Peering Through the Portal

By Middlebury Campus

About one year ago, the College launched a new site — ‘go/portal’ — in order to aggregate information about events and activities on campus. The initiative aimed to provide a single, comprehensive resource for students, many of who were tired of their inboxes being inundated daily with all-student emails from various clubs and organizations. One year later, we ask ourselves how successful ‘go/portal’ has been, and how we as students can communicate more effectively with each other and with the College itself.

In essence, ‘go/portal’ is only valuable to the extent that students use it, and, unfortunately, it has largely failed to engage a majority of the student body thus far. Through advertising campaigns, Library Information Services (LIS) and the Student Government Administration (SGA) have been working hard to spread the word about the resource and increase the site’s traffic; despite their efforts, many students remain unenthused or unaware.

The initial failure of ‘go/portal’ does not reflect the site’s content or quality. Certainly, the page offers information that is relevant to all students — from current dining hall menus to events calendars to links to BannerWeb. The site also caters to students with various interests by posting, for example, scores from the most recent sports games, as well as upcoming performances in the arts. Students can customize their own portal sites too, choosing which links are most important to them. There is even a dining hall menu app available for your phone.

What, then, explains the site’s less-than-stellar debut? One explanation is simply that it may take more time for the practice to catch on. While ‘go/portal’ has not been as widely used as many had hoped, it is possible that more students will visit the site in the years to come as it becomes more ingrained in the student body’s mindset and incoming first-year classes are told about the resource during orientation. In addition, aggregating information in one place may prove most valuable to underclassmen, who are still exploring a variety of organizations and activities on campus and deciding which interest them. Upperclassmen, on the other hand, have most likely already identified the groups and gatherings they prefer and see little need to use the site to plan their social lives.

So, if ‘go/portal’ is not the primary resource for accessing social information on campus, how do students find out about the College’s events and activities? Often, existing platforms that we frequently access, such as email and Facebook, are effective in spreading the word about an upcoming event or activity planned by a student group. The Middlebury College Activities Board (MCAB), for example, maintains an up-to-date Facebook page that highlights events on campus. As many students are already on these platforms throughout the day, the College should not shy away from using them to make announcements and share information. While we appreciate the decrease of clutter in our inboxes as a result of ‘go/portal,’ all-student emails, as noted in the Campus’ editorial in January of last year, remain the most effective way to share information with the maximum number of students, and a few more would most likely be welcomed.

In addition, “old-fashioned” communication methods, such as hanging posters, still work effectively. Students can often be found in the hallway outside Proctor, for example, looking at the flyers that fill the message board; the large winter term calendar currently hanging in Proctor is a successful method of mass communication. Traditional means of journalism also remain relevant. The Addison Independent, for example, maintains a comprehensive calendar of local events on its website. On campus, student publications including MiddBlog and the Campus itself enjoy wide circulation.

Student groups are experimenting with new forms of sharing information as well. WRMC, the College’s radio station, is launching a new website soon and is working to incorporate more programming focused on student activities on campus. We as members of the Campus editorial board are also committed to communicating in more engaging ways — increasing the photos, videos and audio content offered on our website to tell stories in the best way possible.

When you take a step back, it appears that information is being shared, though perhaps not through the channels formally established by the College. Still, some students lament the fact that “nothing is going on” on campus. For those who complain, we place the onus on you. Check the message boards in McCullough and Proctor. Take the time to read the few all-student emails you receive. Go to an event you wouldn’t normally attend with a new group of friends. If nothing on the calendar excites you, plan your own party. During winter term especially, there is extra free time and exciting activities we can all take advantage of. As adults, we should not require the College to hand us a schedule for everything we do, so take a stake in your own social life. Finally, though the responsibility of ensuring a vibrant social scene does not fall solely on the shoulders of the College, the administration has provided a valuable resource nonetheless; take the initiative to visit ‘go/portal’ — you may be surprised at what you find.

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