It is a commonplace practice nowadays for people to enroll in online colleges or universities to earn a degree or a diploma without the hassle of commuting and being physically present in schools. Online schools also allow students greater flexibility by letting them work at their own schedules and pace. Among the myriad of reasons for choosing an online college, one of the most important is the school's web site. There are many elements of a good web site that the online college must possess to make the students' studying as seamless and convenient as possible. A web site that does not provide all the information needed by students is a hindrance for making the e-learning work successfully.
Similar to the regular schools, an online college must have cutting edge technology to satisfy the high level of expectations from its students. The online colleges are equipped with many functions and information to aid the students in their research, assignment and coursework completion, among others. However, online colleges’ web sites are sometimes not user-friendly because the persons who designed them are not properly trained in web designing, or if they are, their training is inadequate. As a result, the web site has the information but the design discourages visitors from using the site or it frustrates students for a host of reasons.
The e-TQM College is one of the many online colleges that depends on its staff for the design of its site. Barbee (2004) states that based on web design leaders, a good website is founded on four basic elements, which are content, consistency, control, and corroboration. Under these four elements are sub-categories that further describe how a good web site should work. This paper would analyze if e-TQM College meets all of the four tenets of a good website. This paper will also identify if there are weaknesses in the website compared with five online colleges. From the perceived weaknesses, recommendations will be provided to strengthen the observed flaws in order to make the school more competitive by providing the users a more meaningful web experience.
The e-TQM College contains information from its academic programs to continuing education. To determine whether the content can be considered good, it must satisfy these conditions:
- content must be relevant to users' requirements,
- acceptable page download time,
- every page must have a meaningful and different title,
- content must not be outdated, and
- a date must appear on each page.
The e-TQM page's information are all relevant to students and prospective students' needs. It has information about the school, its undergraduate and graduate programs, the admission and registration process and requirements and the e-learning program. Although there are course descriptions for undergraduate and graduate courses, the e-learning initiative doesn't have a detailed information about its offerings. The site only provided a background and overview of the program.
Online materials should be presented in a well organized and attractive manner. At e-TQM, the courses are difficult to find. There are no buttons that would point the user to the list of programs without having to go through a lot of links. In the Athabasca University's website, when you click the Programs button, you will be directed to the list of courses, with links connecting to related topics. For most of the pages, the download time is within the 10-second frame. Some pages, however, takes longer to download, which could cause students and visitors to feel irritated. In terms of unique and relevant titles for each page, the e-TQM web pages satisfy this condition. As for how current the content in each page is, the viewer won't be able to determine if it's outdated or not because there are no date per page.
While it is ideal to have as much information in the website as possible, it does not help the visitor when there are too many information to choose from. This could provide confusion and discourage the visitor from going back to the site. A student could get lost in the site because the arrangement of topics is a little cluttered. For instance, under the About Us section is a sub-section for Licensure and Accreditation. However, the same sub-section appears in the Admission and Registration section. Both of the sub-sections contain the same information.
The Site Map is also not exhaustive. As an example, the Library section is not found in the section. The library is a very important resource for an online student and must be easily found on the site. The Athabasca University has Library in its main navigation bar, which implies that this school understands the importance of providing its students with resources like books and journals. e-TQM's library resources has a good design but it opens in another window and the visitor has to have prior knowledge of its location among the website's sections.
Also, the library does not have a search function, which is highly surprising considering that there are probably thousands of information inside it. Without a search function, the person using the library should know the exact title of the book or journal he is looking for. The Athabasca University's library has a search function that lets students search from a particular database or from the library's catalogue.
As a website providing educational services, the textual content should be free from formatting and grammar errors. However, there are pages with formatting and grammar errors. These things could erode a student's confidence in the school. Moreover, the titles and the text that follow them have no spaces in between. There should at least be a single space after a title to avoid giving the content a cramped look.
Consistency refers to fonts, colors, text, icons, graphics and animation. As a website for higher learning, e-TQM should adhere to the strictest web design protocols to avoid giving the website a non-professional look. Too many colors would lend an air of informality, a characteristic that a school must avoid. Fonts and text style should also be chosen with care to facilitate reader friendliness. Graphics and animation should be kept minimal since littering the site with unnecessary drawings would distract the users from the site's usefulness.
e-TQM uses a black font in white background for the general content. It uses a dark blue font against a sky blue background for its local navigation toolbar. For its tier 1 navigation, e-TQM uses blue font against a white background, while for its tier 2 navigation, it uses white font against a green background. The titles for each textual content is in blue. Generally, professional websites should only use two to three colors. Just like the American InterContinental University, which uses black, blue and white. The consistency of colors makes the site easier to look at. The green background in e-TQM hurts the eyes.
The website's main content is located in the middle of the page while the toolbar icons are mostly located to the left of the page. To the right side of the page is an icon that would connect the user to a live support. However, other than that icon, there's nothing else on the right-most side of the panel. This gives an impression of imbalance in the page since the left portion has all of the other links. The home page, however, has the same buttons but the right side section has not been mostly blank. There are other displays in the home section that balances the display. Comparing the placement of icons with other online college websites like Kaplan University or the University of Phoenix, the icons on these websites are located on one side not on both. Inside the pages of these other websites, about one-third of the page is used for the icons while the rest are filled with text.
The e-TQM site has been minimal in the use of graphics and no animation, which is a good point for the school. Other good online colleges have also have used minimal graphics but there are also animations. The University of Phoenix uses flash animation on its banner to make the front page come alive. Looking at the home page of Ellis University, the visitor would be struck by the sophistication of the design, from header, banner to navigation bars.
Another consideration in gauging the site's consistency is on the use of the school name or logo on every page and the presence of the Home link. e-TQM satisfies this condition. What only changes when a user goes from one section to another is the content. The toolbars are all present. Even the banner remains constant, which is monotonous and unappealing. Although too much graphics would make the site look cluttered, keeping the banners the same for every page is keeping the design too simple and unimaginative.
Control is another characteristic of a good online college website. This refers to the site's overall layout, the navigation tools, the location of information, the links, communication and search capabilities (Madden, 1999).
The e-TQM website follows a simple layout with minimal graphics and no animation on pages other than the home page. The school's name and logo are located at the upper left side of the panel with the tier 1 navigation containing the contact information. The tier 2 navigation bar contains buttons for different types of learners, the faculty and staff, alumni, and visitors. For the local navigation, the different sections can be found. e-TQM's local navigation provides drop down menus that display the sub-sections under it.
For instance, if a user will go inside the academic programs link, a list of the school's offerings will be displayed with annotation. The course title is clickable and inside the link is a course description and other pertinent information. In other websites, each course description comes with other links that would provide more information about the program. At Kaplan University, the bottom of the course page has a quick link button that a prospective student can click in order to apply for the course. This is absent in any of e-TQM's course pages.
In relation to the consistency of the navigational features, some of e-TQM's links open in other windows and not on the current one. There are also dead links in the site, like the e-mail links for the faculty. The contact information for the faculty member is very important for students to get in touch with the teachers. The e-mail links would also allow parents, visitors and prospective students to make inquiries. In other websites, the e-mail addresses of the faculty and staff are clearly written.
The search capability of the e-TQM website is not functional. In the main page, the search button would give an error message when used. Even inside the services that require the search function, like in the e-Library, this functionality is absent. All of the other five websites being compared to e-TQM have the search capability buttons that are working properly. Not only are these websites' search functions working on the home page but also in other pages that require them. Looking for a particular book or resource material would only require the user to type in a part of the title. In a few seconds, the user would know whether the material is available or not.
Another important feature that an online college website must have is a chat system so that students and teachers can have conversations in real time. e-TQM doesn't have this kind of capability on its site. The other sites allow for chat rooms with links appearing on the course interface. The University of Phoenix has a community button wherein students, alumni and faculty can use to communicate and exchange ideas. Inside the online community is a link for the alumni to meet and talk in Facebook and links where students, faculty and alumni can talk in MySpace. There are also videos in YouTube that features University of Phoenix students and teachers.
Corroboration is another important element of a good website. It is an often overlooked information and thought unnecessary by some. Corroboration refers to the contact details, the copyright information, and the last date of revision. Many sites do not have any of these items, which are very necessary to establish the website's credibility. The site's visitors would keep on changing, meaning, every one of them must be convinced that he is dealing with a legitimate school.
The e-TQM website has a contact information that contains e-mail addresses of persons to be contacted for inquiries. However, the e-mail addresses when clicked do not open in the same page. If you are using Mozilla or another browser, the e-mail link would bring you to Internet Explorer and would require the user to login to a yahoo account. In other websites, like the one in the American Intercontinental University, a mail-to form is provided so that the user can immediately write his comments and questions without having to open a personal e-mail account.
e-TQM has a copyright information on its pages but it lacks the last revision date on its site. The other websites also have copyright information but only Athabasca University has the last updated information on its site. With information like this one, the user would know that the school is continually monitoring its site and does it in a meticulous and fastidious manner.