1Online at Copper Mountain College: a Comparison of Five Colleges Linda Deneher Boise State University
2 AbstractWith the steadily increasing availability of online curricula in California communitycolleges, it is necessary for educational institutions such as Copper Mountain CommunityCollege (CMC), to monitor the offerings of other schools in the state that are alsocompeting for the same student population. Features of the CMC Web site, in particularthose located on the home page, were compared with the identical features found at fourother community college campuses in California. These schools, Lake Tahoe CommunityCollege, Lassen Community College, Lemoore Community College, and WoodlandCommunity College, were chosen randomly from all California community colleges witha population of less than 5,000 students. Results of this evaluation found features uniqueto CMC that have a negative impact. The first is that the word count of their home page,including all menus and associated links, is 25 times higher than the total on the lowestschool observed, and three times higher than the total of the next closest school. Thesecond negative unique feature is that CMC is the only one of the five schools currentlyunable to register students online or provide online access to grades. In order to providean attractive, easy-to-use Internet portal, barriers to engagement with the website shouldbe eliminated. Necessary changes include restructuring the content on the CMChomepage so that essential information is not obscured. Adding online registration andaccess to grades will make CMC more attractive to students considering pursuing theireducation online. Introduction Copper Mountain Community College (CMC) is a junior college located inJoshua Tree, California. CMC is the only school in the Copper Mountain College district.The school offers degrees and certificates in Art, Automotive Technology, Business,Communications, Computer Information Systems, Computer Science, Fire Technology,Health Sciences, Liberal Arts, Mathematics, Sciences, Social Sciences, and Spanish. Courses include those which are fully online, hybrid, or web-enhanced, and aredelivered through Blackboard with a link on the CMC Web site. In the spring term of the2009 school year, enrollment at CMC was 2,233. During the 2008 – 2009 school year,200 of those students took asynchronous courses taught using the Internet. CMC’s Web site’s coverage of their online access to students through the portalof their Web site’s home page is being evaluated in relation to four other Californiacommunity colleges. These four schools, Lake Tahoe, Lassen, Lemoore, and Woodland,were randomly selected from the population of all California community colleges with astudent population less than 5,000. All five schools share the characteristic of serving asmall student population with a correspondingly small budget. Tables present information taken from each school’s Web site regardingaccessibility to online courses as represented by ease of navigation through each school’ssite, the quality of the directions, the overall appearance, the ability to take applications,register students, provide grades, and course schedules online. The evaluation discoveredthat of the five colleges, CMC is the only one without online access for students toregistration and grades.
3 Program Description Online courses, like all courses offered at CMC, are available to anyone who isover age 18 or has graduated from high school. The college runs on the semester systemwith Fall, Spring, and Summer sessions comprising the school year. Courses may betaken for credit in preparation for a degree or certificate, or may be non-credit coursesintended to advance personal growth. All students are required to apply online andassessment is done online through Accuplacer. A face-to-face orientation is required forall new students. Access to online content takes place through students’ use of the CMC Web site.The CMC Web site is maintained by their Marketing Department, and the changes thatwill result from the findings of this evaluation are intended to increase functionality ofthe Web site and enrollment in online courses. Evaluation Method The colleges selected for comparison with CMC are all similar sizes. Largercommunity colleges have larger budgets, and are able to provide a higher level ofservices than the smaller schools. Their Web sites are correspondingly moresophisticated. The four California community colleges tabled below with CMC wererandomly selected from the population of all California community colleges with astudent population less than 5,000. Population statistics were located at the Web page forthe California Community College’s Chancellor’s Office, Divisions, Technical Researchand Information, Management Information Systems, Data Mart and Reports. Table 1. Comparison of Student Population during the 2009 Spring Term The websites to be compared with CMC shall be thoroughly examined by theevaluator. Entry will be gained through each site’s home page and navigation willproceed according to the way links are arranged and connected on each site. Data will becollected through direct observation of each page, described in detail, and summarized ina table allowing for the comparison of common features. They will be identified throughsearches for information, text as well as links, regarding accessibility to the entire sitewhile noting the quality of the directions, and the overall appearance of each home page.Information gathered will show whether or not they are able to accept online applications,register students, provide grades for completed courses, and course schedules.
4 Results of the Observation of Each SiteCMC:Navigation: Several features of the site cause difficulties regarding navigation. The drop-down menus close themselves if they are being changed at the same time a slide changesin the slideshow. A link to Blackboard is located near the bottom of the home page. Themisalignment of several of the slide out links results in some selections beinginaccessible from these menus. Clicking the link for Students/What do I Need to KnowAbout an Online Class? redirects users to the home page.Directions: Sparse. Getting copies of grades requires that students download and print aform, fill it out, and fax it to CMC. The directions do not mention that the student needsto first fill out the form.Appearance: There is so much information contained on the home page that it is difficultto locate essential information, such as accessing registration information and access togrades. Items duplicated in other section of the site further distract attention fromessential information. There are inconsistent font colors in all sidebar menus.Usability: Online Application: Yes Online Registration: No Online Access to Grades: No Online Schedules: YesLake TahoeNavigation: there is a large slideshow containing photographs including areas offcampus, and this school is the only one to have non-campus locations featured. Thisfocus on the surrounding area may be an effective recruitment tool in promotingattendance at Lake Tahoe.Directions: the top navigation bar contains a prominent a link to Web Services forsubmitting an online application, or chat with a counselor. The Web Services page has a
5concise table with links to online services, but has spacing errors in its text. Theapplication instructions page uses red text, red background in a cautionary box, both boldand underlining making for an unfriendly feel to the page.Appearance: there is no consistent palette of colors used in text or backgrounds. Theslideshow runs too fast to be seen easily, and is a distraction at that speed.Usability: Online Application: Yes Online Registration: Yes Online Access to Grades: Yes Online Schedules: yes, also searchable. They can be mailed, if requested.LassenNavigation: this site has the most functional navigation. One large, prominent link givesaccess to WebAdvisor for schedules, searching and registration, and grades.Directions: enrolment process is a PDF download and the instructions are unhelpful.Appearance: this site is attractive. The slideshow is on the right side of the screen and isless distracting than the one at CMCUsability: Online Application: Yes Online Registration: Yes Online Access to Grades: Yes Online Schedules: Yes
6Lemoore:Navigation: dropdown menus at the top are easy to utilize; but the 55 links on the homepage makes rapid navigation difficult for the novice user. This site has the only stoppableslideshow.Directions: the online enrollment page has a sidebar menu showing all the steps at once,which is very convenient for first time users.Appearance: the large number of links on the home page distracts from essentialinformation.Usability: Online Application: Yes Online Registration: Yes Online Access to Grades: Yes Online Schedules: Yes
7Woodland:Navigation: a dropdown menu is available that contains a link with the text “Apply now!”Directions: there are application and online orientation links on the home page. A link forwebsite suggestions makes the site feel approachable.Appearance: this page is attractive; there are two unchanging photographs of the campuswith flowers.Usability: Online Application: Yes Online Registration: Yes Online Access to Grades: Yes Online Schedules: Yes Discussion The purpose of this evaluation is to guide the choices and direction of CopperMountain as it improves its Web site and its ability to provide services to its students thatare similar in nature and quality with other small, California community colleges. Thefollowing similarities and differences in services were found when comparing CMC toLake Tahoe, Lassen, Lemoore, and Woodland Community College. As seen in the table below, CMC is the only school observed which is notcurrently registering students online or providing access to the grades. CMC does notmail grades to students. To get access to grades without going to the campus, studentsmust go online and locate the PDF of the correct form. Then they need to print, complete,and sign it, and fax it to the school. The other four schools have registration and gradesprovided by third-party providers.
8 Apply Register Grades Schedules Copper Mountain Yes No No Yes Lake Tahoe Yes Yes Yes Yes Lassen Yes Yes Yes Yes Lemoore Yes Yes Yes Yes Woodland Yes Yes Yes Yes Several things hamper usability on the site. The amount of information containedon the CMC home page is excessive and much of it is superfluous. It is difficult to locateessential information. None one of the other schools evaluated had as much text on theirhome page as CMC. The word count for the home page, consisting of the home pages’text plus all the text contained in home page menus, for CMC is 5,347, compared toLassen at 1,613, Lemoore with 439, Woodland’s 392 and Lake Tahoe with a sparse 188.The large amount on information contained on the CMC home page stands outsignificantly in the chart below, and may indicate that a change in the home page couldbenefit by the removal of duplicated and non-essential items. In the following images ofthe home pages, it can be seen that the level of visual organization is less apparent atCMC than the others. Other findings include that navigation CMC requires more steps to use comparedto all other schools. The home page has a navigation bar at the top of the page with dropdown menus which all close by themselves when the image in the slideshow changes.The side menus have slide out links that are difficult to keep open which also hindersnavigation. Directions on the CMC site require more steps to access that other schools,again hampered by the drop down and slide out menus that close themselves. Theappearance of the menus, in particular those on the left side the pages, is inconsistent.Font colors within this menu are inconsistent and appear to be unrelated to the content ofeach colored selection. The link to the schedule is particularly well done. It is centrallylocated, marked, and the image is of good quality. Recommendations include the following: get registration and grades online,reduce the amount of text on the home page, repair the navigation links, make theschedule searchable, and reduce the size and number of images in the slideshow. Sinceuse of the home page is limited by the closing of the navigation links when the images
9change in the slideshow, this must be fixed. The large size of the slideshow windowforces users to scroll down each page for essential information, further limiting use of theCMC home page. The graphics themselves are commendable, and the site would benefitby use elsewhere. Timeline of Evaluator ResponsibilitiesThe evaluator shall perform the following during Week One: in a random manner, locate four California community colleges with a student population size similar to CMC examine the home page of each site determine significant features of the sites and their home pagesThe evaluator shall perform the following during Week Two: compare features of each site and determine significant characteristics compare significant characteristics noting outstanding features report all finding and results in written form on or before the specified due date of December 8, 2009 Project CostEvaluator’s salary: four days at $500.00 per day/$2,000.00Computer access: four days at $100.00 per day/$400.00Printing: $49.95Subtotal: $2,449.95California sales tax: 8.25% of $2,449.95/ $296.93Total: $2,746,88Payable in full is required upon receipt of the final report. All sales are final. No refunds.
10 ReferencesCopper Mountain Community College. www.cmccd.eduLake Tahoe Community College. www.ltcc.edLassen Community College. www.lassencollege.eduLemoore Community College. www.westhillscollege.com/lemoore/index.phpWoodland Community College. www.yccd.edu/woodlandCalifornia Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office.https://misweb.cccco.edu/mis/onlinestat/studdemo_coll_cube.cfm