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We have a new writer/editor on board as of yesterday. Desperately needed, I might add. I’ve already passed her two tasks that I really needed an editor’s eye on, and she already caught a typo I missed (I did write it and hadn’t proofed it yet–nor had I put it up yet, but that’s beside the point).

I’d love to tell the story and link it, but it’s not ready for public viewing just yet. I’ll give some background instead.

In a cost-saving/environmentalist attempt to be more efficient, our office is going to stop sending a letter reminding students who apply that we’re missing information from them like standardized test scores and their high school transcript. Instead, we’ll be directing them to their online account with us, where they can view their regularly-updated status and see exactly what we’re missing at the time.

In the past, this letter and the transcript or scores often crossed in the mail, prompting anxious calls. At the same time, I expect we’ll get “I didn’t know I had to check that” calls from now on, even though we’ve made every effort to point them to the resource, and we know that most students are using it. Obsessively, even.

So there’s rewriting of current material to be done. We have to catch everywhere we might mention that letter.

Even though the process of halting this letter started almost last year at this time, it was only today that we made the decision to stop the letter entirely. Starting tomorrow.

So there was, of course, a bit of a scramble to make sure we’d killed it everywhere we needed to. Most of it was double-checking on things I’d changed six months ago and forgotten about for certain, but it was a scramble nonetheless. I checked the last place I needed to at about 5:10 this afternoon.

In the process, a few things were proven to me.

I had considered asking the new writer/editor to help me locate the letter references, but quickly dismissed that as folly. She would have no idea where to start other than a search engine.

If I hadn’t been in the office today, this might have been a problem. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I really do think that I’m the only one in the office that knows all the content on our site backwards and forwards. And given that memory isn’t always my strong suit (I digitize most of it to give me more processing room), that resource needs to reside somewhere else too.

Basically, I’d argue that for a large site containing lots of procedures, you need documentation for where things that may need to be changed reside. And it has to cross platforms.

We’ve yanked a lot of references in my time with Admissions:

  • SAT I became just SAT.
  • We used to recommend against the rush option for their scores–strangely enough, there was a time this came to us via paper, whereas the normal scores came electronically and were loaded faster.
  • We used to take scores as official if they were printed on a high school transcript. No longer.

And that’s just standardized test scores.

Now that I’ve been there long enough and I know all of our materials, I can name most of the spots all the above used to appear: which brochures (viewbook, fact brochure), presentations (prospect, out-of-state, SASD), letters (AU001–the missing information letter; a host of others not worth mentioning), pages on our site (news/html/newsat.htm, from our old site–and I’m sure you can recognize the archaic structure there), the application for admission, and a ton of standard email we send out as reminders.

It’s the pieces I don’t touch regularly that have gotten missed. I found an email from what used to be a separate team in the office that still has both the rush score and transcript mention that was sent out as recently as last January.  And, I suspect, more recently than that still, but have yet to have proof.

Our office is, unfortunately, a bit of a Kraken: multi-armed and sprawling. Such is the nature of a large office with independent functions, much less a large university or a multi-campus institution like ours. We can occasionally collect all our arms, but most of the time a tentacle does get loose. They’re squirmy little buggers.

And no, I’m not going to make the Cthulhu comparison some of you might be expecting.

But back to my point.

Not everyone in the organization is going to be an expert. You’ll always have new staff. Help with managing sites, processes, etc is always welcome. Documentation may be key to keep all your miscellaneous bits in line.

Everything is Miscellaneous, and it doesn’t always flock as neatly as Weinberger demonstrates. Learn to manage your organization’s information, both for the benefit of your own memory and sanity, and to help the new folks on your team.

This post started after reading this blurb questioning the need for committees. And I have to say I agree.

My office excels at bringing together committees, or working groups, or what-have-you. In practice, though, the most effective use of everyone’s time that I’ve seen has been in bringing together the two or three people who will actually do the work for the project and having them keep up with each other.

In a lot of cases, this could be done online. Twitter could be used for up-to-the-minute updates. Or, of course, you could use a more normal project management package. A few of us used Backpack pretty extensively for awhile. The subject experts should only be pulled in as consultants to make a good project run.

But the point of committees in our office (often), unfortunately, and I see the need for it, is generally for buy-in. To keep people aware of how the project is coming.

And I really feel it’s a waste sometimes. But there’s a huge culture change that would need to take place to make it all work without them.

Has anyone else actually been in a place that has managed that change? Any tips you can share?

I think I prefaced over this last weekend that I wasn’t going to have a theme with this entry in mind.

I started college as a geology major. Somewhat obviously, I didn’t stick with it, but it’s still a great interest of mine.

Some of you know and some of you don’t that I have an MFA in Creative Writing. So a lot of my so-called “personal” reading is actually keeping up on that end of things for me.

And to combine both interests, I recently read Threshold, by Caitlin R. Kiernan. It’s very much in a genre I used to write–a pseudo-magical realism, if magical realism in literature could be divorced from its Latin American roots (which it can’t be, really). It starts out gritty, modern, and then wanders gently into science, myth, urban legend, and a particular superstitious nature you find in the south.

But my main point in addressing the experience of reading this book was the following passage, voiced by our narrator, Chance, who was in college as a geology major at the time:

“Can you think of anything else I could do with my life that could ever possibly be half this splendid, half this important? I’m learning to read, Deke, and not just the handful of things men have been around long enough to write down. The history of the whole damned planet is written in rocks, just lying there waiting for us to learn how to read the words.” – p. 177

It’s this urge that drives me, strangely enough, in my current work as well.

I’m learning to read in a larger sense than I’ve ever read so far. And to some extent this was an evolution: I did, after all, start on email quite awhile ago, then moved to forums, then Livejournal, then Blogger, then Facebook/MySpace, then Twitter, and Google Reader and the big feeds (Slashdot, BoingBoing, TechCrunch, Gizmodo, etc) got stuck in there somewhere too (and I may be skipping steps, of course: on the multimedia end, Flickr and YouTube are two examples, but I’m talking about text here, in the main).

But in terms of an educated and informed community that I can have face-to-face contact with and shares my academic/work interests, this is a first (which might be, I might add, because my college/grad work had little to do with technology). Not just casual friends giving updates on their lives, but I get a touch of friendliness and personality alongside the theory.

So I get these fantastic ideas as well as the context surrounding them: the problems that were faced to prompt them to come up with these ideas. It’s good stuff.

But larger than that, and for a longer period of time, I’ve been learning to read people and their interaction with technology; learning to read the evolution of society due to technology’s influence; learning to read how technology is changing our minds and changing our spaces.

I’m reading the future. I’ve already learned to read the past.

So between geology and tech, I feel like I’ve got the span of things.1 And while this current tech iteration is more minute than an atom in a drop in a bucket in terms of geologic time, it’s monumental for us living in it.

And I get to read it. And better yet, write some of it.

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