Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Tarleton's degree search wins an award!

I am excited to share that our team was nominated for and won first place in the category, "Most Creative Use of Cascade Server" at this year's Hannon Hill conference. Our nomination was based on the degree search/site our team built for Tarleton's website.

The Web Services Team
Morgan Hammond, Courtnie Ridgway, Daphne Hunt,
(bottom) Karole Schroeder
"The university uses Cascade CMS to create XML files that are scraped for keywords and custom metadata to enhance search results and better meet the needs of prospective students."

Award for "Most Creative Use of Cascade"
To improve the marketability of our degrees and programs, decrease the duplication and inaccuracies in posted degree information, and fine tune the marketing funnel to prospective students in order to generate better, higher leads in our recruiting process, we designed a new degree search/site in our newly responsive layout. We implemented in August 2015, and made the search directly available from Tarleton's homepage. Our desire was to create a shopping experience, allowing students to navigate related degrees and determine what career goals would lead to particular degrees and programs. With the custom search engine, user queries scan the metadata (which includes keywords) that we added to each degree and program. The search mechanism is being implemented in multiple locations across our website as we go through our web conversion, such as our campus location websites, to help users narrow down their searches more easily based on their specific interests or locations.

Since implementation, the degree search has been the most popular area of Tarleton's website after the main homepage. During the FY15-16 year, the degree search website received 1.7 million pageviews. Web Services regularly analyzes the visitor data and monitors conversion rates of degree search users to specific program "Request More Information" forms. Results show substantial conversion rates for many degree programs, and as the information on the degree pages is further evaluated and improved, we expect the conversion rates to increase even more.

You may view the degree search and try out the functionality at


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

National Selfie Day

We had a little fun today once we found out it was National Selfie Day...

Almost the whole Web Services team, minus a couple.

We will take advantage of any opportunity to take a photo. :)


Monday, June 20, 2016

The Final Say.

My journey working for the Office of Web Services started in January of 2015 when I applied for an intern position the spring semester of my junior year at Tarleton. To be honest, I can’t remember how I made it to Web Services, but I’m glad my lucky stars aligned that day and I was given the opportunity to join this fabulous team. In the words of Hillary Duff, this is what dreams are made of.
Hillary Duff singing What Dreams are Made of
Hillary Duff singing What Dreams are Made of.
Photo credit:
The first few weeks in the office were a breeze, but it was most definitely nothing compared to what was to come. Working at Web Services signaled the first of many experiences in my life. I was introduced to the 8-5 office environment, which was a blessing. As an intern for the university's event planning program I had no weekends or Fridays to myself and it meant long hours bustling about during the week with no set hours.  Therefore, I was ecstatic to learn that I actually had work hours to adhere to. 

This was the first time I had to interview for an internship or job. I also experienced first-hand the in's and out's of damage control. I learned the beauty of being assertive, and it was here where I became BFF with coffee and sweet tea.  

In retrospective, the improvements I made not only as an individual but also in my professional aspirations are noticeable. I learned so much in the year and a half while at Web Services such as team work, the importance of networking, web accessibility, a thing or two about design, and so much more that I plan to carry into my career.

One of the things I enjoy the most about our office is how inclusive and welcoming we are of students from any major or concentration. Our intern room, or more commonly known as the “Intern Exhibit,” is always full of conversation in between tasks and projects. The diversity each student brings to the team certainly adds sugar and spice to the everyday life in our office.  

Even though I would find myself wondering how we made it from "Point A" to "Point T," because tangents and soapboxes were a special part of our conversations, I was grateful for the lessons we learned through those discussions. I loved the quality and wide-range of topics covered by our conversations because no matter the day there was always something to talk about.

As my last day in the "Intern Exhibit" nears close, I get a sappy mix of emotions. After spending so much time with creative, hard-working, and unique individuals, you learn to love and appreciate all the little things with them. From extensive responsive training workshops with Karole to cookie and sweet tea runs at McDonald’s with the intern team to therapeutic in-office venting sessions about Cascade issues, we’ve been through it all together and that’s what counts.  
Selfie time with Daphne, Karole, Morgan, and myself!
The opportunities for growth that came from working here, the people you get to meet, the relationships you get to foster and the lessons lived and experienced have been another building rock in my foundation. 

So yes, I will be departing at the end of June, but I have the unconditional support from this great group of individuals and I plan to make them proud. 

At the end of the day I can only say that I will really miss my Web Services family.


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Of Goldfish and Men: Accessibility for the Cognitively Disabled

The John Slatin AccessU Conference has been held in early May since Knowbility started them in Austin, Texas, in 2004. I've perhaps missed 2 or 3 of these conferences (if my poor memory serves me) in my entire career as a web designer/developer for multiple higher education institutions, and what I've learned is that not only is this international conference on digital accessibility growing, it is perhaps the best conference anyone could attend, whether they are accessibility coordinators, content strategists, designers/usability experts, programmers/developers, testers, or even faculty building online course materials. For my summary of findings from this year's conference, you can skip down to the heading Takeaways.

I was excited to able to attend classes focused on programming using ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications) which helps make web applications, widgets, and other plugins accessible with assistive technology, but the one content strategy session I went to on data visualizations -- e.g., bar graphs, line graphs, pie charts, diagrams, infographics -- that caught me by surprise.

You'd think as many times as I've attended, I'd have seen the set up coming during the Jan McSorley's keynote Accessibility is a Team Sport at Monday's lunch. McSorley, a teacher and assistive technology specialist with over 20 years of experience in K-12, described individuals with disabilities as
the only minority group anyone can join at any time and the only minority group anyone can leave at any time with the proper adaptive and assistive technology.

Hopped up on the apple crumble at my table, I didn't realize exactly what this meant until Tuesday morning as my Data Visualizations session began. There I was innocently asking the question, How do I make all these charts accessible that my university is asking me to place on web pages and emails? Use a crazy amount of alternative text?

We didn't cover screen reader accessibility first. That wasn't the biggest hurdle to discuss.

In fact, trying to make a visualization of data accessible to a blind user is a contradiction in and of itself. A visualization of data is meant for a visual user to interpret the actual data -- e.g., tabular data -- in a meaningful manner. Data tables can have a lot of information which can be interpreted in multiple ways.

So the real question is
How do I present this data in a way that it pops?

Well, that's not the question I thought I'd be asking. As a web designer, I've known that every individual will look at a design and have a very different opinion on whether it "pops" (called a no-win situation), so "popping" design didn't make sense. What does "pop" really mean in this context?
By viewing this content, can I quickly obtain the takeaways, or main points?

Why is it important that we make a takeaway quick to perceive? The answer comes from a 2015 study that humans have a decreasing attention span that may be caused by technology and information overload (more statistics on Attention Span and ADD/ADHD at Statistic Brain). In that study, it said that all of us -- not just individuals with ADD/ADHD -- have an average attention span of 8.25 seconds. In 2000, our average attention span was 12 seconds. If that decline isn't surprising, this comparison might be:
The average attention span of a goldfish is 9 seconds.
After 15 years we appear to now have an attention span shorter than a goldfish.

We seem to be experiencing a temporary cognitive disability -- that is, a shorter than normal attention span -- while working with technology. How can we not? We deal with information overload on a daily basis. We attempt to multitask, even though our brains cannot handle more than two tasks efficiently at a time. We've trained ourselves to scan for something interesting before we actually consider reading it thoroughly, and most of the time, we don't actually read the entire contents of any page.

This is what makes writing and designing for the web very different than writing a novel or a dissertation. We do want the information from that chart, novel, or dissertation, but we have to pull it out of all the fluff and arrange it strategically.


Screen Reader Friendly Data Visualizations

On-Page Alternatives: When providing visual data, always provide one or both of the following, either as an alternative or in addition to the visual:
  1. Figure Caption: A short paragraph conveying the meaning, or main point(s), of the chart.
  2. Table: The tabular data that this chart is based on.

Off-Page Alternatives: If you don't want those additional pieces showing on the page, provide them in a link typically to an Excel file, which is the most accessible way, behind a web page, to navigate tabular data.

Infographics: Avoid busy infographics wherever possible. If you can't, link to an alternative page with the takeaways in textual and tabular form.

Visually Friendly Data Visualizations

Proper Format: Choose the chart type that makes the most sense for the takeaway. For example, a line graph or bar chart can better describe an increase or decline over a period of time than a pie chart.

Goldilocks Labeling Rule: Put in just enough labels to help your user understand the point(s) you are getting across. Don't make it so visually busy that the user gets a different meaning than the one your wanted to convey. Similarly, don't take too many labels off if that it loses the meaning you wanted to convey.

Writing for Web

Keep it Simple: Write short chunks of information in paragraphs, lists, tables, etc. Divide main ideas into sections with logically placed headings.

Reading Level: An audience of college graduates can be set to 12th grade reading level, however, an audience of entering freshmen and other visitors should be set to 8th grade reading level.

Jargon: Start with common names anyone outside your institution would know, then introduce and define your jargon.

Content Strategy and Usability

Lengthy Content: Make sure takeaways can be perceived in a short span of time, including video content which typically shouldn't last more than 3 minutes.

Engaging Content: Cut down on the fluff. If your information does not provide a call-to-action, cut it.

Content Relevance: Always place relevant content near its topic, or subject matter, since your user is expecting any content in this section to be about this topic, not somewhere else on this page or another page.
  • Avoid Frequently Asked Questions: Instead of answering questions on a separate area of your website, place the "answers" within the relevant areas of your website, so no one has to hunt for it.
  • Avoid "Resource" or "Quick Link" Content: Similar to FAQs, no one knows what to expect in these sections. Label your content in meaningful ways that give them a clear idea of what is coming, and organize it based on its relevance to the section's topic.
Content Type Relevance: As with content topics, users expect certain areas on your page to hold similar types of content. For example, don't mix an event post with a faculty spotlight, news article, student testimonial, and an application deadline.

Intuitive vs. Spray and Pray: Ask yourself if they would they expect your content to be in a certain place on your website instead of duplicating content across multiple areas in order to "catch" them.


Thursday, April 28, 2016

A Surprise!

So, today was one of those typical Thursday mornings where I head over to our conference room for our 8 a.m. student intern meeting....until I walked through the door and got surprised!

Our awesome team.

Our wonderful interns brought cake, kolaches, cinnamon rolls, fruit, coffee and juice to surprise the full-timers! And they gave us cards. :) So very sweet of them!

Morgan, Karole and I appreciate our interns just as much (or more) than they appreciate us. They do so much great work for us and the rest of Tarleton, and if we didn't have them around we would not be able to get much done!

We have two students that are graduating next week: Yaritza and Nicole. To say that we are all sad is an understatement - Yaritza and Nicole are coveted members of our team, and we are just not ready to see them go. However, I know they will do great out in the world and will continue to make us proud. :)

We will have an opening for a student intern position beginning this summer. If you are a student at Tarleton and are interested in what we do and need a job, just email me at


Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Now hiring a Web Content Strategist!

Web Services is now looking to hire a Web Content Strategist!

The primary responsibility for the Web Content Strategist is to develop and implement content strategy for Tarleton websites, which includes information architecture, writing style, SEO, content reuse, web analytics research, user testing, UX, and metadata development.

This position must:
  • Train, inform, and engage web site constituents on content strategy and best practices.
  • Mentor and work closely with student employees, which includes assigning web updates and tasks, identifying student employee strengths to maximize productivity, monitoring task progress, and providing feedback on content strategy.
  • Ensure adherence of web content to style guides, branding guides, accessibility and copyright laws, TAMU System/THECB /State specifications.
  • Identify opportunities for writing/editing content for the web, optimize print copy for the web, provide web writing expertise to the university community.

The Web Services team is creative and highly collaborative. Full-time employees enjoy a private office, convertible stand/sit desk, many restaurants within short walking distance, wellness initiatives/benefits, and more.

Required qualifications include: Bachelor’s degree and 3 years of professional work experience writing for the Web and content strategy OR a Bachelor’s degree specifically in Marketing, Communications, Technical Writing, Digital Media, or Computer Information Systems and 2 years of professional work experience writing for the Web and content strategy; Demonstrated experience with web design/development and online interactive technologies including content management systems, web analytic software,CMS, web forms, Adobe Creative Suite (Photoshop, Acrobat Professional, Dreamweaver); Skills required include: writing and digital content development; effective content layout for web pages; understanding of Web accessibility standards and requirements; use of HTML, CSS, Javascript plug-ins and other web technologies; basic graphic design; and communication, collaboration, and organizational skills.

Tarleton State University, a member of The Texas A&M University System, provides a student-focused, value-driven educational experience marked by academic innovation and exemplary service, and dedicated to transforming students into tomorrow’s professional leaders. With campuses in Stephenville, Fort Worth, Waco, Midlothian and online, Tarleton engages with its communities to provide real-world learning experiences and to address societal needs while maintaining its core values of integrity, leadership, tradition, civility, excellence and service.

Tarleton State University is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action/Veterans/Disability Employer. As a member of The Texas A&M System, Tarleton will provide equal opportunity for employment to all persons regardless of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, disability, genetic information, veteran status, sexual orientation or gender identity and will strive to achieve full and equal employment opportunity through The Texas A&M System.

Apply online at


My Experience at the CMIS Women in IT Conference in College Station, TX

Danielle Dunigan My name is Danielle, and I have been a student intern in the Office of Web Services for over a year and a half. I recently attended the CMIS Women in IT Conference, which is hosted at Texas A&M University in College Station, TX, with my colleagues Silvia and Daphne. I learned a lot of things at the conference, but the thing that really stuck out to me was the importance of networking. It’s good to have personal relationships with people from other companies. I found that it is really important to communicate with people from all over the globe because you can learn from them. I also learned a great deal from the speakers that came to talk to us. They pushed skills such as good work ethic and active listening. They also talked about their experience in the work force and how it affected them. Their stories were very inspiring. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of women that are into technology.

Web teams meeting up
Meeting up with Texas A&M web professionals was awesome! L to R: Danielle, Silvia, Donald, Daphne, Tim

Aside from the conference, we also got to have dinner with two Texas A&M employees that are web professionals. It was really interesting to hear about their experiences and how it is differs from working at Tarleton. For example, they have their own web team for each college whereas Tarleton has just one web team that covers all of the colleges and departments. Overall, I learned a lot and it was an amazing experience. I acquired some useful skills that will help me as a student and later in the workforce.