that there is a mark next to the page we are on.

Chicago's college pages do not continue the same theme. Some have the University's logo but others do no. In general, Penn State's college pages are better.

Slide 11 - Ohio State Home Page

The home page from Ohio State does not stand out as exemplary.

It is extremely "busy" with too much print and very small pictures.

It does not fit on one screen. There are many more lines of text below this section.

Slide 12 - Ohio State College of Business Page

On the other hand, the Fisher College of Business page at Ohio State is attractive, well turned to its constituents and has dynamically changing photographs.

Slide 13 - General Motors Home Page

Here is a corporate example of carefully targeting external audiences. General Motors has a family of different product lines and has carefully targeted their auto brands to different audiences.

While the pages for most of the brands have GM logo in the same location and use common navigation, the pages on each of the brand's pages are carefully tuned to appeal to the potential buyers of that brand.

Slide 14- General Motors Cadillac Page

Here is GM's Cadillac Page. GM has moved their logo to the lower right-hand corner and lightened up their page. Still, it is tightly focused on their target market. There is good use of white space and is easy to move around the site.

There are several photos for different models of Cadillacs, and most show the cars in remote locations like deserts or driving through the surf.

Slide 15 - General Motors Chevrolet Page

Contrast this with the GM Chevrolet Page. This is designed to appeal to a different target audience, but there is a similarity and links to the overall GM brand.

Some of the Chevy cars are shown in less remote locations or are even shown with people as day-to-day working cars.

Slide 16 - General Motors Hummer Site

Here is another GM brand. The Hummer site opens up with an invitation to "enter"

The Hummer site is also targeted to a different audience. The GM logo is very small and in the lower right corner.

While all of our Penn State units should contain the Penn State logo, they must appeal to their particular audiences just as GM's brand pages do. This retain an overall Penn State brand identity just as GM's logo does on each of its pages. The trick is to balance the needs to institutional identity and unit identity.

Slide 17 - University of Michigan Art and Design Page

We don't want to inhibit bold and winning ideas. There must be enough flexibility that new ideas can be tried.

Here is an excellent example from the School of Art and Design at the University of Michigan. It uses Flash technology to expand the balloons and is designed to appeal to its constituency.

Slide 18 - University of Michigan Law School

The academic units at Michigan do a good job in appealing to their constituent groups. They do lack common navigation and a consistent way to get back to the university home page. Some of their administrative units use a common page header and common navigation, but others do not. The law school page is effective in showing dynamically changing photos of law students in casual or legal settings.

Slide 19 - Penn State Law School

Our law school page is also very effective. The photograph changes frequently, always featuring people at Dickinson.

While this is June one example, a number of Penn State units have worked hard to create pages that are carefully focused on their audience. Often this focus is subtle but very effective.

Slide 20 - Penn State Portal

The Penn State Portal has the potential to become an internal home page that is tailored to the needs of many of Penn State's internal audiences.

Individual users can select and arrange information on their pages.

They can also add "tabs," extra pages that are focused on specific topics of interest, as we see in green on this page.

Often, it is hard for people to find the specific information that they need from the hundreds of thousands of pages available at Penn State. One idea that is being looked at closely is push tabs that are carefully selected to provide the information needs of the individual.

Slide 21 - Web Site Standards

So what is important to our Web presence at Penn State?

- Focusing on the overall Penn State identity

- A carefully tuned institutional home page with a stylistic theme that carries over to the first couple levels of pages. Should be focused on the needs of external visitors.

- A clear internal home page, like our Penn State Portal is becoming. The Portal provides a way to tailor the web to individual needs rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

- Usability and consistency - information must be easy to find, it must be clear that it is all Penn State. We should be able to find information on people at Penn State without resorting to a search engine.

-Quality content and clear writing-providing information and graphics that are interesting enough to sustain multiple visits.

-Current and accurate information.

-Accessibility for users with disabilities. In the last year, Penn State has purchased a site license for LIFT, a program which helps to ensure that web pages meet current guidelines for usability. If you have not taken a close look at LIFT, I urge you to do so. This is very effective technology.

-Professionalism-using good graphic design and color and avoiding gimmicks.

Slide 22 - Web Designers

Web designers are the key to Penn State's Web presence.

Creating a good web page takes many hours of work as well as constant vigilance to keep it updated. I understand that it combines technical, artistic, and communications skills. Almost all of the strategic plans address using the Web, in some way.

We expect that web designers will incorporate the new guidelines and, at the same time, use their creativity to make the best possible web pages for Penn State. The goal is a careful balance between presenting a consistent Penn State identify while allowing you to explore new ideas and ways of presenting content.

Web designers can help to teach the faculty and staff in their units why good web design is important to Penn State, why the new guidelines will help the University communicate its message.

Web designers can seek ways to work together and shape good ideas that will help Penn State sites be more consistent (not identical).

Slide 23 - Move to Paperless Environment

A related topic is Penn State's plan to move to a paperless environment.

Why? As the Internet becomes the principal means of communication, there is an opportunity to provide faster and more timely communication and also save money. Often, the result is service that is easier to use and provided at lower cost with greater accuracy.

What will this mean to University employees?

-We will be moving more publications from print to electronic formats.

-We are using the web for new purposes with projected savings in paper and staff time and increased accuracy.


This year, 68 percent of undergraduate applicants applied to Penn State via the Web. This provided for more accurate and timely applications and resulted in cost savings at the same time.

Students get their grades, register for classes, and pay their bills. They are also creating their own web papers that showcase their experience and skills to prospective employers. We will find new ways to serve students using the Web.

Faculty submit grades online and use ANGEL as a course management system.

Most employees use the Web to select their benefits. Many use Web-based training materials to learn about new topics.

Scholarly materials are moving to the web-found in LIAS and in digital journals.

Slide 24 - Title Slide

Your work is not just about increasing the number of hits on a web site, it's about serving people. Providing them with accurate and current information when they need it.

It's not just about designing a web site, it's about advancing the University's mission and improving our quality. It really is that important.

As the Internet becomes Penn State's principal means of communication, Web designers and editors have the knowledge that makes it all possible. You combine the technical, communications, and artistic skills needed in today's world.

Conferences like this help to build a community of Web developers who can work together and help each other build dynamic and exciting sites for Penn State.



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Web page last modified September 30, 2011