Doctor of Philosophy in Information Systems

Webpage Redesign

As an Information Systems Assistant with the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, I was responsible for redesigning the IS department's doctoral program webpage. I reported to an associate professor  and collaborated with several other faculty members.
 

The design challenge was to improve usability and update content to better promote the PhD program online. The solution included a prototyping process informed by usability research, stakeholder input and survey feedback.

Brainstorming

Before building any wireframes or mockups, I sketched some rough design ideas out on paper to incorporate various design elements and layouts I had come across during a competitive analysis of similar graduate program websites.

Survey

Feedback was solicited from target users in the form of an email survey, which included four multiple choices questions and three open-ended questions. There were 24 respondents whose input informed the direction of the webpage redesign.

1. What position do you currently hold at UMBC?

​            Faculty 

            Staff

            Student

            Alumni

2. What information should be emphasized on the webpage? (you may select more than one)

​            Admission requirements

            Program requirements

            Faculty research highlights

            Current and graduated student profiles

4. What current issue should be prioritized

​            Not clearly organized

            Too much text

            Interface issues (color, font size, etc.)

            Does not convey program's unique nature

            Other (please specify)

5. In your own words, what makes the IS doctoral program at UMBC especially unique? ​           

3. What part(s) of the webpage requires improvement? (you may select more than one)

​            Not clearly organized

            Too much text

            Interface issues (color, font size, etc.)

            Does not convey program's unique nature

            Other (please specify)

6. List a few questions you would like to see in a brand new Frequently Asked Questions section.

7. Do you have any other suggestions on how to
improve the current webpage? Please explain.

The following is a portion of the survey response data we collected:

  • 69% of respondents thought the pre-existing webpage contained too much text

  • 65% thought the pre-existing webpage did not convey the unique nature of the Information Systems doctoral program

  • 62% thought admission requirements should be emphasized

  • 26% thought the overwhelming amount of text should be prioritized in the redesign

  • 26% thought the lack of faculty and student research highlights should be prioritized

Updating Content

After exploring the possibility of a complete overhaul of the webpage, we settled on keeping the University's current header and sidebar menu for consistency purposes and ease of implementation for the website administrator.

 

We knew from survey feedback that the text-heavy content needed to be reorganized and presented in a more user-friendly manner. Along with those considerations, it was important to avoid making the site too busy when viewed within the current framework and color scheme of the page.

BEFORE

AFTER

The Ph.D. program offered by the Department of Information Systems is a research degree program. The program is designed for students with a bachelor’s or master’s degree from a variety of disciplines. However, additional courses may be required based on the student’s educational history. The doctoral program is intended for serious students who desire to make significant scientific research contributions to the field of Information Systems. Students are admitted to the Ph.D. degree program in the Fall and Spring semesters. While course work is required, it is important to understand that satisfactorily completing course work is not the goal of a doctoral program. A doctoral candidate is required to produce a publishable doctoral dissertation based upon the candidate’s original research. The dissertation must necessarily advance the body of scientific knowledge that underlies the discipline of Information Systems.


Consequently, it is essential for doctoral candidates to develop a rapport and mutual interests with a member of the faculty. It is expected that doctoral students develop their own research agenda or become intensely involved with a faculty member’s research. The latter may include assisting a professor in planning and conducting research as well as analyzing the results.


A critical component of a doctoral candidate’s development is the dissemination of scientific information. Doctoral candidates are routinely expected to author by themselves or co-author with their professors and fellow students scholarly papers for submission to scientific journals and conference proceedings. Doctoral candidates should also be prepared to present these research results at various national and international conferences.


For students enrolled before fall 2016, they should complete the course requirements* and comprehensive exam by the end of their sixth semester in the PhD program. Normal progress, as illustrated below, would result in both the course requirements and comprehensive review being completed during the fifth semester of study. In the case of medical or other unexpected situations, students may petition the Graduate Committee of the Information Systems Department for an extension that would allow the completion of these requirements to be delayed beyond the sixth semester.


For students enrolled in fall 2016 or after, they should finish the comprehensive exam by the end of their second year (e.g., if the student first enrolled in the program in Fall 2016, Spring 2018 is the last semester to take the comprehensive) in the program. Students are encouraged to take the comprehensive exam earlier if possible. Students are allowed to finish course requirement at the same semester when they take the exam. If a student fails to finish comprehensive exam within the allowed time, each semester beyond the allowed time will be considered as a failed attempt. In the case of medical or other unexpected situations, students may petition the Graduate Committee of the Information Systems Department for one-semester extension for up to two times. To ask for an extension, a student needs to submit a written request with reasons of why the extension is needed to the student’s mentor and GPD by July 1st for fall (the last semester the student supposes to take the exam) and December 1st for spring. The student also needs to send to the GPD and mentor a dossier summarizing the student’s progress in the program (the dossier includes the same items as the first year dossier). The student’s mentor will state whether they support the request and forward that to GPD. The graduate committee will then decide whether to approve the request based on the student’s written request, whether the study has made satisfactory progress in the program, and the mentor’s input. If a request is denied, the student has to take the exam before the deadline. If a student takes the exam but fails for the first time, the student is allowed to retake the exam in the next semester without asking for an extension.


The deadlines for the Ph.D. Program are February 1 for Fall and September 1 for Spring. All application materials must be on file in the IS department for expeditious review – incomplete files will be kept open for the following semester admission decisions.

What used to be a single webpage has been reorganized into three subpages so that information is presented in more digestible chunks. These redesigned subpages (along with two new feature content pages) can be navigated using the local menu now present beneath the program title.
 

Additionally, the introductory statement atop the Admission Requirements page was crafted from responses to survey question #5.

New Content

Our Doctoral Students

This student profile page addresses the need for more research highlights and also a renewed emphasis on what makes the program unique. Students were invited to share a little bit about themselves by answering the following questions:
 

  • What was your background before entering the IS PhD program?

  • What are your current research areas?

  • What do you like best about the IS PhD program at UMBC?

  • After graduation, what is next for you?
     

Student responses and photographs were used to create this new student-focused feature.

Frequently Asked Questions

A broad list of FAQ topics was compiled from survey question #6 and refined with faculty input. Then we sent out an additional survey asking users to pick their favorite inquiries from a designated list to be included in the final version of the FAQ. Answers were drafted for those top picks and presented in a scrollable question-answer format.

Admission Requirements