Web Doctoral Studies
Faculty of Arts, Charles University
Charles University in Prague is the oldest university in central Europe, established in 1348. Currently, Faculty of Arts is one of the largest and most prestigious educational institutions in arts and humanities in Central Europe. It has over 9000 students and the acceptance level is only 27% to secure the quality of education and students. In December 2018, the Faculty had 1218 students enrolled in Doctoral degree studies.
Frequent physical visits of PhD students the administrative office and phone calls from PhD students asking basic questions put heavy unnecessary workload on student officers who were not able to fulfill their everyday tasks. The goal was to improve web for PhD candidates, make it as intuitive as possible and increase its use to reduce direct contact of students with student officers when unnecessary.
I initiated the project of web restructuring and had full responsibility for its planning and execution.
I had an advantage of being able to understand both PhD students (I was one) and student officers (my work colleagues).
I had multiple roles that would be in an ideal situation assigned to the different members of the team.
Since I did not have a team at hand, I worn multiple hats to complete this project. I enjoyed learning and valued help of other departments.
Conducted user research with students and student officers.
Completely rebuilt structure of the website with the goal of easy usability.
PhD students expressed they could now find information more easily online and that Q&A section was really helpful. Many of them also expressed that online application for various documents saved a lot of time. They recognized the change in student officers’ mood.
Built website in WordPress including basic customization, increased visits.
Decreased number of physical visits of PhD students in the student’s office.
Student officers reported less visits from students. They felt they were able to have stronger say in situations when students did not look at the website before visiting the office: information was easy to find and there was no reason for students to look for it in the office.
An initial step of the project was to discover the reasons students do not use the website to look for the information they need. After the research of similar websites of different universities, I conducted interviews with doctoral students from various fields and student officers.
Students expressed it is faster and easier to go to office or call to find relevant information, it was generally difficult to find information on the website for following reasons:
- home page contained overwhelming amount of disconnected and irrelevant information
- there was an excessive use of links and bold to emphasize text
- the division of navigation was not logical with two major categories being ‘I need to deal with’ (with 15 subcategories) and ‘Various’ (14 unrelated subcategories with some of them should logically belong to the other major category)
- the primary content spot on home page was filled with so called ‘basic rules’ starting with rather unfriendly brief remark ‘search information on this website’ which antagonized some students from further use considering the website was not well structured
- important content of various pages was not complete, students often needed a piece of information from the complicated study regulations therefore they rather asked student officers instead of searching in long university documents
- bottom of the home page had additional navigation ‘where to go further’ with duplication of random selected links from above in different order, not helpful and very confusing
- There was no Q&A section
Findings: Website was not well structured and was incomplete, Irrelevant information was overwhelming while information that was needed was not on the website.
I had multiple conversations with student officers who also knew and used the website. They had some important insights, most importantly what were the most frequent requests and questions students come with:
- Students needed various forms and confirmations (Interruption of studies, Confirmation of Study, Change of form of study)
- Questions related to Study Information System (electronic database for study plans and credit system)
- Student’s mobility
- Dissertation thesis and its defense
- Grants, stipends
Findings: It was necessary to create clear navigation and more categories on home page reflecting the importance of information; many forms and applications needed to be connected to existing software systems to be able to apply and receive them online without interaction with the student officers.
2 Restructuring and Adjusting Content
I elaborated structure of the new web, put together IA and created simple wireframes for individual pages:
I separated information for PhD students from information for Program Councils, these two were confusingly mixed together.
I clearly divided the information for PhD students in 7 major categories according to the logic of a student life-cycle and any possible student’s needs.
I cooperated with students and student officers to design Q&A section which was divided in the same logic to 7 categories and answered additional questions.
The homepage was simplified. After a brief introduction of PhD studies, it contained only a clear navigation: PhD student, Program Council and Contact.
Changes of Homepage
I never worked in a similar role before and did not know UX existed at that time. Despite that I naturally applied some UX processes. I knew I needed data for being able to improve the website. Both students and student officers were very helpful in the initial research. I was able to establish the main reasons behind to lack of use of the existing website and reflect this in the creation of the new structure.
Based on interviews with the students and officers, we uncovered issues we did not think about previously. There were some practical adjustments in how students applied for documents they often needed. Newly students could apply for it online which reduced number of visits in the office.
Potential improvements: If I did the same project again, I would push more for testing of how students use the new website and for proper data analysis after the web was launched. This stage was skipped due to the need of building other websites, however it was in my view a crucial limit as the data and testing would be really helpful in further improving the website and having reliable feedback.