Free Web tools
Michele Plante, interface designer, software architect Lance Campbell (center) and Jim Wilson, interim director of Web Services, plan to expand the online Toolbox during 2005 with additional tools, including a stock photo collection. The tools were designed to help faculty and staff members on campus create online tools quickly, easily and at no cost.
Photo by Kwame Ross
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Have you ever wanted to conduct a survey, set up an online registration form or develop a calendar of events on the Web but been frustrated by a lack of technical expertise or the cost of hiring a programmer to do it for you? The Office of Public Affairs’ Web Services group offers a set of tools and workshops to help faculty and staff members, especially those with limited computer experience or technical ability, create calendars, forms and surveys without having to spend hours learning programming skills. The Web tools are free, and since each of them functions in a similar fashion, the learning curve is minimal.
During the fall semester, Jeana McAllister, manager of system services in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, used the survey tool to create and conduct the annual audit of registered users of ACES’ student computing facility. “In the past, I always had to try to put together a document that fit on one page, guess how many copies to print out and then ask my student employees to hawk the document to everybody who walked into the facility, have them get the users to fill it out and ask them not to fill out more than one,” McAllister said. Using the survey tool, McAllister e-mailed each of the 1,832 registered users and asked them to complete the survey by following a link to ACES’ Web site.
"I’m delighted because it was so easy to use,” said McAllister. “I taught myself how to use it on my own with no difficulty. I got a huge immediate response when I sent the e-mail and felt like I got very good results. It was easy to convert the results and post them on our Web site and referred respondents there if they were interested in seeing them. I had not shared (the results) with anyone outside of administration in the past.” McAllister said that she liked how the survey tool allowed her to choose from various response methods – short or long answers, check boxes, radio buttons or pull-down menus, that she could require that users complete certain questions and could control how many forms users were allowed to submit. When the toolbox was released in February 2004, it had been targeted toward campus webmasters, but “once we started marketing it toward faculty members, secretaries and graduate students, people responded enthusiastically because it allowed them to create surveys, conduct the surveys themselves and then gather the data without even making a phone call. In the past, they would have had to turn to their Web people, and if they didn’t have anyone with the skills, they generally would have had to pay for the services,” said Jim Wilson, interim director of Web Services. “Our software architect, Lance Campbell, designed a self-serve, almost support-free system that allows anyone to create Web forms, surveys and calendars.” To use the tools, faculty and staff members use their net IDs and passwords to log in to the toolbox on Web Services’ Web site, select the type of tool – form, survey or calendar – that they want to create and within minutes can develop an attractive, professional online document. Users choose the formats for displaying information and can control who has access to the document. When groups of people are involved in the creation of a form or calendar or when multiple people need to review the results, users can grant others editing or viewing privileges. Only faculty and staff members can create documents; however, students can be granted editing privileges once a form is created. Results of surveys and forms are viewable in Excel spreadsheets as soon as they are submitted. Survey results are anonymous and are saved until the owner deletes them. Over the past year, faculty and staff members across campus have used the toolbox to conduct more than 250 online surveys, create more than 200 calendars and more than 100 forms, Wilson said. The toolbox also has helped save the campus more than $1.4 million dollars and was recently made available to faculty and staff members at the Chicago and Springfield campuses as well. During 2005, the toolbox will be expanded with the addition of
- A content publisher that will enable users with little technical experience to create dynamic, database-driven Web sites.
- Answer boards: a database tool that offers users quick answers to frequently asked questions about the campus and can be customized to fit units’ individual needs.
- A facts database: an online, searchable database that can be tailored to each unit’s needs.
- A stock photography collection: an online image library containing print-quality, stock photographs.
Communicators on campus have been clamoring for a source of free, print-quality stock photographs for their publications and presentations, said Michele Plante, who is coordinating the photography project for OPA. Plante recently surveyed communicators and designers on campus to prioritize demand, and their feedback will determine the content of the photography collection. OPA offers a series of free workshops on the Web tools for faculty and staff members. The next workshop is Feb. 17. Colleges or departments with large groups of potential users can arrange sessions by contacting Wilson at 333-4312.
Help stock the Image Library When events of campuswide interest arise that would lend themselves well to be included in the stock photography collection, faculty and staff members should contact Michele Plante, 244-8639. These events would include visits by renowned speakers or entertainers and classroom activities related to research and technology.
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