When I first wrote this letter, it was mainly me just going through and explaining every detail of the site in the most boring way possible. In this revised addition, while I am still going through and talking about boring aspects of the site, I am not going through every detail on each page, but trying to go for parts that I think definitely need improving. The revision also includes many more ideas on how to make the site better than earlier versions, which were mainly focused on simply bashing the site.
Dear University of Michigan Regents,
I have recently been looking into spending a semester outside the country and have been checking out the resources that U of M has to offer. While primarily doing my research online, I felt that it was very difficult to find valuable information on studying abroad. The website was not very informative, sending me to pages that had been taken down, and constantly repeating the same instructions, telling me to go to the “Ready, Set, Go Global!” seminars held every weekday from 5pm to 6pm in the modern languages building. While I am aware that I need to go to this seminar and meet in person, I wish that the website and online resources were a little more helpful. By making it more attractive and easy to use, I think that you could greatly increase the amount of students going to study abroad. To help with this effort, I propose a couple of different actions.
My first proposal is to improve the aesthetics of the site. The home page, and every other page on the site, is about as bland and boring as can be. With only a small strip of color at the top with a tiny picture of people riding camels near the pyramids and what looks like an advertisement for the CGIS’ pamphlet/magazine, the page is almost completely white. It feels like I am reading a boring essay about a website, written by someone who put minimal effort in and procrastinated on it. If you want to make studying abroad and going to other countries feel fun and exciting, make the website like that. Put in color! Interactive widgets! Pictures of places that aren’t 99% sand! Have people posting about their experiences in other countries, putting photos of their adventures outside the borders of the United States. Use larger fonts, have the theme as a maze and blue background with “Go Blue!” written in different languages. Organize the website in something other than just a plain rectangle with words in the middle. Almost anything could be more colorful than the current website.
Take a look at the University Housing website. That is a great website with obviously much more work and effort put into it. There are lots of colors, but nothing is too bright or dark. The pictures are vibrant as well, with lots of color and emotion, compared to a zoomed out look of three people riding animals in a desert. The website is very interactive, as scrolling over anything with information can cause something to happen. For instance, when your cursor scrolls over the “Menus” button on the quicklinks toolbar, the button changes to yellow and the words “What’s for Dinner?” comes up. Although this may not seem like a big deal, small effects like this can cause someone to click on the button if they have even a slight interest. In contrast, on the CGIS website, there is barely anything interactive, and you have to work to get to another page.
The next part of the CGIS website that is in dire need of attention is the content of the website. The current homepage is about as meaningless as possible, other than a toolbar going to different pages for either students, faculty, partners, parents, or friends. This is nice, but for now I want to check out the homepage and see if I can get any immediate information. The first heading on the page gives a deadline for the GIEU, without explaining what the GIEU is, but says the sites for next summer are available. The deadline for this has also already passed. The next section is a survey about the website. Good idea, as user feedback is very helpful. But who wants to do a survey first thing on the site? Off to the side there is a toolbar with a section talking about how if you are interested in CGIS you should go to the “Ready, Set, Go Global!” information seminar. This is good, but I want to get a general idea of what the opportunities are in the program, just so I can have a point of reference when I go to the seminar. The rest of the homepage is similar in either feeling like it is pointless or to being too difficult to find. The main bulk of the page is about a photo contest for CGIS 2012, but unfortunately there are no photos there. Then, at the very bottom, after listing where CGIS is and when it was established, there are programs. Small, in plain blue font, and simply listed out in a sentence, there are links to programs that you can go to. I then checked out the student page, which was a similar layout to the homepage. Same theme and graphics, although instead of a picture of people in the desert on camels in the toolbar, there is what looks like a faded picture of a group in some other country. The first section of the page then lists more deadlines, two of which are GIEU deadlines, winter MGAP applications and then MGAP spring/summer and MGAP fall and winter applications. The only ones not past due are the spring/summer applications and the applications for next fall. Under that, the next two sections and the toolbar on the side talk about going to “Ready, Set, Go Global”. Next, there is a section on financial aid. Then, finally after scrolling down, there is information on the programs. Here there are four sections with links above them, each with a short paragraph on the specific experience. The information here is good, though. When I click on the links to these pages though, nothing new shows up. The same paragraph is copied word-for-word into the next page, except there is a picture of some other random destination on the page. Some have specifications underneath the identical paragraphs, with information such as eligibility or cost. These, unfortunately, are not consistent on each page. For instance, cost is only listed for the Global Intercultural Experience for Undergraduates, eligibility is only listed for Spring/Summer Language Study, and nothing extra is listed for the Michigan Global Academic Programs. I was able to find a little bit more information about these after scrolling the page looking for information or links hidden somewhere. Finally I came across links to the home pages of each of these experiences down on the side toolbar.
To really give the best information, you need to have it easy to find and upfront. There is also no need to have repeating information, especially if it is actually copied word for word. The content on the site needs to be both interesting and informative. Get students to want to study abroad. Go into detail about specific experiences, such as the food in France or the sights in Shanghai. Have people who participated in these programs write reviews or video interviews on their experience abroad. Put videos up, highlighting the cultures and wonderful experiences that students have abroad, both academically and socially. Show students how studying abroad can help students in the future, going over how students can go overseas for a semester, yet not be behind when they come back. Make a simple multi-step process that people can look to to help them see what they need to do to study abroad. For instance, have a numbered list, such as “1. Go to Ready Set… Go Global! 2. Meet with a CGIS counselor 3. …” If you make these improvements to the content of the website, making it simpler and more interesting and direct, the study abroad program will be much more attractive to many students.
The study abroad website is not friendly to people simply looking to quickly look up some information on an activity that they are considering taking part in. The ugliness of the site, as well as the fact that it is not easy to use or find information, is turning tons of students away from an opportunity that could potentially change their lives. If you make this website even just a little bit better, maybe just a couple of extra pictures here and there, and a little bit of color added into each page. Just a couple more paragraphs and specifications on each experience. If you make these changes, I would bet that many more students would start showing up to the “Ready, Set, Go Global” seminars, as well as actually take part in these experiences. It is not a difficult, time consuming, or costly endeavor. You simply need a little extra content, which I’m sure you can find. For programming, you can even get a student to volunteer, giving them the opportunity to work on a university web page, which would look great for a resume. If you do these things and make the website more accessible to students, it will aid everyone on campus. It will be a life changing experience for many studying abroad on their own, really taking on the world! They will truly become the well rounded individuals that this university seeks every year. And it will be fantastic for the university as a whole, as students will be paying for these experiences abroad, bringing in even more money to the university, and giving the university an even better reputation all over the world! This website, although it may seem insignificant, could be the difference between a fantastic leader and a good follower. Between the best in the business, and a pretty good worker. Because the world awaits, and nowadays to get to it, you go through the world wide web.