The Nerdery - Overnight Website Challenge

Twin Cities 2014, April 12-13

Minnesota Astronomical Society (MAS)

Paired with The Aquanauts

The Minnesota Astronomical Society is one of the nation's largest and most active organizations dedicated to amateur astronomy. The MAS is to create good fellowship among all people through a mutual interest in astronomy as well as establish and maintain observational and informational facilities for the benefit of the membership and the community.

What new functionality we are looking for

1. Overall, better organization and consolidate content.

2. Update visual appeal.

3. Improve navigation and menu system (Drop down menus).

4. Easier maintenance of system.

5. Optimization for mobile / touch devices.

Easier security.

Ability to submit online forms and outreach requests.

Member access to online training materials and manuals.

Maintain ability to modify home page, and to add this ability to several other pages.

Take information from existing calendars and consolidate into a single event calendar, while maintaining reservation system.

How the new functionality will help

Our hope is that in streamlining the content and navigation within the website will improve the public’s ability to access the information necessary for the various events and activities, observing programs, meetings, site information, etc. throughout the organization. We feel this will also benefit the member’s use of the website regarding training information, training schedules and mentoring, and use of the facilities.

How our organization will use the technology

Who will use the technology

24 Messages from Supporters

2014-03-04 15:01:19 UTC
Jack Atkins

On the MNAstro site I was able to sign up for email alerts for astronomical events. So, for instance, if there is a large solar flare, I hear about it and can plan on looking for Northern Lights over the next several evenings. I just received an alert about increased sunspot activity. Very helpful.

2014-03-04 15:58:24 UTC
John Hill

I use the website to monitor viewing conditions each night so I can make plans on whether to go out or not.

2014-03-04 15:59:12 UTC
Julie Johnson

I teach astronomy at Normandale Community College. I always refer my students to the MAS website. I allow them to attend a star party for extra credit. I would love to see improved navigation, and, especially, optimization for mobile devices, since most students' web use is predominantly on their phones.

2014-03-04 20:25:13 UTC
Wayne Boline

I visit the MAS website almost daily, focusing most frequently on the Forums and Event Calendar. There is information on what to see, where to see it, predicted weather for the various observing sites, telescope manuals, etc. The site is full of valuable content. I frequently refer those curious about astronomy to the website. But I would love to see a more dynamic/interactive entry that would draw new visitors deeper into the site without losing the ease of use and clarity of the existing site.

2014-03-05 12:17:17 UTC
Dave Wieber

I teach astronomy at Faribault High School and I use the MNAstro site for quick access to accurate observing conditions at the observing sites, recommend the site to my students as a way to get involved in the astronomical community. I also enjoy following the forums as I continue to learn and grow as an astronomer.

2014-03-05 15:24:47 UTC
Chris Opp

Overall I like the current site and how it's laid out.

I typically use the site to log in to the forum and to check star party updates, or read the latest newsletter. I think having a mobile site is a good idea especially if I can get the same sorts of updates.

I like how there's a list of menu options on the left. I find it quick and easy to find what I need.

2014-03-06 02:31:41 UTC
Steve Emert

I visit the MAS web site almost daily, primarily to check the announcements on the home page, check observing conditions, and also to link to the discussion forums. I also would like to see the site become more friendly to mobile devices. There are some back room functions that could be improved. I'm the membership coordinator for the Society, and am responsible for keeping member information updated in our database. There is an "address change" page, but unfortunately for several years the back-end process allowing access to anyone except web site admins has been broken. Also, we get occasional requests to have a password protected file share area accessible to members only. We currently don't have a function like that. The new web team has made quite a few improvements over the past year, but there can still be a few admin improvements and improved navigation through the site.

2014-03-14 17:50:17 UTC

MAS has provided such a wonderfully amazing resource for myself and my children. They have helped get them excited and enthusiastic about astronomy and science. The website has always been rather lackluster compared to the invaluable educational opportunities the organization provides it's members and the general public. Visual appeal, mobile integration would be fantastic. It would be great to have it be an additional teaching tool for those interested in astronomy to augment what MAS members do on site at the various observatories.

2014-03-24 16:19:07 UTC
Bill Kocken

I check the site once or twice a day primarily to check the forums. During the observing season, I use the site to check the weather at our observing sites and the status of any star parties.

During my tenure as the observing coordinator, I also updated a portion of the homepage. I found this process to be especially frustrating because i had to insert my own HTML code to make the result look good. I am not an HTML expert and i found the trial and error approach very difficult.

Also, the MAS at lease two other communication media. We have a mailing list (or several, actually) and a Facebook page. None of these is integrated with the others, so so information is being duplicated or not being available to everyone.

Finally, in this day and age a mobile friendly site is necessary.

2014-03-24 16:51:08 UTC
Mark Connolly

I enjoy using the MAS web site daily. I check the forums for the latest information on star parties and for other activities that are going on in the club or in the astronomy field. I especially utilize the forums for taping the knowledge of other members on equipment and to improve my astrophotography skills. I have referred this web site to many friends who are interested in astronomy; it is a great resource for beginners.

2014-03-24 18:25:24 UTC
Lonnie Fox

As an off and on member of the MAS I make a great deal of use of the website. A huge amount of very helpful information is on the website, from equipment information to weather conditions to wonderful photos taken by members.
Due to the nature of astronomy a great deal of it is done on the spur of the moment in your own neighborhood so the resource of the website is extremely important.
The organization is great with wonderful and helpful members that spend a great amount of time on outreach to all people in the state. A very deserving group, thanks for considering the organization.

2014-03-24 20:31:57 UTC
Mike Malik

I am a frequent visitor and contributor to the ‘Imaging SIG’ portion of the Minnesota Astronomical Society’s (MAS) website. I consider to be a great learning and sharing knowledge tool for astronomy as a whole, and specifically for astrophotography. Site can definitely use some site design enhancements for better navigation, and overall performance improvements. Given multiple sites and extensive astronomy equipment installed at multiple locations, I feel an enhanced website would be a great resource for managing, scheduling, and coordinating society-wide activities and tasks, along with ever-essential knowledge sharing. In short, I have nothing but great admiration for MAS, and strides it has made for armature astronomy; my special thanks goes to society’s generous contributors without whom MAS wouldn’t be what it is today. Regards

2014-03-24 21:53:42 UTC
Jerry Jones

As Observing Chair, it is my responsibility to organize and coordinate three of the major observing opportunities MAS provides to its members and the community, as well as numerous star parties at three different locations throughout the state. The website is the primary communication method for all of these experiences. The website is the nexus for information gathering and dissemination, as well as providing an opportunity for its members to talk regularly on a variety of subjects. Currently, the website is ponderous and difficult to deal with, and is in intense need of updating. Two things amaze me about our current website. First, how much use it gets; and second, that it hasn't crashed completely...yet. Please help us! You will be helping one of the great unknown gems of the twin cities better serve our amazing and diverse community.

2014-03-24 23:11:33 UTC
Ron Schmit

I am writing to you today to recommend the Minnesota Astronomical Society for your Overnight Website Challenge.

As an astronomy educator here for 30 years, I have witnessed first-hand the enthusiasm for education and space exploration exhibited by people of our fine state. I have taught at the Science Museum of Minnesota, the Minneapolis Planetarium, the College of Continuing Education at the University of Minnesota, and the Eisenhower Observatory. I am also a member of the NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador program, often using the Eagle Lake facility to present to the public the new discoveries made by our intrepid robotic explorers.

While many of these organizations provide excellent classroom space for presenting, I find the REAL connection to the cosmos is made when one actually puts their eye to the eyepiece. At MAS facilities, like the Eagle Lake Observatory, the general public gets an opportunity to observe with their very own eyes. An unmatched set of telescopes for use by the public, a large and diverse set of volunteer guides, and a commitment to public outreach, this facility provides an experience like few other places in the country. Nowhere in the mid-west can the general public get access to the equipment and expertise of the Eagle Lake Observatory. It is THE astronomy destination in our region.

Astronomy is the science of extremes: the biggest, the smallest, the hottest, the coldest, the nearest, the farthest, the slowest and the fastest. How can that not fascinate? It demands from us our concession, because despite our incredulity, a star really is that amazingly hot, the galaxies really are that fantastically big, and a pulsar really does spin that unbelievably fast. And then, in all of our confident wisdom, comes that moment of a new discovery, when we stand, humbly, with slack-jawed awe, having to admit we have no idea what we're looking at... But boy, are we going to have fun finding out!

We can connect the public to this experience through a website designed to easily give them what they need to find our observing sessions and make that connection. Though this same website, we can instruct our membership on how to provide this experience, with tools and tutorials. We can build a strong and diverse membership, which reflects our area, including everyone in the adventure. Finally, we can use the website as a place to answer those questions that pop-up in the news more and more. Not in a way that sensationalizes the story or drives commercial traffic, but in a way that speaks the plain truth and provides the reader an opportunity to explore further on their own.

This website could be the tool that enables the people of our great state to make a personal connection to the cosmos.

2014-03-25 00:32:51 UTC
Bob Kerr

I’ve been a member of MAS for ten years and have watched in admiration the evolution of the organization’s web site move from little more than a bulletin board to the information-packed site it has become. I access it several times a day and rely on its links to navigate to other sites. Lots of good work has made our MAS site one of this country’s finest amateur astronomy club sites. However, we must not stand still and need to continue leveraging new ideas to keep pace with forward-looking technology, as does the science of astronomy itself. At this point, we are ready and ask those of you with vision and imagination to shape our site into a world class experience for our many members and countless visitors. Crisp, exciting, useful; welcoming, accessible, memorable. Please help us!

2014-03-25 00:45:19 UTC
Jackie L.

The MAS is Minnesota's premiere astronomy group, well-known as having some of the most advanced telescopes and related viewing equipment in the nation! Our website hasn't changed much in the past 15 years and can really use the overhaul. Many visitors rely on our website to bring them information on star parties and related events; directions to our observing sites, and what's up in the sky. However, it's sometimes difficult to find the relevant information unless you know the lay of the website. I hope the MAS is chosen as the recipient of your assistance so we can bring the sky to more people more easily! Thank you!

2014-03-25 01:41:50 UTC
Parke Kunkle

I particularly appreciate the outreach efforts of MAS. Several hundred of my students go to the Eagle Lake Observatory at Baylor Regional Park where they are treated to exciting views of celestial objects presented by knowledgeable and enthusiastic volunteers. The numbers of people attending these events as well as the number of requests from various non-profit organizations is growing rapidly. A better website would help MAS publicize these events so more students and more of the general public can experience the night skies.

2014-03-25 01:45:48 UTC
Jake Hairrell

I am a physics and astronomy educator as well as a member of the MAS. During my time as a member I have witnessed our organization reach literally thousands of people through our outreach efforts. We host scout groups, school groups, camping events and a plethora of other activities on a continual and voluntary basis. As a whole we spend hundreds, maybe thousands of hours per year bringing the cosmos to the people and we love every second of it. However, we want to do more. Some of us have worked extremely hard in the last couple year.s to futher improve our already state of the art facilities and provide even more opportunities to the general public. I truly believe the MAS hosts some of the best family friendly and free events found in Minnesota. We are nerds and want others to come get nerdy with us! Our current website simply doesn't do our organization and the people in it justice. Many of us utilize it on a daily basis for many reasons. However, it can be slow and clunky to navigate. It doesn't paint a very exciting picture for those that might stumble upon it. I would like to see our website be as exciting and sofisticated as the organization itself. A more mobile-friendly site is a must. Also, a ticker with up-to-the-minute announcements such as star party go/no go decisions, astro events, outreach events, solar and aurora activity, etc that is able to be updated quickly by certain people would be great. Thank you for considering our awesome organization for your challenge.

2014-03-25 02:43:24 UTC
Susan Hoff

Because of MAS outreach, I got my first chance to see up-close, through various telescopes, all of the following: Jupiter, Saturn, the moon, globular clusters, nebulae, the solar eclipse, and the transit of venus. As someone with limited exposure to astronomy, I was surprised by my emotional reaction of Wow. It is my hope that more people will learn of the events the MAS provides so they too can see these incredible sights.

2014-03-25 03:56:23 UTC
Merle H

What has become the Minnesota Astronomical Society was conceived nearly 42 years ago. Over the years this long standing organization has served its membership and the general public with dedicated volunteers who have donated tens of thousands of hours of their time to better the society.

I have been a member since 2005 and have seen substantial changes in that time. The donations of new equipment and the construction of four new observatories and a classroom to better serve the needs of the members and the experience of the public. Membership in the Society has also steadily increased since those earlier years. Currently there are nearly 450 members supporting the efforts of the MAS.

Each year we have dozens of events scheduled for the public to attend as well as opportunities for our members to use the facilities for their own viewing throughout the year. Our public events attract thousands of visitors a year and serve to teach everyone about the wonders of the universe. One of the most rewarding things for me is to show the wonders of the night sky to the public. The sense of awe as someone views the rings of Saturn, Jupiter and its moons, a bright nebula, galaxy, star cluster or comet is palpable.

The MAS has grown into one of the finest astronomical organizations in the county, if not the world. Our facilities and equipment are some of the finest available for amateur astronomers. The website has grown as well, but not at the pace it needs to to compliment the rest of the organization. Our goal is to take a leap forward with the look and functionality of the website that will translate into better service for our members and the general public for many years to come.

Thank you for considering the MAS for this challenge.

2014-03-25 16:13:00 UTC
Mark Job

The Minnesota Astronomical Society provides amateur astronomers of all interests a venue to be involved in our society to encourage us to get up off the sofa and get out to explore the night sky. I have been interested in the night sky since I was young. Finding the MAS has enabled me to continue my interest in astronomy. I have found I enjoy learning and sharing. MAS provides me with this opportunity.

I am a member and a regular volunteer at the Eagle Lake Observatory, the MAS website is a tool we use to communicate with our members and the public. An upgrade to our website would be very much appreciated for us to continue and further our mission to ".... to promote .... community knowledge about and involvement in astronomy... ".

Thank you Nerdery for your consideration!

2014-03-25 18:56:16 UTC
Henry Raway

The Minneaota Astronomical Society (MAS) website helped me to start my astronomy hobby which I have used to show some of my friends what is "up there" in the sky. I was able to show some folks the planet Saturn for their first time, I think this can help people to appreciate the wonders of the universe and have a hobby that contributes to a good society and community. Please consider MAS for the web site marathon. Thanks.

2014-03-26 13:53:17 UTC
Kathryn Clingan

As an educator, I have used the MAS site to help bring astronomy into the classroom! Technology application/integration in the classroom is becoming a reality as educators begin to explore and implement instructional models such as the flipped classroom and 1:1. An improved MAS website would allow students access to information with a global and local perspective. The value of a highly interactive, well designed website can not be underestimated in today's Information Age. MAS is dedicated to outreach and education. In this educator's mind, MAS is a prime choice to win a website makeover.

2014-03-26 17:41:49 UTC
David Falkner

The Minnesota Astronomical Society is the premier amateur astronomy organization in the upper Midwest and one of the nation’s largest amateur astronomy clubs. With five observing sites and over 30 telescopes available to its membership it provides observing opportunities for all of its 450 members no matter their level of experience.
In addition to providing wonderful facilities for the membership the Society also gives back to the community by providing outreach activities. From March through November, approximately twice per month, the Society opens the doors to its Eagle Lake Observatory located at Baylor Regional Park in Carver County. This modern facility consists of two observatories with six top-of-the-line telescopes and a climate-controlled classroom complete with a projection system. The telescopes allow the public to observe the wonders of the universe while live images of deep sky wonders from on-site telescopes are projected in the classroom. Questions from those attending are answered by knowledgeable members. Tours of the sky identifying constellations and other objects are conducted by MAS volunteers, as are presentations on some aspect of astronomy. A regional weekend star party, Camping with the Stars (CWTS), is held in mid-summer and is open to the public.
The Public Observing Nights generally draw 30-100 visitors while the CWTS event will have 300-500 participants.
In addition to the MAS Public Observing Nights the Society is also asked to provide outreach at other venues such as public libraries and Scouting activities.
All of these activities, the MAS Board, Site Coordinators, Special Interest Group Leaders, and all of the maintenance and upkeep of the facilities, are done by volunteers. No one in the Society is paid for what they do, including those who maintain the MAS web site.
Over the years, with the proliferation of electronic devices and the use of the Internet, the MAS website increasingly has become the face of the organization. Most of the public who visit the MAS facilities found them through the website. The website is the primary means of communicating to the public and disseminating information about the Society.
Unfortunately, because volunteers have “day jobs” as well, the website has not evolved with the times. It is sorely in need of updating and integrating today’s best practices in web design and functionality. The Nerdery has a reputation of being one of the best companies in the nation in this area. I am sure they would be able to work with the MAS web team to create a robust, attractive and functional website, not only to provide a wonderful experience for the MAS membership, but to provide a draw for the public providing an interesting, understandable and easily navigated web site.
The Minnesota Astronomical Society is the largest organization of its type in the upper Midwest. It provides a unique experience for young and old alike and promotes scientific education. I heartily recommend the MAS for acceptance into the Nerdery Overnight Website Challenge.

Our Mission

This society is organized exclusively for charitable, educational, and scientific purposes. It seeks to create camaraderie among all people through a mutual interest in astronomy. It establishes and maintains observational and informational facilities for the benefit of the membership and the community, and seeks to promote membership and community knowledge about and involvement in astronomy through lectures, celestial observing sessions, classes and other appropriate means.