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Students face challenges with user-friendliness of current website

Next summer, UVic will launch a redesigned version of its main website. The current website, which has not undergone a major revision since 2012, is a source of complaints about user-friendliness from students. The redesign will affect the website’s main sections — specifically the areas for admissions, current students, and faculty and staff.

UVic’s current website has over 200 main pages representing different groups within the university, from academic departments to the co-op program. Each group controls their own content, while UVic controls the structure and branding. Housing everything from course listings to program requirements to information about tuition and finances, the website is a crucial part of students’ daily lives.

However, students have expressed concerns about the user-friendliness of the website and have had challenges navigating it to find accurate information. Tianna McCay, a fourth-year Psychology student, found UVic’s website more difficult to use than the websites of other universities she considered, often having to click through multiple pages to find correct information.

“You had to keep going through more and more folders and more and more links,” she said. “I definitely don’t find it intuitive or easy to find information.”

Marie Silhova, a second-year Pacific and Asian Studies student, also had difficulties finding accurate information because of the number of pages she had to navigate.

“I usually just have to google everything to get the right page rather than going through the website,” she said. “I often find myself on the pages that aren’t updated from years past without realizing it [such as listings of courses no longer being offered].”

The website redesign effort aims to address these problems and modernize the user experience by increasing accessibility, making the site more mobile-friendly, and optimizing it for search engines. Making the website easy to navigate for mobile users is a top priority for the university — in fact, the redesign is being developed and prototyped for mobile devices first and will then be adapted for use on computers.

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Another priority of the redesign is search engine optimization, which involves making the website content easier for search engines like Google to process. This requires simplifying the content on the website so that the results produced by search engines are more useful.

“Currently, we have about 50 000 pages on [the website], and a lot of that’s old content that is really muddying the search results,” said Len Collins, an information architect with UVic’s Internet Strategies department. “We know that 80 to 90 per cent of people are finding content through search, so we want to make sure that we are offering the best possible content options to Google.”

Throughout the redesign process, UVic has sought feedback from many stakeholders. The university has identified 24 unique audiences that use the website, 14 of which are composed of students. This process has also engaged with Indigenous and international students.

In addition to consulting with current students, the university has prioritized attracting future ones. Groups consulted in the redesign include local high school students and guidance counsellors. Developers also assessed the websites of 24 Canadian universities, five U.S. universities, and five international universities to ensure that UVic’s will be competitive.

Next summer, the redesign will be complete for the central site — primarily the sections for future students, current students, and faculty and staff. Next, the university plans to extend redesign efforts to other parts of the website like the research and library sites.

Ideally, the redesign of the central site will create an infrastructure that can continuously be updated, instead of requiring a major overhaul every few (or eight, in this case) years.

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“We’re hoping to leverage what we do with this redesign into a phase where we’re constantly iterating on it, so that we don’t need to have massive redesigns every three, five, seven, nine years,” said Robin Sutherland, a manager at Internet Strategies. The university hopes that this redesign will allow for incremental alterations to the website based on changes in technology or in the message UVic is hoping to share.

The website is not the only technological upgrade UVic has been working on — this September, the university launched a new user interface for its webmail service. It includes features such as filters, vacation messages, and forwarding. UVic also released a beta version first and integrated student feedback from this into the final version.

Silhova, who checks her UVic email occasionally, says she appreciated the update. However, the majority of students the Martlet interviewed for this piece still seldom (if at all) use their UVic email. McCay, who checks it when she has to, complained of issues with navigating the interface.

“[It’s] not super user-friendly,” she said. “Everything is so much more archaic than it needs to be.”
Broader student response to the email update — and the coming website redesign — remains to be seen.

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