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IT streamlines websites for students

By Andrew Ta     9/3/14 2:43pm

In early May, Rice University Information Technologies released streamlined versions of two websites, mynetid.rice.edu and it.rice.edu, which will make finding frequently used information and tools quicker and easier, according to Manager of IT Technical Communications Carlyn Chatfield. Much of what could previously be found on the two sites has been moved to docs.rice.edu or removed completely, and obvious links to the most popular pages have been added.

“Our website has transformed over the decade from four different sites into a single one that had lots of pages into it, and then we started moving all the how-to-do things out of that site and into docs.rice.edu,” Chatfield said. “But we still had too much. We used Google Analytics and we asked, ‘What are people doing on our website?’ and everything they were not really going to, we dropped.”

According to Chatfield, the redesigns were driven by a lack of usability made evident by customer complaints.

“When you hear from a customer who is trying to use your website, as a brand new student or as a parent of a brand new student, and they can’t find what they’re looking for, that’s a problem,” Chatfield said. “A number of people brought our attention to it and said, ‘You’re not serving the community well,’ and it’s, like, okay, it’s time to make [our websites] our highest priorities.”

Chatfield said a lack of funding contributed to the need for a redesign.

“We knew that our site had grown unwieldy over time,” Chatfield said. “It’s funding too. We can’t just say, ‘We really want to redesign our website.’ It’s thousands of dollars to change everything, design and do user testing.

Mynetid.rice.edu replaced apply.rice.edu and will allow users to change their passwords, set up mail alias addresses, identify their primary published email address and get Virtual Private Network, among other functions, according to Chatfield.

“Our apply.rice.edu has been around for a very long time,” Chatfield said. “There was this new technology called single sign-on, where one secure system can hold your credentials and other systems can talk to it. We needed a place to manage passwords, so it was called apply.rice.edu. Looking back, it was confusing, because it sounds like you’re applying to Rice, but we were thinking of it as applying for an account.”

According to Chatfield, before mynetid.rice.edu, students would frequently call the IT help desk throughout the summer to reset their NetID.

“We didn’t have nearly as many people call the helpdesk this summer saying ‘I need to set my NetID,’” Chatfield said. “So I think the tool is doing all the things we hoped it would do, and I haven’t seen any help request tickets that said the system isn’t working.”

Chatfield said the sites will continue to be improved.

“We’ll continue monitoring and probably change [the sites] every three or four years, and it’ll be a higher priority than in the past,” Chatfield said. “The website will continue to change to meet the demands of the customers.”

McMurtry College sophomore Chris Wentland said he has never utilized IT services before, so the new sites are brand new to him.

“The [new] mynetid.rice.edu site is very well organized and seems to serve its purpose of account management very well,” Wentland said. “The [it.rice.edu site] is also very well organized. The links to useful information are front and center, and the IT news feed is a pretty interesting touch. I also enjoy the "Get Help Now" button. I imagine plenty of students visit the site for quick help, and that makes the website and IT help easily accessible even to completely incompetent computer users.”

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