I have been working at Agnes Scott for almost two years now. I know how the sausage gets made. On top of that, I am a founder of the college’s Center for Digital and Visual Literacy. I not only help students manage their digital portfolios but I also assist faculty with video editing software and curating their websites., As an Alum, I’m very aware of my unique position. I am now, and was, a sausage maker. Nowadays I know more of the ingredients and help make the final product better so to speak.
Now take all of that new-to-me responsibility and put a Global Pandemic on top.
As soon as Agnes heard of colleges closing, The Remote Education Task Force was made. The task force operates with just as much gumption as the name implies. Weekly— no— daily meetings. Constant mini-workshops and open hours. All to make sure that if the doors close, there is at least some sort of foundation to build this new structure on.
The sausage factory I knew now had to be prepared to make sausages with completely different tools and still put out the same kind of sausages. In one week.
First of all, how can we ensure they taste the same? How do we know we can deliver them to consumers (a.k.a students)the same? How do we know everyone even has the same utensils they used to? How do we contact distributors or should we distribute the product ourselves?
There are so many more moving parts to college initiatives that I hadn’t considered as a student.
And this new sausage has a hub: The Remote Education CDVL-Hosted Webpage.
It was under my jurisdiction to design and put up the resources that were sent my way. After all, I do love a good webpage design. And I’m pretty good at it.
But, it became clear that this webpage wasn’t something that had to go up in a week. Within three days, the novel Coronavirus was declared to be the cause of a pandemic. We had to cancel all study abroad trips. Classes went completely online. Students were urged to stay home. That one week deadline suddenly turned into a few days. I have never worked on and published a polished webpage so quickly in my entire life.
On Thursday, March 12th, my inbox had 92 unread emails. By Friday, I had 143. Any and every useful document, power point, video and article was being thrown my way. This included recordings of the Zoom workshops we held, a list of hotlines students could call for people on campus, and 101 documents in any format we could find.
I should say, while I am pretty good at design, doing so under pressure is a feat. Not only does this web page have to house these resources in some sort of organized manner, they also have to be as accessible as possible. This means making sure the page is optimized for phone use, since so many of our community may be restricted to phones. This also meant following up with creatures of the resources on things like closed captions, correct links, removal of redundant or repeated information.
I’m always reminded of how important it is to simplify things when I design a web page.
And this web page had to be as simple as possible. Because I have to think about text to link ratios. Think about the last time you looked up a recipe. Have you ever taken the time to read the blog attached or did you just scroll down to ingredients? The same idea could be applied here.
The repeating process of all those links and resources is categorizing the information and then making it look pretty. The key phrase here is “and then”. If you’ve heard of User Experience Design then this seems pretty obvious. All web design leans on this anyway, constantly thinking about your target audience. So if I’m a professor who has no idea how to teach using Canva, where would I go? Probably the big red “Canva 101” link or something with the phrase “how to teach in canva”. If I am a student who wants to talk to a professor face to face, I am probably looking for the phrase “office hours” or “Video chat” somewhere on the page. Putting on these hypothetical hats while fun, does potentially make the design process more complex as more resources come my way.
But, with a lot of support and long days, the site was up. And yet, the work is not done. I am very grateful to have the resources I have today. The people on this task force are constantly searching for the simplest way to convey, distribute and streamline information to the Agnes Scott Community during this pandemic. That isn’t to say I don’t have dreams about HTML formatting, but they help me rest easy otherwise. Every day there is something to add, re-format, or delete because this one page is a huge cog in an even bigger wheel at Agnes Scott. I know how important it is to try and beat the curve.
Soon students will begin their online classes for the first time, just having a very eventful spring break no doubt. The task force will be as ready as we can to help troubleshoot and support this major transition. And I will be here, at my computer, editing at the speed of a pandemic.