Monthly Archives: April 2012

Redesign Launch – May 21st

Just to let everyone know, I will be releasing the new homepages to all of the sites on Monday May 21st. This is due to the fact that I am going to be on vacation from May 5 through May 16. I could release the new design next week, but I’d hate to release stuff before I leave in case changes need to be made. In conjunction with this change, the course search “button” will disappear on this date as well. I would put a course search link in your left menu on the pages in which you want it to appear.

On a final note, in preparation for this change as well, you are going to need a new menu for the home page. Personally what I would do is duplicate the current “Quicklinks” list that is on your home pages. If you want to be prepared for launch day, simply go to any page and create a new custom menu, name it “Home Page Menu” or “Quicklinks” or whatever you want, and build those links, then set that page back to whatever menu you want. On May 21 all you will then need to do is login, go to your homepage and change the menu to your “Quicklinks” menu, and you will be all set. If you want to make a course search link that links directly to course search with your campus already selected you can follow the guide I made on how to do that.

If you have any questions please email me but all that is required is for you to do two things to each of your sites:

  1. Put a course search link on the pages you want it to appear.
  2. Create a custom menu to use on your homepage for May 21.

CSS Tips: Padding, Margin, & Backgrounds

I’d like to post a series of CSS tips on here for everyone to have access to so that you have the ability to manipulate the content on your pages more effectively. I won’t be going into extreme detail because I would imagine everyone is at different levels when it comes to web editing. I would also think you are primarily focused on getting content out there and not too much on changing design elements. However a basic understanding of some CSS styling techniques will go a long way to empowering you to take control of the content you publish on the sites. I will use a couple of practical examples from existing pages and share a few tools to help you out. As always feel free to ask me questions if you have the desire to do something on the site that you are not quite sure how to accomplish.

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Embed Only Audio from YouTube Videos

This post is primarily for Jan as she is going to be posting a audio file on the website for the Business Resource Center in Moab, but it could be useful in the future for those of you who may need to embed audio files. This isn’t the “best” way to embed audio files, but it is probably the easiest from a coding stand point. The first step, which I will not go over, involves creating a “movie” with the audio file and a background image. I used iMovie to make the video, and then uploaded the video to YouTube. So we’ll just assume you already have a YouTube video that you want to embed, but you just want the audio portion and either don’t want or don’t need the video to play.

Getting the Embed Code

The first step as always to embed a YouTube video is to get the embed code from the YouTube website. Go to the page where the video you want to embed is located and click on the “share” button. A second menu should drop down where you have a few options. The only thing that is necessary to change is the size of the player. The problem is that we don’t want to keep the correct ratio of the player because we are trying to hide the video and just have audio. If you want to, you can set the desired width, but we might be changing that later anyway, so it really doesn’t matter what you choose. I am going to change it to 300 pixels wide, however, because the end result looks good around 300 pixels, however as I said, you can always adjust this later.

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Feedback Requested on NEW Degree Pages

I have recently begun a redesign on the degree pages for our site. The goal is to get rid of a lot of the text but still provide students with the information that they are looking for. Also we need these pages to server better as landing pages than they currently do. Landing pages are designed to complete a specific goal or conversion, and in our case it would be to gather information about prospective students. One of the reasons we now have contact forms on all our prospective students’ pages is to help gather this information. The task to develop both a successful landing page and a useful informational page is not an easy one. These pages would be better served by having two different pages, but because current students also use these pages, it is what we have to work with.

While all the details of these pages have not yet been worked out, we are tentatively planning on having two types of degree pages. One with a video and one without. The long-term goal being to create some sort of video for each of our degrees, or at least the most popular ones. We are not sure what exactly we want these videos to be, but we think they will be either a student centered testimonial video describing a student or students’ success in the program and what they thought about it or some sort of video from a faculty member about the program. We want something captivating and interesting that doesn’t feel like an ad but more like someone giving advice or their impression of the program.

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Course Search Direct Link

In preparation for getting rid of the course search “button” and using just a regular course search link in the left navigation menu (and anywhere else you want to add the link), I have updated the course search application to have the ability to directly link with a selected campus. While the search forms on your home page currently search for courses using the campus they are sent from, the course search button just goes to the course search page and prompts the user to select a campus.

course search prompt

You can avoid this step now.

It seems like everyone is on board with making the course search just a standard left navigation link rather than a “button.” I really feel this will be more apparent to students. While the graphics may stand out more, it is counterproductive because it doesn’t act like everything else on the page. A common theme with web design is this:

Buttons should look and act like buttons. Links should look and act like links.

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Redesign Update: LIVE EXAMPLE

I have tweaked some things and all went better than expected… I have made the changes necessary to have a working live page on our test server. You can check out this page at:

http://rcdedev.usu.edu/lee/websites/saltlake.usu.edu/

This is using Salt Lake’s current data. Currently I am using our YouTube feed for the videos as it appears no one else really makes new videos. The YouTube option may be something reserved for the main distance ed site for now. What I currently pull is from a playlist, so the other option is that I can post videos to a “Salt Lake” playlist on our YouTube channel and only those would show up in the Salt Lake feed. The other option is to cancel out the YouTube channel all together from the feeds and if you want to post videos, just post via YouTube as those show up in the feed anyway.

For now I think I will leave off YouTube videos from the campus sites as they mainly pertain to the main distance ed site. Either way you can see a working example at the link above.

Also remember that you can have a different left menu for the quick access links than you do on the rest of your pages.

Get a Clean Facebook Page URL

I am starting to gather things together that I need for this new feed feature on the websites. I know some of you don’t use Facebook for your accounts, but some of you do. Even if you don’t this is good information for the future if you do decide to use Facebook. It is also helpful for me because when I am setting up these feeds I need your Facebook page names. Currently in our database I see only 6 campuses that have Facebook accounts. All of them except for Tooele have simple URL names.

You can see these simple URL names by visiting the RCDE Facebook page at facebook.com/USURCDE or facebook.com/tooele.usu.  These names are easy to remember and write and they also clearly identify the ids to me when using them for this new feed feature. I suggest getting a simple URL even if you aren’t going to use the feed feature because it is just good practice. Plus, it’s free and only takes a few seconds. If you are not in control of your Facebook page, tell whoever is in charge to read the instructions in this post to get a nice simple URL. Other wise you will have a long URL for example like Brigham City’s:

http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Utah-State-University-Brigham-City/260703930615880 — YUCK

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Homepage Designs

I spent a few minuets today making a Photoshop document of what the campus websites would look like with the new feed so everyone can get an better idea of how the campus sites would look if we change them all. My main goal is to have all of the websites look the same in regards to structure so that:

  1. Students see consistency across all of the sites and know how to navigate and
  2. The sites are easier to edit and update of they all fall into the same form

The picture I doctored up has the main distance.usu.edu feed and calendar info on it. Just replace the specific info for your site where it seems appropriate and you will get an idea of how your new homepage will look. There are a few other benefits that come from this change that I will go over as well, but here is the picture. Continue reading

For Maps Sake

Recently Steven contacted us and told us that he was doing inventory and noticed the RCDE locations map was still on his Google account and asked that it be moved to someone’s account that worked at USU still. I was the obvious choice and he exported the map and I imported it into my account. I updated our page but forgot to tell everyone else. This was mainly because I didn’t realize everyone was using the same map. I decided this would be a good idea to write a short note on how to create or alter these maps on your pages and diagnose issues with them as I had to do when I noticed the A’s were all missing on the campus sites.

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Create Short and Clean URLs

URL naming in our CMS is currently a little tricky. If you just create a new page naturally using the CMS, without putting much thought into how the back-end code is working, you can get some really funky page names that can sometimes be the opposite of what you want. Before I dish out the goods, let me quickly explain not how, but why the URLs are created the way they are.

Perma-what?

Somewhere, sometime in the past, web developers realized that websites can get really huge. Especially e-commerce sites and blog sites. In fact, especially blog sites. You can get hundreds and hundreds of blog posts. All these blog posts are stored in a database somewhere and each one has an id number. In order for a user to find a post, they might type in a URL like: http://www.someblog.com/posts?ID=54. This link might bring up the post with the ID of 54 from the database and display it on the page. That is simple enough. It sure beats actually creating 54 different pages. You can just create one page and pull the content from a database.

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