About NWTCNWTC (nwtc.edu) is a two-year technical college serving Northeast Wisconsin by providing education, training and life-long learning opportunities for individuals and businesses leading to the development of a skilled workforce. According to the U.S. Department of Education, NWTC was ranked as one of America’s 20 fastest-growing large colleges in 2003, 2004, and 2006.
ChallengesThe College had identified several key problems with its existing site, including a dated look, confusing navigation and limited integration and functionality. Maintaining and updating the website was becoming increasingly difficult, because content responsibility and policy varied throughout the College. This resulted in dated content throughout the website. Taken together, NWTC was concerned that some potential students, who might have their first contact with the College via this website, would not come away with the impression that NWTC is an excellent technical college worthy of their interest.
With these challenges in mind, NWTC retained Plante & Moran to completely overhaul the College’s website. NWTC is using the new website as its primary marketing tool, a goal at the forefront of the project. Because NWTC competes for students with many two- and four-year schools in their region, they wanted a site that would resonate with students who are exploring a wide range of options for their education. That means creating a visually interesting site that captures student interest, places their primary needs up front and provides quick and easy navigation to the information they want.
The Process: User-Centric Design
Plante & Moran consultants started with a comprehensive user analysis and performed a content inventory of the existing site. Concurrently, we worked with NWTC staff to analyze College resources and to decide what content and applications should ultimately reside on the new site. We also performed a log analysis, identifying users’ browsing habits. Once we gathered and analyzed this information, our project team interviewed key stakeholders such as students, prospective students and corporate stakeholders using focus groups. These focus groups are a crucial tool in creating personal and scenario documents that identify traits and interests for specific user groups used to test the new website.
Our next step was to develop a site map and reorganize the pages in a way that would be intuitive to users. Using wireframes (schematics of what the pages will look like), we tested the new design with users to get immediate feedback on usability, organization, prioritization and other design elements of the site. We then added an aesthetic layer to the wireframes, which became mockups for how the new site came to look.
SolutionNWTC turned to Plante & Moran looking for a user-friendly solution, a solid technology platform, and a stable, no-nonsense provider. After thorough analysis of the College’s requirements and through a highly collaborative effort, we suggested the following solutions for NWTC:
- Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) 2007
- Content management with simple, web-based editing
- Real-time integrated course catalog/registration with the College’s PeopleSoft implementation
- User-centric navigation and taxonomy
- Interactive campus tour
- Enterprise search
IntegrationOur developers incorporated one of NWTC’s new administration systems (PeopleSoft) into the new website. A key objective for the new site is to offer up-to-date class information that could be accessed using an intuitive, faceted search directory. Visitors and students can tailor their set of search criteria and navigate to coursework based on their areas of interest, personal schedules and campus location preferences.
Early in the process of developing the new site, the College knew they wanted to include rich interactivity in the redesign. Plante & Moran was eager to offer best practice examples from other colleges and universities that would greatly enhance the NWTC messaging and brand. One of the major pieces in adding interactivity to the site was the creation of a virtual campus tour. Visitors can interact with an aerial rendering of the campus and explore campus facilities in detail, as well as view images from each campus destination.
“The new site has been getting rave reviews, and it will allow NWTC to grow and deliver the appropriate message of a highly skilled and advanced educational institution,” comments Sandy Duckett, VP of College Advancement. “We look forward to building on our new SharePoint solution and our relationship with Plante & Moran in the future.”
Plante & Moran’s designers and developers then took the approved mock-ups and rendered them for use with web content management features of Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007. Upon the completion of the site templates, Plante & Moran trained NWTC staff on how to administer the new site. Over the following few weeks, both the NWTC staff and the Plante & Moran team worked in parallel on the task of migrating new content and rebranding additional web properties to the new look and feel.
The NWTC staff and the Plante & Moran Web Development Team executed a seamless site launch of new content and interactive features. This solution better supports the College’s new vision and commitment to its students and community. The College now has features that many larger universities don’t, such as individual instructor information sites, interest-driven course searching, and up-to-the-minute class information.
How happy is NWTC with the new site? “Plante & Moran was able to creatively deliver an online presence that gave NWTC the greatest bang for our buck—plus, our entire team just really enjoyed working with them,” enthuses Sandy.
NWTC and its staff also deserve quite a few accolades for the success of the project. The level of dedication toward engaging visitors and students really sets NWTC apart from the large field of colleges vying for interest from potential students. The College’s commitment to site development by managing content editing, migration and site administration created value for them by freeing up more resources for training and custom development. Plante & Moran’s team was able to assess the College’s needs, make recommendations and develop the model for how the site will grow over the next few years. In cooperation, NWTC and Plante & Moran’s Web Development Team will be able to strategize, plan and deploy future enhancements to the site in an efficient way, thanks largely to the working relationship that has developed throughout this process.