July 2, 2008 — With dozens of events happening every day across the University of Virginia's Grounds, a comprehensive University calendar can quickly become unwieldy and overwhelming for users. But a new University Web Calendar (www.virginia.edu/calendar) has solved this problem by allowing users to customize the types of events and time frame that the calendar will display — a handy feature that the calendar designers hope will make it the go-to source for event information at U.Va.
For instance, a user might choose to view only athletic events and student performances happening over the next week. Events are divided into 25 categories, allowing the user to 'check' or 'uncheck' each of the categories to customize what will be displayed, and these calendar-viewing preferences can be saved (and altered with just a few mouse clicks).
The new calendar, which made a quiet debut June 2, aggregates the contents of several existing calendars, including the student calendar, the old Web calendar, the (undergraduate) academic calendar and the holiday calendar. (Those separate calendars will continue to be available.)
University community members complained in the past that having multiple specialized University calendars caused confusion and limited the usefulness of each calendar, explained Nancy Tramontin, director of Web Communications and U.Va.'s lead webmaster, who chaired the pan-University committee that designed the new calendar.
"The big benefit is that everybody is seeing what everybody is doing, but the calendar lets you filter what you're seeing without having to hop to different calendars," said Chris Husser, an assistant director for student involvement at Newcomb Hall who also served on the new calendar's design committee.
The new calendar provides links to the SOURCE (an online reservation system for rooms and spaces around Grounds), the alumni calendar, the Health System calendar, and several school calendars, which will still be the primary conduits for departmental events that aren't aimed at the larger University community.
In the new calendar, clicking on an event brings up further information, including a brief description, a link to the event Web site (when available) and contact information.
The calendar, including this supplemental data, is searchable by keyword, which will be handy for those times when you've heard something about an event but don't have the specifics.
Anyone in the U.Va. community can submit an event for consideration after logging in with their University computing ID. Calendar editors will post the event after making sure it meets the calendar guidelines, which bar general announcements, deadlines, parties, courses, private events or off-Grounds events (unless sponsored by a U.Va. organization or department).
The new calendar also offers helpful filters, such as displaying events that accept ARTS$ dollars, or multicultural events. And calendar editors will pore over the dozens of events to pick out a handful of "Featured Events" each day.
"We're excited to see this finally come to fruition, and to see it having been done so well," said Husser. "I think the whole University community is going to benefit from it."
Programmers at Information Technology and Communication built the calendar over the past year with funding from several offices around Grounds, including the Vice President for Student Affairs, Development and Public Affairs, the Executive Vice President and Provost, Process Simplification and ITC.
More than 200 people from across Grounds already have signed up for administrative accounts that allow them to enter events on the calendar, and the designers hope that hundreds of student groups will soon be submitting events as well.
"This thing is pretty perfect from a Web application standpoint," explained Husser, "but that still leaves us with the challenge of getting the word out about it."
"If the student participation really takes off, as we think it will," said Tramontin, "then people may need to use the option to hide all student events."