As high school students prepare to graduate at the end of this month, many of them are contemplating the next step in their education. Having recently donned a cap and gown for my own college convocation, it made me think back to my initial exploration of higher education after graduating high school.

With copious post-secondary institutions offering a seemingly endless array of degree and diploma programs, choosing the right one for me was a daunting task. In today’s digital world, I turned to the web to conduct research on finding the right college or university. As someone who has many years of post-secondary education under her belt, I have spent a great deal of time navigating school websites in search of important information pertaining to courses, student services, and school functions. These online searches were often frustrating and fruitless. I’m sure many of my fellow students would agree that in many cases, university and college websites are simply not user-friendly.

One of the biggest challenges that post-secondary institutions face is attracting potential students while simultaneously serving current students, faculty, staff, and alumni alike. In order to achieve this, the website must be well-organized and easy to navigate. The focus should be on centralizing content so that answers to any questions are readily available. It should be aesthetically pleasing, but more importantly, it should inform.

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1) IMPLEMENT EASY NAVIGATION

University and college websites are the digital version of window shopping, and as a first impression, it is crucial that universities make a positive one. If the site is not easily navigable, a potential student can move on with the simple click of a button. University and college websites are notorious for being so large that relevant information (e.g. “How Do I Apply?”, “What Is Student Life Like”?) is impossible to find.

Universities should keep in mind that prospective students may be young and without fully developed research skills. They should also take into account that the website’s usability allows for a greater number of people to reach the site, including those with visual and other disabilities, or individuals who are simply not tech-savvy. Burying program material, application information and important deadlines deep within the site will only deter students who are considering applying to the school.

2) ORGANIZE TO OPTIMIZE USER EXPERIENCE

A common complaint for even a seasoned student is the inability to easily find important information. Many of my fellow students lament inadequate access to critical course information, prerequisites, health benefits, building hours of operation, and faculty directories. University and colleges should design their site to answer the needs of current and prospective students first and foremost. Even the most attractive website will fall short if it is not comprehensive and user-friendly. For example, Duke University website’s homepage gives the appearance of well a constructed site, however, upon exploring the subpages it quickly becomes apparent that the lack of consistency in the design and organization makes for difficult navigation. Having more quick links to relevant pages would allow for smoother transitions between pages.

3) KEEP IT CONSISTENT

Another frequent complaint from both current and prospective students is the lack of consistency across department sites. Coordination across those delivering information on the main website and subsequent department microsites is crucial. The information should be organized in a way that prevents duplicate, contradictory, or incomplete information leading to confusion over which source takes precedence. The name of the university or college should be clearly identified on each page, including on the microsites for each faculty and department as some departments have their own name such as the Asper School of Business at the University of Manitoba. The core structure and elements should also remain the same across the website to ensure easy navigation.

4) MAKE IDENTITY CRYSTAL CLEAR

A post-secondary institution’s website is an opportunity to display their brand strategy. Using consistent colour palettes, typography, and images across the entire site and its microsites ensures that the brand is represented cohesively. These elements should all work together to reflect the brand tone and values. An example of this is Cornell University’s website, which combines the application of large photography and warm colours to present a school that cares deeply about its student body.

5) DRIVE TRAFFIC WITH GOOD CONTENT

Along with identity, choosing the right types of content for a university website—and especially on its homepage—is crucial. While a website tries to advertise to prospective students, it should demonstrate the merits of the university or college without being pompous or flashy. The content should communicate the character and attributes of the university and all of its individual departments in an honest and authentic way. The language used throughout the website should reflect and support the images and brand tone.

Having student-generated content within the website is a great way to demonstrate that the university values their students. For instance, the University of Toronto encouraged its students to use the hashtag #UofTGrad14 when posting statuses or photos via social media during their convocation. Photos and tweets were posted on their site in a series called Convocation 2014: Best Social Media Moments. The student-generated photos and comments appear much more genuine than had a staff member written a generic congratulatory post.

In addition, having relevant news posted regularly on the website helps drive traffic in an ongoing way. The more content is located on the site, the more students, faculty, and staff will use it as a primary source of information. This type of content strategy also generates traffic from external links coming from people conducting search engine inquiries. For instance, Manoverboard designed and developed UM Today, a news site for all University of Manitoba campus news. The content that UM Today develops is abundant, frequently updated, and is a key ingredient to the success of their site.

A WELL DESIGNED SITE ADDS INCREDIBLE VALUE

Overall, the key to a good university or college website is providing a good user experience for prospective students, current students, and faculty and staff alike. The brand should be reflected in harmony across the site in a way that appeals to students and makes them feel valued.

A good example of a university that is doing it well is the University of Waterloo. The homepage is well organized and includes a section clearly meant for high school students who are interested in studying there. The microsites for each department remain consistent with the overall design while still highlighting their individual objectives and achievements.

Universities and colleges can leverage a website as a global shop window for a young generation of computer savvy students who use the Internet as their primary research tool. A well-designed site is invaluable as it attracts new students, keeps current students well informed, and brings the campus community closer together.

 

You may have recently noticed an influx of emails in your inbox from organizations that you receive digital newsletters from. This is due to new anti-spam laws implemented in Canada that are taking effect on July 1st. The new legislation, also known as CASL for Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation, requires all organizations and businesses to obtain consent from subscribers to continue sending electronic communications.

Since the work we do is mostly web-based, we appreciate the importance of online privacy and security. We have sent out our own emails seeking consent from our subscribers who wish to continue receiving Manoverboard news, ideas, and events.

To thank our subscribers for taking the time to confirm their consent, we are entering them in a draw to win a three month subscription to Salt Spring Coffee. The three month subscription delivers freshly roasted coffee beans to your door every two weeks! Like us, Salt Spring Coffee is a certified B Corporation, putting people and planet first. Salt Spring is even kindly throwing in a free tumblr to the lucky winner!

We are happy to report that over half of our current subscribers have already given us their consent to continue receiving our emails. We will follow up with a more in-depth analysis of the effect that CASL has had on our subscriber numbers after July 1st. We believe email newsletters are a powerful tool and are hoping that this new legislation builds tighter connections between marketers and clients.

If you’d like to subscribe to our newsletter, please go to our website and click “subscribe” on the footer at the bottom of the page. We appreciate your continued interest in our work.

Manoverboard is happy to announce that it is now powered by Bullfrog Power, Canada’s leading green energy provider. In keeping with our mandate of environmental sustainability, Bullfrog Power’s generators match the amount of energy used at Manoverboard and inject 100% green electricity back onto the grid. The energy comes from clean, renewable sources such as wind and low-impact hydro power sourced from Canadian renewable energy facilities. Canadian households contribute almost half of our country’s total greenhouse gas emissions and we are thrilled to have the opportunity to reduce our own environmental footprint by choosing clean energy.

Like Manoverboard, Bullfrog Power is a Certified B Corporation dedicated to higher standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability. Their vision of a future powered by 100% renewable energy matches Manoverboard’s vision of partnering with other organizations using the power of business for good.

“When clean energy choices are available, many good things happen.”

Bullfrog Power provides funding for green initiatives and renewable energy based projects throughout Canada. One of their many projects include partnering with Sagkeeng First Nation to build a 5 kW wind turbine on the banks of Lake Winnipeg. Bullfrog Power also transformed an unused commercial rooftop in St. Catharines, ON, into a 572-panel solar array that produces more than 17,000 kWh of clean electricity for the grid over a single winter.

Minimizing the environmental impact of your home or business is quick and affordable. Visit www.bullfrogpower.com for more information.

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18

Country Websites

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While 32 countries are busy competing in one of the world’s largest sporting events, it’s the perfect time to talk about official country websites while nobody’s looking. For those who are considering traveling abroad, a country’s official website is a logical place to start. A quick Google search would therefore lead you to expect that each country would seize the opportunity to put its best qualities at the forefront and paint an attractive and compelling picture. Yet, for many reasons, official country websites are widely overlooked. In my recent Internet travels, I came across the official site for the country of Sweden. It not only informs prospective visitors but clearly would have an impact on its own residents. There appears to be a movement away from an official country website being strictly government focused, or strictly tourism focused. Sweden’s site is a shinning example of this trend. The site is rich with beautiful content and portrays a country that understands and promotes its culture and traditions.

“This is the official site of Sweden, offering you the facts and stories of our country.”

Sweden even uses humour in presenting some of its most important traditions such as this video explaining the Midsummer tradition:

Naturally, I wanted to see how my own country stacked up to Sweden’s. I quickly realized that Canada could be doing a much better job.

A Story Approach

Sweden History

As you can see from these images, Sweden chose to tell the story of its culture, while Canada focuses on how its government serves individual Canadians. The bigger picture of our country’s history, economy, and culture are left out. In fact, Canada’s official website could benefit from taking an approach more like its Canadian Olympic Committee which feels more in line with how Sweden presents its country on a world stage.

Revelation in Navigation

In terms of site navigation, Canada’s approach is strictly from a government standpoint. A website’s menu is one of the first things that visitors interact with upon arriving at a website and the menu structure reveals what its creator considered most important.

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In the case of the Swedish country site, the immediate take-away is that Sweden treats its citizens with respect and understanding. Cold and uninspiring, the Canadian site instead focuses on rules and regulations — again, not the culture and traditions that make up the nation. In fact, culture within the Swedish navigation stands on its own, unlike Canada where it gets buried into “More services.” Culture is not something that should be relegated to a catch-all menu item or be buried deep within the site.

“A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.” —Mahatma Gandhi

Sweden has taken the approach of having all of its government related information on a site with the address government.se. How great would it be if all of the nations of the world could agree to using this naming convention for their government websites? This would ensure that a country puts its best foot forward by sharing the most appealing aspects of itself on the official country site, with the more bureaucratic content moved to a government named site.

Inclusivity versus Exclusivity

While searching for official country websites, it is inevitable that one will stumble upon the official tourism sites as well. The Sweden tourism site can be found at visitsweden.com and the Canadian tourism site at canada.travel. Both  tourism sites do a great job of providing content for tourists, but they lack the heart and soul that is offered on the official sweden.se site. The Canadian tourism site makes you choose your home country before entering the website (and excludes many countries from the list). The Swedish travel site is a little more appealing, but feels very disconnected from the official site. Both sites together give a very exclusive feel which is contrary to what it should be doing. This begs the question “Why can’t tourism just be a component of the official country website?” It would surely make people feel more connected to the country—citizens and tourists alike.

We Are the Curators

Governments play a role in telling the story of their respective countries, but they should not be the only ones telling the story. Sweden decided to tackle this face-on by its initiative entitled the Curators of Sweden, in which a new Swedish citizen is granted access to the @sweden twitter handle every week. This has been in place since 2011 and continues to this day as an example of a twitter account that is a true representation of a country and a democracy.

The same cannot be said for Canada, as there is no unified Canadian voice from its citizens. Instead, Twitter is used by Canada in the same voice and style as its official website, with a vast array of government department accounts for Canadians to follow. The simple act of assigning the @sweden Twitter account to individuals demonstrates a tremendous level of respect and trust towards its citizens. It gives a genuine human voice and helps people learn more about the country through the people who actually live there.

Genuine, simple and organized

Online and offline, people crave genuine communication and engagement. We tire of the myth-making culture that advertising has created and instead crave ideas and content with real substance. My hope is that we use Sweden as a model for how to do it right. While still important, government bureaucracy websites should live as stand-alone sites (e.g. government.se, government.ca, government.us), creating room for the national narratives of culture and history to be presented separately at dedicated sites (e.g. sweden.se, canada.ca, usa.us).

“This City is what it is because our citizens are what they are.”
—Plato

17

30 Days in Brazil

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After touring around Brazil for a month with my girlfriend and her family, I can’t help but feel that up here in Canada, we are falling behind in terms of resource conservation.

“Wait what,” you might be thinking to yourself, “Why were you in Brazil? Did go for the World Cup?”

Sorry, no. Brazil will indeed be hosting the 2014 FIFA World Cup in less than a month, but my trip didn’t coincide with any of the games. I did however see first hand some of the new infrastructure they’ve built in preparation for the hoards of football fans now pouring in from all over the world: There’s a shiny new terminal at Guarulhos International Airport, new stadiums have popped up throughout the country, and some of the transportation systems have been expanded as well.

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“Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world, with a population roughly ⅔ of that of the USA.”

Brazil is massive, extending more than 4,000 km from north to south. It has a diverse range of climates, cultures, languages, and foods. We visited the mandatory capital of Rio De Janeiro pictured above, but also the massive city of São Paulo, the beaches of Maragogi, the awe-inspiring waterfalls of Foz do Iguaçu seen below, and the fresh mountain air of Botucatu and Gramado.

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Planes Trains and… Ethanol?

Over the course of the trip, we took at least eight different flights from seven different airports, yet still experienced only a fraction of what Brazil has to offer. On that note, if there’s one thing Brazil has to offer—aside from its natural beauty, its perfect weather, great food and about 1,000 other great things—it’s ethanol.

“Ethanol is an alternative fuel made from sugar cane, and Brazil is the largest exporter of it in the world.”

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The majority of the cars in Brazil, (87% according to Wikipedia), are Flex Fuel. What that means is they can run on either gasoline or on 100% ethanol. The Brazilian government also made it mandatory to blend ethanol with its gasoline since 1976. If all of the fossil fuel in the world suddenly dried up, Brazil would quickly adapt rather than collapse like I imagine many fossil-fuel dependent countries would.

Hydro Powers Brazil

Brazil is also a massive producer of hydroelectric power. I had the opportunity to visit Itaipu Dam, a massive partnership between Brazil and Paraguay built on the Paraná River which divides the two countries. Itaipu has the second largest power output of all dams in the world and it provides 90% of the power for the entire country of Paraguay. 90%! That’s amazing!

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Power Smart

Besides being great at generating power, Brazil also excels at conserving it. All of the hotels I stayed in used motion-sensitive hallway lighting and key activated lights, and TVs and air conditioners turn themselves off when you leave the room.

Hotel shower heads often contained electric heaters that would heat water only while it was flowing. Sinks rarely had hot water taps at all in small homes and businesses, and some buildings had solar heated water tanks on the roof with electric backups for times without sunlight.

“What do you mean, there’s no furnace?”

The humble furnace, much taken for granted in North America, was nowhere to be found (with the exception of cold, grey Gramado, of course). When your annual temperatures swing is between +20°C and +32°C like it is in Maragoji (pictured below) you just don’t need them. Air conditioners also are not common in the homes where I stayed.

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One of my favourite gizmos was the super-efficient no-heat hand dryers you’d sometimes find in public washrooms. They’re just like the dryers in car washes that push the water right off your car with flat jets of forced air—only for your hands. Dual flush toilets were also common, and I didn’t see a single bathtub the whole time I was there.

For waste disposal, public garbage cans were usually in sets of paper, plastic, metal, waste and sometimes even compost. They were also colour-coded, making it easy for people to choose the right bin.

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“From macro to micro, Brazil seems to be doing it right.”

Due to the dramatically different climate, and some cultural differences, it’s clear that Canada cannot easily adopt many of Brazil’s sustainability solutions as is. That said, I see a lot of room for improvement, and at the very least, we could draw some inspiration from the things Brazil is doing right.

On that note, I have to get going. I have a mountain of photos to go through and my Instragram feed isn’t going to fill itself.

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