Thursday, October 23, 2014

Ghosts in the Attic

Is someone filling out an out-dated form they claim they found on your website?

Have you tried to find something in the search box on the Tarleton website and found multiple links to old files? Or even worse, the older the file, the higher it was in the search results listing?

What mysterious creatures lurk in your attic?

Leaving old files on the Tarleton website, whether or not they are still linked on your pages, keeps them in the search results. The longer a file stays on the website, the more “legitimate” it seems to the search engines, which makes them display higher in the listing.

Here are some things you can do to clean the attic:
  • Delete and unpublish all old files on your website. If they are still available, your constituents will be confused which files are the correct ones to use. Make it a habit to always delete files that are no longer in use.
  • Rename all re-usable content that can easily be replaced on your website. For example, if you have a tour schedule for your department, and it’s been linked to on multiple pages, you can name it something generic like "tourschedule.pdf" and just replace the content in that document each semester as needed. No dates required in the file name. No new files to upload. No re-linking across pages. Just click on the file inside Cascade, Edit, Browse to the new file on your computer, Submit, Publish, and done.
If you cannot find an out-dated file in Cascade to delete, please contact Web Services and provide us with the web address to the old file, so we can exterminate your ghosts!


Thursday, October 16, 2014

"Meet the Staff" Series – Karole Schroeder, Web Designer/Developer

Name: Karole Schroeder

Titles: Web Designer/Developer and Accessibility Coordinator

Length of time in Web Services at Tarleton: 7 years

Length of time in web occupations: 15 years

Top three areas of expertise: electronic and information resource accessibility, designing web information architecture, content strategy

Topic interests: Same as above, along with technology trends and photography

Favorite thing about my job: Fundamentally, I think we’d all like to have a job that makes us feel like kids having fun all the time. Change is a constant in this field, so we learn about new technology, new programming languagesnew everything. It’s like being given new toys to play with. I like being able to study and play with those toys, and implement them in ways that strategically enhance our web presence.

A "Day in the Life":

  1. I check email before I start the day. I want to make sure everyone has been responded to that needs assistance. I hate procrastination with a fervor. After checking the previous day's email, the day varies depending on the jobs needed, since I wear so many hats in the office.
  2. I’ve been through so much accessibility training, I have a kind of “accessibility radar” no one else has in the office even after all the accessibility testing I’ve taught this office. There's so much changing and so much to cover! When my co-workers pass by my cubicle and see me tense up, they know I found something inaccessible, and they remind me there are only so many hours in the day. I have to prioritize levels of accessibility issues in order to juggle all my other duties. We get hundreds of emails every day, and we have thousands upon thousands of web pages. We definitely cannot correct it all at one time.
  3. When I get in the programming mode, my brain just starts going in multiple directions. I keep my projects organized in Asana to help me out and give my co-workers updates on the cool new stuff (back into excited child mode here) coming along – some of it inspired by their ideas. When I can’t figure something out, explaining it in Asana (even if not everyone is going to understand the technical aspects) helps me realize a piece of logic I was missing and fix the code.
  4. I test our website on multiple browsers and devices. My friends may be Android lovers or Apple lovers and so forth, but I play the unbiased role, learning and playing with multiple devices, because we aim to make our website accessible to as large an audience as possible, no matter your brand preference. I also test and review vendor software, widgets, and apps to make sure they comply with our web and accessibility standards. We want everything to work for everyone.
  5. I don’t have as much time to do it these days, but I love graphic design, and I love doing photography. When a project needs a higher level of design knowledge than we have trained our student interns on, I will assist in that portion of the project.
  6. Technology can be confusing, since it is constantly changing and the rules keep changing for making things work correctly, if not seamlessly. Standards are confusing on the surface and sometimes require extensive training to understand and interpret correctly. I try very hard to make it as human as possible, to connect people to the technical information with as much ease as I can write, draw, or say. Sometimes, it is an email informing someone of inaccessible content. Sometimes, it is a Cascade Server tip of the day. Sometimes I help people over the phone. Sometimes I remote into their computer and help them directly.
  7. If I haven’t seen it on the web, it’s likely something on one of the many higher education/vendor/web/accessibility email subscriptions where I will learn something new. And when I’m not going to conferences, there are plenty of free or cheap webinars available. In this occupation, we must keep up to respond to the demand as well as keep our university educated, determining if something new is a cure or someone is merely selling snake oil.
  8. Besides educating others, we need to understand where everyone else is at in order to create the right web page, application, or product to meet their needs. It’s hard to do that over email, so when we need to get to the heart of the matter – when everyone needs it to be crystal clear we meet face-to-face.
  9. This office tries to keep everyone on the same page. We have our strengths, and we typically work on projects that utilize those strengths, but sometimes we need to exchange work as well as make sure we aren’t stepping on anyone's toes trying to do different tasks on the same projects. And with each of us having varying strengths, we also need a lot of advice in the areas of our weaknesses.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

"Meet the Staff" Series - Daphne Hunt, Director

Web Services would like to share with the community a bit about our team such as what we do, "a day in the life", and other interesting things about the make-up of our team members. Each Web Services member contributes something very important (and very different) to the overall team. To start off with, here is a little bit about myself! -Daphne

Full name: Daphne Jo Hunt
Daphne Hunt
Title: Director of Web Services
Length of time in Web Services at Tarleton: 8 years
Top three areas of expertise: Web strategy, web team/project management, graphic design
Topic Interests: Same as expertise, with additional interests in video production, photography, and web analytics
Favorite thing about my job: Working with such a talented group of staff members each and every day!
Favorite hobby: Making crafts! I have a craft room at home and have recently made hair bows, a fall wreath, and a "fairy garden" for my bird bath.

A "Day in the Life":
  1. Check homepage for any out-of-date information and make sure important information gets posted. (Tarleton's homepage is my "baby" that I must keep nurtured.)
  2. Check and respond to emails throughout the day (which as you know can take a while here at Tarleton!)
  3. As the day rolls along, check in with all the members of my team to see how they are doing. Since we are all in the same office area, it doesn't take too long to figure out what's going on!
  4. Go to meetings. We love to collaborate and share information with other departments, so I do spend a lot of my time in meetings. Anywhere from 2-4 hours a day on average. I meet with Marketing & Communications, Information Technology Services, and many other teams on campus. I get to meet a lot of people in my position!
  5. Monitor my team's projects & tasks on Asana. We enter all of our projects and tasks to this system in order to keep track of and prioritize all of our outstanding projects and tasks. At any given time, my team can have over 100 pending tasks in the queue as a whole! We each get several tasks done each day so we are constantly making headway.
  6. Develop strategies for improving our web presence and for improving how we communicate changes to campus. Making policies and guidelines for the web is one thing, but communicating those things to campus is just as important. I also give guidance to my staff about how to communicate to our colleagues, because I believe strongly in transparency, respectfulness, timeliness, and reinforcement.
  7. Give feedback and advice on projects and tasks. I help to ensure we are still moving in the right direction and at an appropriate speed to get things done.
  8. Team meetings: We usually have an official team meeting one or two times a week to discuss major projects and other topics that have come up during the week. We also have several "unofficial" team meetings during the week as needed - if nothing else, to just be able to share a joke and keep everyone in high spirits on a stressful day!
  9. Design graphics such as homepage highlights and advertising banners. I love graphic design so I section off a sliver of my day to work on these types of tasks.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Southern Hospitality and Hannon Hill

Last week, I went to Atlanta for the annual Cascade Server Users Conference hosted by Hannon Hill.  In true southern form, we received the best in hospitality, and in true Cascade Server User form, everyone contributed in some way to the learning of all the other conference attendees.

In fact, the XSLT guru Jason Aller (to whom I bow down to with great respect, since I program in the XSLT language to make Cascade work), from University of California, Davis - School of Law, gave Tarleton State University kudos for our content management procedures in his presentation "In Pursuit of the Grand Unified Template." Consistency is important to provide a professional marketing and communications tool. If there are deviations from the branding, the style and tone, they look like mistakes and have the potential to push away our constituents.
Jason Aller and Karole Schroeder after his presentation "In Pursuit of the Grand Unified Template"
Jason Aller and Karole Schroeder after his presentation "In Pursuit of the Grand Unified Template"

During another presentation by Fran Zablocki, Strategist for mStoner, called "Information Architecture and User Experience: The Journey, The Destination, The Return Trip," I could only imagine Morgan, our Web Content Specialist, smiling wide-eyed as she consumed exciting new information at some points and nodding her head in agreement on others concerning many of the strategies used to make content work on a web page if she had been with me.

Sometimes it feels good to hear that others are thinking about things the same way we are because while we may be working on the technical aspects, very rarely do people outside our occupations truly understand the trials we go through to improve web design to increase usability for all our constituents. Conferences like these both teach us and build us up as a community. I appreciate what Hannon Hill does to constantly bring us all together working towards the benefit of all.


Friday, September 12, 2014

Student Employee of the Semester for Summer 2014!

We awarded the Student Employee of the Semester for Summer 2014 last night, and the award went to Maria Guillen!

Left to Right: Daphne Hunt, Maria Guillen, Morgan Hammond

Maria is a very hard-working student, taking much initiative to get work done for the College of Business Administration (COBA) on her own. She is skilled at organizing information on the web and collecting student testimonials for COBA's website. Maria works with faculty in order to get information needed for the college's websites. She will be graduating with her B.S. in Computer Information Systems in December, therefore moving on to new horizons. We are going to miss her!

We also had the opportunity to take a group photo of all the Web Services employees last night. I'm so proud of this team and all of their accomplishments and talents. Every single person is valued and appreciated in this office and I am so looking forward to working with this team this year!

Left to right: Josh Roelofs, Maria Guillen, Danielle Dunigan, Katie Taylor, Silvia Fuentes, Karole Schroeder, Tori Jones, Morgan Hammond, Daphne Hunt, Jennifer Kiggins, Ernesto (Ernie) Martinez
-Daphne :)

Tarleton Mobile App

Web Services, Information Technology Services (ITS), and the Digital Media Advisory Committee have been working for several months to prepare and implement a new mobile app for Tarleton.

The app is created by Ellucian, the company which also brings us MyGateway (Luminis), Ducktrax (Student Self-Service), and Banner. Becky Gray, CIO and Executive Director of Information Technology Services at Tarleton, saw a demo of the app at a conference during spring of 2013. Because Tarleton did not have a primary app for the institution AND there was a need to provide a mobile-friendly way to access student services, Becky investigated Ellucian's app further and made the decision to purchase.

The Digital Media Advisory Committee began discussing the app's look and feel as well as content to be placed in the app during the spring of 2014. One of the deciding factors about content was whether or not it is "mobile-friendly".  Currently, there is no "free" mobile-friendly interface for Blackboard, so the decision was made to not link to Blackboard from the app. However, since TexanSync already had a mobile-friendly interface, we decided to include a link to that website.

We also included links to student email, Tarleton's news and events, social media, emergency contacts, campus maps and directory, athletics, and several more items. And of course, students are able to access their grades and schedules from the app as well!

-Daphne Hunt

From a Student's Perspective
Tori Jones, Assistant Intern in Web Services:

From my perspective this app has really made my life a little bit easier. My favorite part of the app is when you click on courses - it shows you what courses you have, what time they are at and even has them all laid out in a schedule. You are also able to access your grades in classes from past semesters, which I found was really convenient because sometimes I like to look back and see what my grades are looking like as a whole, and being able to see that I had a B in that class, or an A in another class really helps things stay organized.

Another thing that the app comes in handy for on a student's perspective is the link to TexanSync. Being a student worker for Web Services, as well as a Residential Leader, I use TexanSync quite a bit. Having that direct access from the app to TexanSync allows me to have access to important things that I need to know and event times with a touch of a button, literally.

As a Residential Leader, there comes times that call for emergency contacts needing to be reached. With the new app, not only are the University Police Department's number available at the click of a button, but the Erath County Sheriff's Office, and Stephenville Police Department numbers are programmed in as well.

This app was something special for Tarleton that was long awaited, with all the new technologies coming into play, it was just a countdown to when we would finally get this app. It's got a really good look to it, and not only that it's extremely easy to use - from having links to student email, TexanSync, Emergency Contacts, and everything in-between, it's definitely a must have!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Responsive Design Next Level: Entirely Modular Pages

You may have heard we are converting the Tarleton website to responsive design via our Project Squishy website. A lot goes into designing a new website, its layout, functionality, and interactivity, so we decided to provide you with a window into the designing and programming process involved in this very complex project. You may have already read Ernesto's post on our design for the new search engine and what he did to program it (if not, go check it out!). Today's post is going to be more focused on what you will be able to do with the new responsive design in Cascade Server, our Content Management System (CMS): modular pages.

How We Got Here

Before we moved to a CMS, web maintainers were able to design their websites, sometimes with the assistance of Web Services for website layout:
  • Full control: Maintainers control website layout and content
    • Adobe Dreamweaver
    • Microsoft Frontpage
    • Mozilla Composer
  • Partial control: Maintainers control content in an editable region on each webpage
    • Adobe Dreamweaver
    • Adobe Contribute
A screenshot of the Financial Aid website as seen in the Layout view of Cascade where editable regions are shown as three columns on the page.
Three editable regions on one of the first
page layouts made available in Cascade.
Web marketing strategy was very lax at that time, since everyone was able to set colors, logos, navigation, and content up any way they wanted. When President Dottavio came on board, though, he wanted to improve the marketability of our degree programs and usability of the Tarleton website, so he directed Web Services to approach websites in a consistent manner, look and feel. This would, in turn, help us also meet legal requirements regarding accessibility of content, security of information, and intellectual rights of content owners.

Our solution moved us into Cascade Server where web maintainers have control over smaller editable regions of their web pages. We started out very basic, since users were already used to a large editable region on each page and called us to help update the navigation. Many of them had full control of their websites before, so they had access to do much of what they did before, however, not every web maintainer is tech savvy. We wanted to give our web maintainers more control without making them learn how to program a web page, a simplified approach to content updating and web page creation.

A screenshot of the Band website as seen in the Layout view of Cascade showing the complexity of a modular page.
Multiple editable regions are available in modular pages,
however, depending on the programming needed,
Web Services has to maintain specialized modules.
We started to create more specific pages to meet those needs, such as:
  • frequently asked questions (FAQ)
  • faculty/staff listings
  • news listing
  • many, many, many more
This wasn't enough, either, because web maintainers needed content before and after a FAQ or maybe two FAQ sections, or a FAQ and a news listing all on the same page.

The Need to Change Course

Each new page we created made building a new website a longer process. What pages do the web maintainers need? Does Web Services need to build each page that could be possible? Does Web Services need to program more specialized pages each time a web maintainer requests the content modules be placed in a different order on a page?

This is when I started pondering modular pages, a way for web maintainers to decide what content module (i.e., FAQ, news listing, directory listing, or basic content such as paragraphs, lists and tables) goes where without worrying about programming any of it.

With the new design in Project Squishy coming into view, we weighed the good and bad of modular pages.


  • Web maintainers will be able to update content modules without programming skills.
  • Content modules can be arranged on a page in multiple ways without requesting Web Services create a brand new page layout.
  • Content will be created more accessibly without extensive training for the web maintainers.
  • Screenshot of the content modules that make up the Tarleton homepage's main content section.
    Content module folder containing the content modules
    (or blocks) linked to the Tarleton homepage
    that make up the main content area on the page.
  • Web maintainers will have the assistance of Web Services to provide recommendations of best practices for content.


  • New pages will be created initially by Web Services, not the web maintainers. 
    • Upside: Web Services will consult with maintainers on content strategy for the pages first, so web maintainers will only need to update content, not worry about layout.
  • Editing a page will really mean editing content modules that are located in content module folders separate from their pages. This will be a new process for almost all web maintainers who are used to clicking on a page inside Cascade and then clicking the Edit tab for that page.
    • Upside: Content modules are re-usable, so a number of maintainers who may need content they don't personally own can include other maintainers' content modules as opposed to duplicating content. This cuts down on outdated information available on Tarleton's website and the time it takes to make duplicate copies of content.

What Content Modules Will Be Available in Project Squishy?

There are well over 200 options for modules on our current website, however, a majority of them will not be transferable to the Squishy website.

Many are based on program scripts that are no longer maintainable, such as a number of our slideshows, because their program authors dropped these projects. Think of it like anticipating what you will be able to still use when Apple or Microsoft pushes out a new operating system. Software companies have to make updates to their applications to make them compliant and functional with the newer operating systems, but if those software companies go out of business, the software becomes obsolete.

A screenshot of an unresponsive feature we will not be implementing across the website.
The Tarleton F.O.C.U.S. uses a light box feature that is actually unresponsive (does not properly change dimensions depending on screen size or device orientation). The scope of this solution is limited to the homepage due to the complexity of the programming required.
Other modules just do not function on a responsive level, so they would be inappropriate to move over to the new design layout. For example, a light box (as seen on the desktop version of our website when clicking on a testimonial or picture on the Tarleton F.O.C.U.S.) is not responsive because it tries to (a) provide the entire content in a predetermined shaped box that cannot be reshaped or moved and (b) center it on the page, however, screen dimensions differ across devices. The solution we pulled off for the Tarleton F.O.C.U.S. only works because the content is connected to a database that dynamically generates pages for mobile phone screen sizes. If we implemented the same solution across the website, since our web maintainers do not have database access to store images, we would have to create each and every page for the individual images.

So What Can We Expect in Project Squishy?

Screenshot of responsive directory listing content module.
Mockup of redesigned directory listing that is responsive
on all devices and seen here as the mobile version.
We are doing a lot of research on what modules would work for our website and our users. We will start with a small set of options and add more when we are able to build them. Each one requires a lot of planning because we are trying to determine their behavior on varying screen sizes. You've already seen some modules on the homepage that are being considered for use on the rest of the website:
  • Highlights: a rotating set of pictures linked to valuable information or calls to action
  • Slideshow: a rotating set of pictures and their captions that can be used for testimonials as well as calls to action
  • Calendar: currently linked to content automatically generated from the Online Calendar System, our plan is to also include a manual feed for websites that don't have specific categories of events related to them.
  • Statistics: a rotating set of pictures and stats that show off the points of pride for any department or program.
  • Testimonials: currently only one design for testimonials is available. This version is a panel with a huge quote and a picture of the person cited. A new one will be available that rotates through multiple testimonials on the side of textual content.
However, we're missing the most important modules that focus on textual content. We are creating some with options for adding pictures, colorful blocks of content (asides), rotating content on said colorful asides, and more (see the above new directory listing). As we get ready to finalize modules, I'll post the new ones.