A Case of Global Understanding

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THE PROBLEM IN DEPTH
The interests that combined in 1948 to form the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers (the origin of the NAFSA acronym) did so with the goal of promoting the professional development of American college and university officials responsible for serving the 25,000 foreign students who came to study in the United States after World War II. By 1964, NAFSA’s membership had expanded to include admissions personnel, ESL specialists, and community volunteers, and with that evolution came NAFSA’s first name change—to the National Association for Foreign Student Affairs. Over the next quarter century, NAFSA members continued to foster a global exchange of information and support services, and in 1990 they voted to rename the organization NAFSA: Association of International Educators.

According to Traugott, early versions of NAFSA’s website were "based on departmental divisions at the time" and delivered content that was organized to serve the diverse interests and responsibilities of its membership. Multiple microsites were dedicated to NAFSA’s five practice areas (dubbed "sections")—ADSEC (admissions), ATESL (for ESL administrators and teachers), CAFSS (for advisers to foreign students and scholars), COMSEC (community programming), and SECUSSA (for U.S. students abroad)—and to each of NAFSA’s 11 regions.

By 2003, NAFSA officials were considering an organizational restructuring that would better reflect and serve the professions it represented. A survey conducted a year earlier revealed that members considered the website to be one of the association’s least valuable products or services, so as the NAFSA leadership spent 2004 weighing the merits of a restructuring, they again surveyed members—this time with specific questions about the website’s limitations. The survey confirmed that user dissatisfaction was high. "Members were unhappy with the site’s navigation, which didn’t make sense except internally," Traugott explains. Making matters worse, "the search tool was unsophisticated and the content was often out-of-date, making it difficult for members to find what they needed to do their work." NAFSA personnel, meanwhile, were flummoxed by the site’s unwieldy CMS and time-consuming maintenance. "Someone would make a change," he says, "and the whole site would crash."

The bottom line, Traugott continues, is that both members and staff "had growing expectations of what websites could do and recognized that ours wasn’t state of the art." Taken together, the association’s likely restructuring, the obvious technological upgrades the site needed, and the minimal value members had ascribed to it made a redesign a no-brainer.

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