Erin Papakostas ‘23
The year 2019 brought two significant technological changes to the Davidson community. Earlier this summer, Davidson’s communication team redesigned the college’s website, giving it a completely new look and adding many new features. Just before classes started, Davidson also upgraded the platform Wildcat Sync. Both changes have seen mixed student reactions.
Stacey Riemer, Associate Dean of Students, is a member of Davidson’s Wildcat Sync implementation team. “We’re really excited about the benefits that came with the upgrade,” Riemer commented. According to her, the new platform is more attractive and accessible, especially on mobile devices.
Riemer explained the reason for the upgrade: Campus Labs, the vendor for Wildcat Sync, consolidated its plaform offerings.
“The beauty of migrating from one platform to the other is that a lot of our information in the original platform migrated over to the upgraded platform, and that made some of the transition for the student groups more seamless,” Riemer said.
As for the advantages of the new platform, Caroline Roddey ’20, President of Planned Parenthood Generation Action (PPGA), commented, “I think it’s more aesthetically pleasing. But there haven’t been significant changes in how I manage the organization. We primarily just use [Wildcat Sync] for forms, and if we do elections.”
Will Scofield ’22, Co-President of the Bee Club, stated, “The changes have been positive, but it took a while for our budget to be live on the new Wildcat Sync, which caused some minor problems.”
The purpose of the platform is for student engagement, Riemer said, and she revealed a series of other programs coming later this year that will encourage students to be more engaged, not only on campus but also within the broader world.
One such new program is the TurboVote plug-in, a tool to help students vote in elections across the country. Riemer explained that the feature will give students access to the voter engagement resources, such as registering to vote and applying for absentee ballots.
“If you’re a student engaged in a whole bunch of groups, if you’re engaged in what’s happening on campus, you’re looking for funding opportunities, that’s a one-stop shop for you to explore on campus,” said Riemer.
Along with the revamped Wildcat Sync, the new Davidson website launched before the summer. Vanessa Breese, Digital Communications Strategist for Davidson, said the communications team took the opportunity to start from scratch.
“We redesigned it, but we also re-architected it, and we also re-platformed it. So that was no small task,” said Breese.
This means the college didn’t just change the website’s look, they completely rebuilt what’s underneath it — the programs and systems that make it run.
Chief Communications and Marketing Officer Mark Johnson said of the old website, “there was a general need to bring it up to speed with audience expectations. It also was not as user-friendly as we needed it to be.”
Davidson’s website has to satisfy multiple customers, Johnson said. “Prospective students, alumni, current students, families of current students, donors, supporters and the general public […] you’re trying to solve [problems] for all of those.”
Davidson students have had a range of responses to the website changes. Macy Lawton ’22 said, “I don’t like the way they changed how you view classes or schedules, [but] otherwise it’s fine.”
Others, like Louise Dickinson ’20, argued, “The new website is confusing. I get lost on the website, and you can’t find anything.” She added, “I think it’s just more steps.”
Dickinson wished that there had been some communication that Davidson would issue a change. “I was in office hours getting help, we left for lunch, came back and the website was totally changed.”
Will Stifel ’20 commented, “It was a rough transition with much of the site not working. And now it’s weird to look up classes, at least on [a cell phone].”
“Sometimes it’s really hard to find information because old links don’t work, and it’s hard to search for things,” stated Michelle Silver ’22.
The communication team’s research, with the help of NewCity, a Virginia-based design firm, showed that current students typically do not browse the site.
“They’re more task-oriented on the website.” Breese explained, saying current students will look for details such as course listings or calendar events. She hopes students will notice the “audience gateways.” If a visitor clicks the menu button at the top of any page on the site, a large menu drops down, and they will see “Tools and Resources For” five categories, one of which is current students.
“That is their one-stop shop.” Breese remarked. “Rather than having to navigate through, you can go straight to the content that’s most relevant for the particular audience.”
Much of the redesign work was done with prospective students in mind, Johnson commented.
“We wanted it designed so that we could showcase that,” Johnson said, explaining the prominent portion on the home page created for stories that bring out a sense of community. “It all happens on campus, our job is to surface it and show what that experience is like.”
The communications team also seeks stories and content from students via email@example.com, he said, such as the feature “My Davidson,” which includes blog posts and photos from students’ summer projects and overseas experiences.
“Students are often the best source for interesting things that are going on. But you know, we are a sponge for good stories.”
However, the communications team tried to avoid creating a purely promotional website, Johnson remarked.
“Audiences rightly want authentic voices and information,” he said. “We have an amazing community here [that] you want to show to [potential students]. The natural human instinct is, ‘I want to read a story,’ and we have terrific ones to tell, thanks to the people who are here.”