Data in your site

The web developer in our office installed Google Analytics on our site last month. I like the pretty graphs and numbers, but wasn’t sure how it might inform my job. So I spent a half hour with my colleague, and we clicked and scrolled around.

First of all we looked up what the term Bounce Rate means. Generally speaking is means the number of people who landed on a specific page, and then left the site entirely, without having visited any other pages on the site. In the Google documentation, a high bounce rate is described as undesirable, and if people are landing on the main page and then immediately leaving again, I’d mostly agree. If, however, people are using effective use of keywords to land on a page on our site with more specialized content, then I”m okay with a high bounce rate – that route means the keywords are efficient. We also determined that the bounce rate for our online registration page is low. We’d been having some difficulties with the online registration system, and so this seems like validation that it’s working for plenty of people.

Traffic Sources was an unexpected sources of information. People are getting to our site mostly though google searches, and uses variations on the name of our organization. A healthy percentage come through direct links or our email newsletter. So people know how to search for us, and they read our newsletter, which is good news! We can also see which websites are linking to our site. We can see where on the government website we’re linked, that the BC Teachers Federation uploads information that we send out, and that we’re getting increasing traffic from our facebook site. So these outreach programs are working out for us.

My other preferred section of google analytics was the Top Content section. I can see which pages get the most hits. There are initially no surprises there, but digging deeper there are some interesting details. I can see how long people spend on each page (do they find what they are looking for quickly on the main page? Do spend time on the content heavy pages?), and I can see on which page they exit the site and extrapolate where they found the information they were seeking.

I’m looking forward to comparing last months statistics to this months statistics. We’re implementing changes, such as an online registration system and an online community, and tracking statistics over several months will tell us if our changes are taking hold and changing how are users interact with our site.

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Project management with sticky notes

My job title is: Online Learning Community Project Manager.

And I’m learning what that all means in a BIG way. There are a million* little strands that require my attention. Some today, some yesterday and some on an ongoing basis. And oh, boy, do I get overwhelmed. (Should I admit this online? where current or future employers might see it? Ah well). I can easily get trapped in the putting out fires circle, spending all my time answering questions and running around giving pep talks and troubleshooting every little thing. I can also easily lose track the parts where I’m waiting for feedback, updates or resources from colleagues. It’s not very productive and then I keep picking up and dropping things according to other people’s immediate needs.

So I have a new plan (I love plans. And lists. And colour-coding both).

To prepare, I got a legal sized file folder and some sticky notes. I wrote each major part of the project on a separate sticky note: upgrade software (find virtual server); write handout (review draft #1); finish instructional design for module x. And this is the secret and the brilliance; I put all the sticky notes inside the file folder.  This morning I got to work, looked in side, and chose to focus on ONE task. I pulled out the associated folder (I’m writing an evaluation report on a grant), and have worked on that this morning. It works, it really works!

This is working for me for a few reasons.

  1. I can brainstorm and let my mind find and elaborate on the tasks better with pen and paper.
  2. The individual tasks are hidden in a closed file folder. If they were on the wall of my cubicle, I’d freak out about all the tasks I have to do, and think about each one for 15 seconds on an endless loop. Not productive.
  3. I can move the sticky notes around (like near like) to see which ones feed off each other (very efficient).
  4. I can see the whole project at once to more easily decide what my priority is each day.
  5. It’s beyond easy to update the notes, or throw them out and write new ones as that part of the project advances. It’s also low stakes to update and scribble on the sticky notes.

Do some people keep this all in their head? I can’t believe that. One former colleague has the most elaborate excel spreadsheet that works for her. I tried it for a while, but I got lost updating the spreadsheet instead of work (when it takes two minutes to find, open and update the spreadsheet for a 30 second task, that’s not productive). Another former colleague would write everything in a beautiful notebook (she said, but not in so many words, that beauty begets a peaceful mind). I tried that, but as soon as I turned the page, I forgot about the notes and lists that I’d make. One current colleague has a stack of loose papers on her desk, but that just fills me with anxiety. What if I LOST something? I’m pretty happy with my technique – what’s yours?

* I admit, a slight exaggeration. What about it?! (grin).

My father wants an eReader

I’ve discussed with my sister the idea of getting our father an eReader. He’s interested in one, and I get it. He can download books from the library, it takes up very little space in comparison, it’s lighter… and what else? I don’t know. I’m a confessed book snob. I like my wrinkled Rushdie book that I bought in India, or the book of Leonard Cohen poetry that an old boyfriend bought and inscribed for me. I like moving back and forth in the book, pausing to consider Alice Munro’s marvelous turn of phrase, with my finger keeping my space between the pages. I always look to see what people are reading on the bus – much more difficult on an eReader.

So yes, I agree with Sara Barbour in her June 17th opinion piece. It’s an emotional kick for me, my attachment to books.

However.

I remember first year university: the massive biology textbook, the stack of books for my women in literature course, the mammoth introduction to English text that had poetry by Eliot, prose by Chaucer and short stories by… several authors. It’s a doorstopper that you see in many second-hand bookstores or parental basements. In addition to the sheer weight of these books, there is a culture of lineups at the bookstore, lugging heavy backpacks of books for your reference paper, selling the books at the end of the semester, and deciding how much to mark up the text books (highlighting can help you study, but diminishes the re-sale value). eReaders and eBooks could revolutionize academic textbooks.

Electronic textbooks could be cheaper, cutting out printing and shipping costs to start. Errors or updates could be easily implemented, downloaded from the Internet. The electronic textbooks could be more interactive, with quizzes at the end of chapters, or the ability to share notes or questions as a class. They could include multimedia. For the sciences, this could be a 3D image of DNA, a video of cell division, or an animation to demonstrate the physics of acceleration. For the arts, it could be a video of a First Nations potlach, and audio recording of a poem, or and animation of sequencing of behaviours. Perhaps it could make texts more accessible for students for whom English is not their first language (with links to dictionary definitions), for those with visual impairments (screen readers or bigger fonts), or for those with mobility challenges (less to carry, easier to navigate).

I say “could” alot. It depends on publishers being willing to change their practices, re-evaluation of digital rights management. It depends on accessibility and technical support for students and faculty members. Lots of maybes and questions that are still unanswered, but there are opportunities here.

But I’m still buying paperbacks for myself and others. That won’t stop.