EDITORIAL PAGES – Congrats Voice Contest Winners; Revised Voice Website Coming Soon; Are You Graduating In June?; Sounding Off

April 9, 2003

EDITORIAL PAGES – Congrats Voice Contest Winners; Revised Voice Website Coming Soon; Are You Graduating In June?; Sounding Off

CONGRATULATIONS VOICE CONTEST WINNERS!

The recent Voice contest was a great success. Many readers entered and shared their ideas for a new, improved Voice. Your input has been invaluable in the revision of the Voice website.

Some of you said that you find the current site a little clumsy to navigate, and that it’s hard to go through the News and Events section. You also said that you love to hear input from other students, so we added the Sounding Off column [sorry, no responses this week], and I am working on getting more student profiles. If you want to be profiled, let me know!

I always knew that the profiles were popular, but I was still surprised by how many entries said that the profiles are the best part of the paper, or that your primary reason for reading the Voice is to find out more about fellow students. The Voice is meant primarily to be a vehicle through which AU students can foster a sense of community, and it is clear that this is how students view the paper.

The format of the paper got mostly good reviews, though of course opinions differ and a few of you felt that some types of articles were not to your taste. The important thing to remember, however, is that the vast majority of Voice articles are written by AU students and may tell you as much about them as the profiles do. The Voice is not only here for the readers, but for the writers as well, who have much to gain by sharing their thoughts and ideas with others. It is great to know that so many of the readers love what the writers have to say.

Many of you indicated that you would like to see some humour and games, which I am also trying to get. Budding humorists take note, we’d love to see what you can do. Also, if anyone has drawing skills and would like to try their hand at a weekly comic, let me know.

There were also requests for more education news, and I will be speaking with AU to see if we can beef up their contribution to the paper.

Some of you said that we should be more controversial, and take stronger stands on the issues. The Voice readership is one of educated adults, and should reflect this.

Overall the comments on the Voice were overwhelmingly positive. Criticism was constructive and detailed, and will be of great assistance in planning future issues.

The two winners of the Voice contest, who will receive AUSU T-Shirts courtesy of the Athabasca University Students’ Union, are Lynn Coubrough and Trevor Siwak, both of Ontario. Congratulations to both of our winners, and thanks again for your input.

For information on purchasing AUSU T-shirts, please contact ausu@ausu.org. An order form will be available on ausu.org shortly.

REVISED VOICE WEBSITE COMING SOON

Very shortly the revised Voice website will be complete. The updates to the site are based on recommendations you made in your contest entries, and new features that we want to add. Some of you also asked about why we are not producing a print version of the Voice, which is a good question! Let me give you a brief history of the Voice, and how we arrived at the format offered today.

The current Voice website was a project that took many months to get off the ground. First AUSU had to decide what formats the Voice should be published in. This was not an easy task. In the past the Voice had been published at different times as a print newspaper, an HTML website, and even a pdf. Each format had its advantages and disadvantages.

Many people prefer reading a newspaper as a hardcopy document. Actually, this is my preference as well! However, this is not always the best option. The Voice was printed and mailed out to students for about the first seven years of publication. The cost was enormous, and increased steadily as more students joined the university. Printing the paper itself carried a significant cost, which was only partially offset by advertising. The greatest expenditure of AUSU at that time, was postage. The most that the Voice was able to published was four times per year. Articles were often limited to 200 or 300 words, leaving little room for the in-depth explorations that you will find in the current Voice.

Today AU has almost 25,000 undergraduate students [more than most universities in Canada!]. Even with a publications agreement through Canada Post, the cost of mailing the Voice to all of our students is about $12,000 each time, which does not take into account printing costs and writer pay. You can see why The Voice was published so infrequently!

It was decided a few years ago [and if you want to know more about Voice history, wait until May when our 10th anniversary takes place] that the Voice should publish more often in order to keep students better informed on university happenings and to provide a much needed link between distance ed students, who may have no other tangible contact with other AU students.

Clearly, the only way to obtain this goal would be to publish electronically. While it was recognized that not everyone likes reading a newspaper online, the many benefits outweighed the disadvantages. Printing online means that there are no space limits, no limits on the number of pictures that we can print, no limit to the colours we can use, and fewer limits on how often we can publish. While not every student at AU has a computer with internet access, the vast majority do as it is extremely difficult to succeed at AU without electronic access to the university. Also, AUSU offers a computer bursary to help students who cannot afford a computer, thus addressing access issues for The Voice as well.

AUSU is aware, however, that some of you still like to receive print materials, and that those without computers need a way to obtain up to date university and students’ union information. This is why AUSU came up with the idea of mailing out a print newsletter last September. The first issue was a great success, and there will be another – much larger – newsletter mailed out in the next few weeks. The Voice, however, will remain electronic.

As I mentioned, the two electronic formats that had been used previously for the Voice were HTML and pdf. An HTML web site has the advantage that it is quick to load, easy to navigate, and can be read online at any time without taking up space on your computer. On the other hand, a pdf file can be downloaded onto your computer and saved indefinitely. When The Voice published only in HTML, we were informed by some overseas students that they must pay for internet access by the minute, so reading online was costly. They wanted a pdf so they could download once, and read at their leisure. Also, some people like to print all of portions of The Voice – including the AU library, who archive our issues – and it is very cumbersome and time consuming to print an HTML web site. Therefore, the pdf was introduced. Of course many people missed the simplicity of the website, and a small number did not have the adobe pdf software [which is free] required to read it.

So, when the web committee convened last year to decide how to present The Voice, it was determined that it should publish in both HTML and pdf format each week. Thus, the new Voice web site was created, and this dual format has been followed ever since.

Compared to the previous site, the new one is much more attractive, easier to navigate, and contains much more information. Some of you noted this in your responses to The Voice contest. It is not perfect, however. The navigation could be improved, especially now that we have more categories of articles including columns and fiction. Some of you have found that the news and events section is a little hard to get around in, and the classified ads section has been all but forgotten. We have grown, and the site needs to keep growing with us.

This week, our wonderful web designer Kara Tersen [with Metafusion Design in Calgary] is working on an update to The Voice web site which will address some of these issues and update our look. It was always the intention of AUSU that The Voice and AUSU web sites be updated regularly. Technology grows quickly, new options become available, new ideas are presented, and people get tired of looking at the same thing. Therefore, as we think of better ways to present The Voice, the website and other delivery media will be updated.

The new Voice website is almost done, and I hope you all like it. The front page will have a new look to complement our change to The Voice Magazine, and it will more closely resemble the pdf in format. News and Events will be easier to access, and the columns will be separated from the articles. Also, there will be a ‘Features’ category where you will find our top story or two each week.

The pdf listings will now be categorized by year, so they are easier to look through. This is necessary because we are working on getting a pdf copy of every Voice issue since our inception in 1993 available online. The list will be very long! I think you will really enjoy reading the old papers, and seeing how AU has changed over the years. Also, the new site will allow you to read an entire issue in HTML format, rather than just individual articles.

The writers section will be updated to only include regular writers, so you don’t have to scroll through all of the government contributors, etc. I am working on obtaining improved writer bios for this section, and some photos too.

Look for the updated site next week [I hope!] and feel free to drop us a line if you feel there is still need for improvement, or if we have taken away something that you used to like. I realize that it takes a little time to get to know a new site, and changes can be irritating. Rest assured that the changes are mostly cosmetic, and the underlying data is much the same. Let me know what you think!

Tamra Ross Low
Editor in Chief
voice@ausu.org

ARE YOU GRADUATING THIS JUNE?

I want to feature graduating AU students for the profiles section in May and June. If you are graduating this year, write to me and I will send you a profile form to fill out or we can arrange for a more in-depth interview. Remember how hard it was when you started at distance education? Well here is your chance to share your wisdom with new students.

Also, if you plan to attend graduation in Athabasca, consider taking some photos to send along to the Voice. Many AU students can’t make it to their convocation, so lets give them something that will help them feel like they were there. Anecdotes are welcome too. Photos used in my grad feature will be paid for! Write me for details.

Tamra Ross Low
Editor in Chief
voice@ausu.org

There were no responses to last week’s question. For next week, give us your thoughts on the following: Do you think that the conflict between the US and Canada will encourage Canadians to seek more independence from the US?

Send your response to this, or any previous question, to voice@ausu.org, with Sounding Off in the subject line. Feel free to suggest a topic

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