Blog: noun (s). A child that feeds on all your time, energy, and resources, but will never love you back (or pay into your retirement fund).
I accepted Joel’s offhanded invitation to take over the blog in the academic counselling waiting room two years ago on a whim. I thought to myself, “I’m in FIMS; I took Compsci 1000; how hard can it be?” Besides, the website was hosted by WordPress. Who didn’t have an embarrassing wordpress Blog in high school with an edgy title and a default theme?
Boy, was I in for a surprise.
I remember the first blog meeting I had with Adam Helmers, former Managing editor and computer whiz extraordinaire; we met in the side office in the Weldon Library’s SASAH room, and he showed me the Dinosaur that was the SASAH Blog. It looked disused, outdated, clunky, uninviting, and very difficult to navigate. Its skeletal structure had been patched together in years past like some haphazardly assembled Frankensteinian creation. It had a cut-and-paste basic theme (Boston), and most importantly, it was static rather than dynamic (which means it had certain information pages, but it didn’t really have sections for ongoing, fresh content). There was no indication of any uniform concept to the blog, let alone a mission statement or statement of purpose for the blog or the program. There was no student submissions portal, and the site did little to explain what SASAH was to the growing groups of outsiders and prospective students who continually ask what SASAH is. We had no sense of what the Blog’s purpose/mission statement should be, but that day, Adam and I decided that we would roll up our sleeves, excavate this relic, and, applying our complimentary knowledge bases–his in coding, mine in design and marketing–smooth out the kinks until it was an integrated staple in SASAH students’ interdisciplinary and cooperative learning modules.
I remember I said to Adam that we needed to create a mission statement:
The SASAH Blog is a multi-pronged, digital platform designed for SASAH students to continue thought-provoking class discussions, to apply their SASAH learning to the world around them, and to respond, react and interact with the creative and academic creations from the greater SASAH community: on campus, in the community, and abroad. It is for SASAH students, and by SASAH students, and was built to uphold student-initiated innovation, development, and adaptation over time.
The SASAH Blog fulfills three key functions:
- It tightens the bond between past, current, and future SASAH students by showcasing all SASAH students’ academic, professional, community, and international accomplishments in one place
- It gives SASAH students a platform for their critical reflections, creative expressions, and social commentaries
- It promotes the SASAH program to prospective SASAH students
Once we crafted this cornerstone statement, I went through the site with a critical eye, and pointed out navigational and internal organisational structures that would help current students feel at home on the site. That started with updating the Student and faculty bios, creating a page for Alumni, and, most significantly, creating a page where students could showcase, view, and respond to their reflective, independent, and creative projects. Publishing student assignments online was very important to us was because of SASAH’s mentorship and community structure; just as each first year student is paired with an experienced and supportive fourth year, the ability to explore projects and achievements of past SASAH students may also serve as a form of guidance and mentorship and thus inspire new SASAH-ites to create of their own SASAH experiences, go on exchange, apply for the Rhodes, attend a Speaker’s series, or even just dive into their readings. Ideally, the blog would become a space where students flock to to continue connections, discussions and debates with their peers outside the classroom. We also thought that if students published their assignments online, it might encourage more parental and familial readership of the blog and strengthen SASAH’s ties with Western parents.
We have changed the website many times since that first meeting as new ideas and new student needs come to the forefront: students needed guidelines for their submissions; SASAH students needed a widget plugin to keep track of Faculty events; I even redefined the basic navigational structure of the site many times, each time with the hopes of making the site clearer, more useful and more user friendly–I continued my study of website design and usability in MIT’s web design course, in Compsci 2033, and I even took a UX and UI workshops that Summer from Bitmaker. These courses helped me understand how to make the use of a site feel like second nature, where to put key information, and even basic font and colour theory. Later that semester, I used what I learned to design the SASAH Blog logo, which includes selecting the fonts and colours that best communicate our mission statement and accurately reflect SASAH’s distinction and history of academic excellence, complimented by its interdisciplinary readiness to reinvigorate teaching styles, classrooms, and even grading modules to stay cutting edge.
Once the website basics were done (even though there are always small, moving pieces such as uploading the profiles for each incoming and graduating class), the site was up and fully functional, and already receiving submissions by the dozens from students and from excited professors. As the posts came streaming in, the two of us realised we needed to grow our team. We wanted to offer something that students from every year would benefit from: money. Just kidding, course credit. Kidding again. We designed positions that would allow for upward mobility for second, third and fourth years; first years could be encouraged to attend more faculty events under the position title of “SASAH Journalist”; artistic and technologically-inclined students could practice their graphic design skills by creating original logos for events, posts, and learning the basic rules of copyrights and royalties on the web; students thinking about working in editing or publishing can boast practical experience working in an online publishing platform, with the opportunity to train in these skillsets from myself and Adam. We created job descriptions for each of these positions and created work study positions on the working at western portal. At one point, we had 4 members of our team and a dynamic google drive documenting our assignments roster week by week. We now have a partnership with Western’s official social media team, who boosts our content to the greater Western and Alumni community. With this rapid growth of our humble publications, we still need help.
By this term, YOU could join our team of online publications staff, united in our common goal to reflect on, immortalise, and celebrate the interdisciplinary learning of our intelligent, talented, and hardworking SASAH students.