Red River College is the province’s largest post-secondary institution for diploma and certificate programs. In the 2011/12 academic year, the College had 9,135 students enrolled in full-time programs, 16,530 part-time registrations, and 3,408 apprenticeship students.
Not surprisingly, the college’s website generates a significant amount of web traffic on a daily basis from staff, students, prospective students, industry and employers and the general public. Looking at a snapshot of the last 3 months, the RRC website had almost 200,000 unique visitors viewing more than a million web pages.
To help the college get a glimpse of what’s going on, Research and Planning uses tools like Google Analytics as well as other web analytic tools to help understand what pages people are looking at, how they discover the website, and how long they stay.
The Wellness Blog: A Case Study
While there are many ways that web analytics are used to understand the RRC website, one interesting case study has been using these tools to get a better understanding of the College’s blogs – particularly the Wellness blog.
The Wellness blog was created in January 2012 to provide a collaborative communication hub for the Wellness Committee, other wellness stakeholders at the college, and for staff and students. Over the past fifteen months, the blog has featured 130 posts from twenty-five authors on topics ranging from recipes and recreational activities to meditation and mental health.
Along the way Google Analytics has been used to help answer three main questions:
- Who is visiting the blog?
- What drives traffic to the blog?
- What posts are people reading?
What makes a great campus? For some, a great campus is defined by the quality of the learning spaces – including the way the space is designed, the availability of learning technology, and the overall functionality of the space. For others, the quality of one’s workspace is key, as many people want (need) a safe and ergonomically designed environment, with sufficient spaces to interact with others and/or to work without distraction.
Of course there are many other components that contribute to a great campus environment, ranging from the spaces where we support students, to campus services like cafeterias, retail spaces, and parking lots. Internal and external public spaces also come into play, from the ability to meet and interact in hallways or to gather in other social spaces with students or colleagues. At some campuses, the green spaces outside are also vitally important, as is the connection to the local community of shops, businesses, and industry.
The Campus Master Plan
The “document” that helps a college plan tasks like designing quality learning and workspaces, creating new buildings, making the campus easy to navigate, planning for transportation services, and attending to the greenspaces is called a Campus Master Plan. The consultation process that led to the development of the current Strategic Plan (2012-2015) recognized campus planning as a vital task for addressing these issues, and as a result, identified it as a strategic action.
Newly designed learning space for Culinary Arts students at the Patterson GlobalFoods Institute
The “atrium” at the Roblin Centre – Exchange District Campus (EDC)
As noted above, a Campus Master Plan needs to consider many things. It needs to take into account the communities and neighborhoods that surround the College, the transportation systems that serve the College, the infrastructure (for example, water and electrical), the landscape, how the buildings are located, the likely growth of the College, how the College community interacts, and where new buildings should go. It also needs to consider sustainability issues – social, economic, and environmental – in the use of materials and design of spaces. This is continuing with the tradition set in the design of other recent RRC buildings such as HETC and the Patterson GlobalFoods Institute. The theme of diversity and community are also important, as the College spaces need to appeal to a very diverse student body who literally make the campus their “home” while they are studying.
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The Staff Survey is used to help support the People Plan and a variety of other stakeholders from across the College – including the Wellness Committee (see the FAQs about the Staff Survey post for more info).
Before wading into the data, I should disclose that I have been a member of the Wellness Committee since December 2008 and recently became a co-chair over the past year. So while I’m presenting the data-driven side of the story, many of the insights are drawn from having applied these findings as part of the Committee’s activities.
The Road Map
The staff survey was first used to gather wellness-related feedback back in February 2009, and it has been used many times since to explore and understand a variety of topics including:
- Understanding how staff define “Wellness” and “being healthy”,
- Identifying and prioritizing the strategies that the Wellness Committee should pursue,
- Gauging the types of wellness activities that people currently participate in and those which they’d like to do more of,
- Conducting market research on the effectiveness of Wellness events and activities – such as the Chili Cup and the Wellness blog,
- Developing some baseline measures to gauge people’s personal sense of wellness and the social/environmental conditions that could potentially improve it.
Part 1 is going to tackle the first two items on the list.
What constitutes wellness?
As a starting point, the Wellness Committee wanted to get a better understanding of how staff define “being healthy” to see whether there was a dominant definition to help guide the committee’s activities. Not surprisingly, the definitions of “being healthy” covered a broad spectrum of ideas – including physical health, recreation and athletics; mental and emotional health and stress relief; and spiritual well-being.
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Why does the College have a Staff Survey?
Using staff surveys to gather feedback is a common practice. Typically, staff surveys are conducted as a census administered by an external consultant once every few years. Prior to 2008, RRC also used this method. The downside to this approach is that the information is less responsive to immediate needs and changes within an organization, and the emphasis is more likely to be on tracking measures and benchmarks rather than process improvement.
When the People Plan initiative was created in 2008 as outlined in the Strategic Plan (2008-2011), RRC’s Director of Research and Planning, Ashley Blackman, suggested a monthly survey model similar to one that he had helped develop while working for the private sector. This monthly staff survey was primarily meant to inform and support the People Plan initiative, while also providing a valuable feedback tool for a range of other College business areas and committees. The monthly survey contains both benchmarks for tracking change over time and monthly topical question to help address more immediate issues. The staff survey is now in its fifth year, with over 2,515 surveys completed to date.
Are my responses confidential?
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