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by Chris Hartigan
I was a little surprised at how dominant the topic of responsive design was at last week’s EduWeb Conference in Boston. By all accounts, it was a great conference. A wide breadth of institutions provided many perspectives and the quality of the presentations and interactions was as good as any other higher education conference that I have been to.
But still, talk of responsive design – of what it is and how to achieve it - was everywhere. In fact, it was so prevalent throughout presentations and discussions that I was caught a little off guard. I know it’s an important topic, don’t get me wrong. I guess I was expecting the dialogue to have moved on from “What is it?” or “How do we do it?” -- or even “How do we do it better?” -- to “What is it doing for us?” Unfortunately, I didn’t hear much of that. Perhaps I was just not paying attention or was listening to the wrong conversations. Or perhaps we’re just not there yet.
Imagine this conversation:
Me: “Is responsive design important for your website?”
You: “Of course it is.”
Me: “Why is it so important?”
You: “Well, it’s important because it allows my website to respond to every online visitor, regardless of what type of device they’re using. Whether it be a desktop, laptop, tablet or a smartphone, my website will render appropriately and they will be able to easily consume the information that I have am trying to engage them with.
Me: “Great! And so what’s the business risk if you don’t have a responsive site?”
You: “Without a responsive site, visitors will not have an engaging experience and will leave the site quickly. This means that I would lose potential applicants. In addition to not being able to serve my students in a way that satisfies them, I wouldn’t be able to strengthen the affinity I have with my alums and other constituents.”
Me: “Fantastic, and now your site is responsive, right?”
Me: “Ok, so tell me about some of the data points that demonstrate how has this positively impacted enrollment, student retention, and alumni engagement?”
In my estimation, that final question may be the most important. How would you respond? Would you be able to?
In my view, and based on conversations I’ve had with dozens of schools and based on my learnings from EduWeb last week, it’s time to turn our attention to measuring and analyzing the impact of responsive in higher education. We have the tools in place. We have the buy-in where needed. We have the conviction that this is the right thing to do. We have the knowledge of how to do it. Now we need to measure and understand the results.
Only through measuring and iterating on what we have, can we truly use this great power to drive results and support our goals. And for many schools this is an important – perhaps critical – time to prove what responsive redesign means for their institution. With college costs continuing to increase and uncertainty around the long-term costs of financing the investment, along with an improving economy, we’re already starting to see enrollment numbers flat line and even decline in some cases.
As we fight over a smaller applicant pool and work harder to hold onto the students that we have already invested in, our responsive websites will become the front line in an increasingly difficult battle.
It’s up to us to prove their worth.