services » Introduction
Initially after recreating the Rutgers Writing Program web site
we used a tracking service to generate data on who was visiting
which areas of the site. Specifically, we used the now defunct NetStats,
though other tracking services are available (see sidebar). These
services range from simple visible and invisible hit counters, to
log file analysis services, to more detailed tracking through code
embedded within the site.
NetStats used an invisible image located on every site page, called
from the service itself rather than locally, to track page requests.
Using the Internet Protocol (IP) addresses of these requests, the
service could even trace the path an individual user took through
the site. The resulting data was pulled into an Excel spreadsheet
(complete with charts) and mailed to us weekly.
While we no longer have any examples of these report files, the
generated reports allowed us to construct whole narratives
of visits to our program website: where each visitor came
from, where they entered, where they went, and how long they stayed
on each page--we were able to create stories of students entering
the site and spending time on the pedagogical resources. The aggregate
statistics--and more importantly these data-derived narratives--were
useful not only for our own assessment purposes but also for seeking
additional funds to maintain and expand the site. We incorporated
them into a successful internal grant application for $6,000.
But the use of a remote image frequently caused our pages to hang
while loading; moreover, the service was not free, and costs were
being absorbed by Associate Director of the program, Richard E.
Miller. We therefore ended our use of NetStats, choosing instead
to rely on our server's logs for this sort of data (more on that
in the server logs section).
Thus, while we found this form of assessment useful, it was not
sufficient in itself.
It was, too, rather corporate. I imagine that some writing programs
might be uncomfortable with the heavily corporate orientation of
many of these services, with their focus on data mining and "return
on investment." But this objection only raises the issue of
audience in assessment. While we as a program were more concerned
with whether or not the pedagogical resources were both used and
effective, we quickly found that fiduciary audiences often operated
in a corporate mode and thus responded to this kind of assessment.
In other words, while this assessment didn't provide us the feedback
we most needed, it did provide the feedback we most needed to secure