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Embracing the public Web

Topics/tags: Rants, Grinnell, Web

At some point, I got added to Grinnell’s the recipient list for Grinnell’s Communicator’s Newsletter [1]. I’m not quite sure what the purpose of that newsletter is. It generally doesn’t have much that isn’t in the Campus Memo, but some of what is only in that newsletter serves as an interesting tidbit.

The 11 May 2018 issue [2] had the following article.

GrinnellShare, the Internet, and You

Have you taken a look at all your web pages recently? Have you moved your campus-only content to GrinnellShare?

If you haven’t already done so, we encourage you to take time this summer to:

  • decide what needs to be on the public website and what is better maintained on GrinnellShare and
  • to make sure your information on the public site is accurate and up-to-date.

Many offices have successfully moved information that is meant only for the campus community to GrinnellShare. For help with GrinnellShare, contact ITS. (Bonus, their site offers a good example of how you can move your content to GrinnellShare and take advantage of its many options.)

As an academic, I believe that we have a responsibility to share information that is likely to be of value to others. So, how about suggesting the converse? Instead of moving information behind a password wall, members of the Grinnell community should find ways to make that information more public. Let’s see …

Have you taken a look at what you’ve hidden away on GrinnellShare recently? Have you moved public information to the public site?

If you haven’t already done so, we encourage you to think about audiences beyond Grinnell and move things back to the public site. Here are some audiences you might consider.

  • Prospective students and their parents. Our students are inquisitive. The best of them won’t accept the official line or the carefully curated site. Give them the opportunity to discover what other wonderful things the College provides.
  • Current parents. While FERPA prevents us from providing individualized information about our students, parents still benefit from having access to many of the same documents our students can access, such as forms and handbooks.
  • Faculty and staff at other institutions. Grinnell regularly makes use of handouts, recommendations, and more from our peers. We owe it to them to make our similar materials available.
  • Prospective faculty members. These faculty members will be interested in the wide variety of resources the College provides.

While many offices have successfully hidden valuable material away on GrinCo [5], few have considered these audiences. Please take the time to do so. And, while you’re at it, consider adding a Creative Commons license.

Doesn’t that sound better?

What are things I’d move back to the public site? Here are a few examples.

  • Most of the documents in the CLS internship site. We used to have a CLS site that other institutions used for info. Now, that info is hidden. And it’s frustrating as a parent not to have access to information that might help your child.

  • Many of the materials on the Private Institute for Global Engagement site. Those materials serve many audiences. Prospective students can see what kinds of cool opportunities there are; not just traditional study-abroad programs, but also course-embedded travel. Prospective faculty can see the kinds of opportunities there are from faculty, such as participating in Grinnell in London, leading an ACM semester abroad, or teaching a course with embedded travel. And, once again, it’s frustrating as a parent not to have access to key information, such as the slide show that provides background information about GiL or the Grinnell in London handbook.

  • Most of the documents and policies on The Dean’s site, such as policies, procedures, and forms. In many cases, we developed those materials while relying on those of institutions. We have an ethical obligation to make those materials equivalently available [4].

  • Our class syllabi. Our faculty teach cool, innovative classes. It’s almost impossible to tell that from what is available to the public. There are a few exceptions, such as Erik Simpson’s Lighting the Page. But they are definitely the exceptions that prove the rule.

  • The Campus Memo and The Student Campus Memo [6,7]. The memos provide useful insight into the campus for a wide variety of audiences.

I was going to add The Grinnell Guide to Writing, Research and Speaking, which was first published only on GrinCo. However, I see it has now moved online.

The problem is that Communications now believes that is only for prospective students. Even though there was a promise at the time of the great Web purge that we’d soon have an alternative site, ITS seems unwilling to create and support that site and neither ITS nor Communications seem very enthusiastic about fulfilling their promise. So I’m not sure where materials would go to become more public, other than on the Math/CS server.

But you know what? If we really wanted to improve Grinnell’s reputation, we’d take the task of creating the alternate site seriously. The things you find casually can make a big positive difference in how you view an institution.

Postscript: Moving these things to a public Web site does come with some potential disadvantages. People across campus would probably have to pay broader attention to design. People across campus would certainly have to pay broader attention to accessibility. But those are good things. In addition, people might stumble upon things we don’t intend and learn negative things as well as positive. You know what? I still believe the net gain would outweigh the negatives. And, even with the current restrictions, we still manage to post things that we should not.

[1] Perhaps all faculty are on the mailing list. Perhaps I’m on it because I got listed as the administrator of some site. Perhaps I’m on it because I"m listed as a student supervisor. I’m not sure.

[2] Sorry, I can’t find a copy online. I see that it’s sent by Constant Contact. I tried forwarding a copy and even using the Subscribe Me! link [3], but no luck.

[3] Which was broken.

[4] I’ve lost track of how many years it’s been since I and others were promised that the College would find a public place for these materials as well as for the personal sites of staff, students, and faculty.

[5] Grinnell’s SharePoint site is I therefore refer to it as GrinCo. I’m still not sure why we can’t convince Microsoft that we should be or something else more reasonable. Perhaps we’re saving that for the public SharePointless site.

[6] I’d almost forgotten the memo. Then I realized that I referred to the primary memo in the first paragraph.

[7] I also discovered that the memos aren’t hidden on GrinCo. The links are on GrinCo but the memos themselves are elsewhere. I can’t find an obvious link to the memos on the primary Web site, so I can include them in the list of things that should be more public.

Version 0.9 of 2018-05-18.