Intercom Online......October 22, 1998

Degree information
moves to Web version

By Annemarie Mountz
Public Information

Distribution of paper copies of the University's Baccalaureate Degree Program Bulletin and Associate Degree Program Bulletin are expected to drop sharply over the next several years. But that's a good thing, according to Bill Farnsworth, head of the Office of Undergraduate Information and Communications.

For the past year, Farnsworth has led a team in a major project to post the official versions of both publications online.

"This started as a CQI project to improve the accuracy of the program and course descriptions available to students and prospective students," said Farnsworth, who also is the Bulletin Web site administrator. "The problem with the printed version is that it goes to the printer in April and by the time it gets back to us in August some programs and courses have been added, others dropped and still others changed in some way. So the printed version is out-of-date almost before it ever is distributed."

An advantage to putting the official version online is that as the Faculty Senate approves program and course changes, the team can immediately post the revisions and keep the official Bulletin up-to-date, Farnsworth said.

"This version of the Bulletin also will be a boon to the campus colleges, because everybody now will get all the changes at the same time in exactly the same words," said John Cahir, vice provost and dean for Undergraduate Education.

Reflecting the plan to eventually phase out printed copies of the Bulletin, the University this year changed its publication schedule. In the past, a new Bulletin was published every year. Starting this year, however, the Bulletin is dated for two years.

"It may be a while before the University stops printing the Bulletin altogether, but the goal is to switch dependency from the printed version to the online version," Farnsworth said.

The success of the project can be directly attributed to the extraordinary dedication of team members.

The initial CQI project was led by Cahir, Steve MacCarthy, Louis Geschwindner and Russell Vaught.

The core group working on the project consisted of only four people: Farnsworth; Chet Smith, assistant professor of computer science and engineering, the technical support systems person; Helen Clark, curriculum coordinator; and Sally Heffentreyer, manager of writing and editing in Publications, the Bulletin editor. Not even retirement plans deterred two of the group members.

Smith did a major portion of the programming, translated the Bulletin into roughly 1,200 HTML documents for the Web and built more than 100 menus. Although he had plans to retire, he stayed on the project past his anticipated retirement date.

"It's one of those loose-end things," Smith said. "I posted the information in previous years, and so I wanted to see this next step completed."

What Smith posted before was like a snapshot of the Bulletin as it existed in print.

"All the information for the Web came directly from the book," said Smith. "The difference now is that the Web copy is more up-to-date than the printed book. The plan is that when the University is ready to print an updated Bulletin, the information for the book will be taken from the Web."

Clark, who maintained the official program and course descriptions, also felt a deep sense of responsibility toward the project. While she did retire, Clark returned to help her replacement, Sherry Walk.

"There are so many parts of the job that needed to be done, and this was a big job on top of the other duties," Clark said. "It almost required an extra person to get everything done. I also was anxious to see it up on the Web and working."

Now that the development portion of the project is complete, Walk will be responsible for keeping the program and course descriptions up-to-date and maintaining the archive.

Farnsworth said that on a project this large, it's easy to miss some of the details.

"Chet Smith and Helen Clark both were very diligent in paying attention to the details. They both put a lot of extra effort into the project to make sure the details were covered," he said. "Also, they both realized that this could very well be the last project they work on, and they wanted it to be done well."

The content of the Web version currently is extremely similar to that of the printed version.

In the future, the team will work to more fully integrate the Web's technology into the site.

"Most of the time people rush to put a paper document onto the Web. The challenge is what you do with it once it's there," Farnsworth said. "We want to take full advantage of what the Web has to offer."

That includes linking program descriptions so they can be viewed as a customized package; using search engines to assist students and potential students match their interests and abilities with majors; and linking courses to their syllabi.

"The fun has just begun," said Farnsworth.

Check the Web

To view the Bulletin Web sites, go to the University's home page at http://www.psu.edu/ and click on the link to academic programs; or point your browser to http://www.psu.edu/academic/bluebook/ for the Baccalaureate Degree Programs site or http://www.psu.edu/academic/greenbook/ for the Associate Degree Programs site.

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Digital Intercom is produced in the Office of University Relations at The Pennsylvania State University.
This page was created by Annemarie Mountz.
Updated by Chris Koleno