The Evolution of the Web Portal in Higher Ed

My colleague Ken Kochien has recently posted an interesting piece on web portals and references the efforts of Virgina Tech as they redesigned their portal experience. As I reviewed their presentation, I was immediately reminded of the many shortcomings of SCT’s current Luminis offering. I should point out that Luminis is also based on the uPortal framework. My frustration stems from the fact that the larger SCT grows, the harder it is for them to remain agile and responsive and in turn to create a product that is agile as the rest of the web world at present. My biggest concerns deal with the presentation, interface and usability.

I took some time to review the VT Tour and I’ve posted my thoughts and comments on their model by slide. If I get a moment, I’ll try and grab some screenshots of our own portal for comparative purposes.

Slide 3 – The VT Home page is colorful and engaging, ours could stand a redesign which will probably occur in conjunction with the web redesign.

Slide 4 – Icons in title bars are attractive, even better is the skinning of the environment, rounded corners, shaded titles, clear delineations of content all serve to improve the user experience.

Slide 5 – The VT Courses tab is a little busy but ties together nicely with the SIS. I prefer the idea of a myLearning tab which not only integrates the students courses but also a library channel (rather than a separate tab-see slide 8 ) I like the date feature but would prefer that the student calendar feature integrated both a global university calendar for campus wide dates as well as an LMS based calendar which posted course specific dates.

Slide 6 – This is more of a wish list item but how nice would it be if students had the option to post a brief biography of themselves a la MySpace to share with others and could control it from their portal?

Slide 8 – I like the idea of a Services tab and the concern expressed that by placing services in such a tab it avoids the concern of promoting one service over another, in this case the former VT Library tab became a channel in the Services tab. I still prefer keeping academics together and pairing the Library channel with the students courses and academic tech support in a myLearning tab instead.

Slide 9 – The “MyStuff” tab. I admit it has promise. How cool would it be if we could integrate a WebDav service to drag and drop items into the student’s network storage space? Better yet, develop a web-based HTML editor and management service similar to Google Pages. Make the MyStuff tab mean something to the user whether faculty, staff or student because ultimately that willl determine the efficacy of a portal solution. It’s no longer about the institution’s wants, not that it has ever been, it is about engaging users. The value of a portal is derived solely from its usefulness to our users. To be snippy, “Hey {Insert your institution name here}, it’s not about you, it’s about your USERS!”

Slide 12 – Zooming channels. Another great idea and one which exists now in our own portal but unfortunately the interface is such that it is not intuitive and therefore not a well known feature amongst the user community. The “+” and “-” icons are more universal and probably better understood than the icons which exist in Luminis 3.x

Slide 13 – Support for Tech Support (Woot, woot) – This issue has plagued many a HelpDesk charged with providing support but unable to do so without asking a user for the Username/Password. This is what I would call a BFO (Blinding Flash of the Obvious). Now granted there are some security issues to deal with but most of these can be managed through process and policy.

Slide 14 – Finally a content manager that makes sense. The current version of Luminis has this god-awful interface which does not lend itself to usability. The VT example is more intuitive and also informative and does not require launching a separate interface window. Those channels which are locked are clearly marked as such. I would still prefer (and have no doubt that it is in development) to have an AJAX interface to drag and drop channels where they are desired without having to go through the multiple click process which still appears to exist.

Slide 15
– An intuitive channel manager. This would be even better if it supported tagging for findability but the VT example is a far cry from the current Luminis model which is really only effective if you already know what it is you need. Window shopping is not encouraged.

Slide 16 – I like the prompt and alert model which informs users where their channel will be placed.

Slide 19 – New tab button – again intuitive and friendly. This concern for the user should result in increased adoption and usage of the portal.

Slide 20 – A Confidentiality Preference! In an age where concern over identity theft is beginning to become internalized by our user population, what a great service to offer. It really should be a mandatory feature.

Slide 21 – Aggregated layouts – Addresses one of our key concerns which is how to target content by user role and how to decide between duplicate content containers and elevating the proper one.

Slide 23 – Sub-tabbing – A great way to maximize space without overloading the user with too much information. Also intuitive as it functions in much the same way as the nav structure in shopping sites.

[tags]education, evolution, highered, luminis, plymouth, portal, vt.edu, web, highered [/tags]

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2 thoughts on “The Evolution of the Web Portal in Higher Ed

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