On September 30, the Tilburg University student portal was launched. The portal seems to have been enthusiastically received by both the students (the end users) and the information suppliers (such as faculties, service departments, and student associations) who own the portlets that make up the portal. To get an idea of what it is, look here for a brief overview.
Developing the portal has been a very complex project, with respect to both the technology (trying to develop secure and scalable portlets and integrating the portal with a live digital learning environment in Blackboard) and the organizational back-end of requirements analysis, definition of procedures, and communication. Nevertheless, the many people and organizational units involved together have been able to produce something the university can be proud of. The project will continue until the end of December, to finetune the embedding of the portal in the university organization, but my role as project leader has now officially finished.
Some key development goals of the portal were that it had to be Single Sign On (one login for most applications), comprehensible (in terms of having a clear overview of underlying information resources) and userfriendly and customisable. One of the most important features of the portal to me is, however, that it is owned by the community and will be further developed in a continuous process. It is a good sign that during the demos of the portal just before the launch, many ideas have already come up for new portlets, which will be worked out in future rounds of portal development.
The portal is of, for, and by the students. It should be their view on the complex and fragmented information system reality of the university. As end users they have been closely consulted in the development of the current version. Furthermore, the students also play an active role as information supplier, for example through the news and activity agenda "community portlets" owned by the student associations.
To ensure ownership by the students, interactive, two-way communication with the students has been a priority in the project. Some communication channels were:
- Consultation with formal student representatives, such as with the Library and IT Services Student Advisory Board, as well as informal talks with individual students.
- A suggestion form which allows students to provide ideas for improvements and new features. An overview of these suggestions is publicly accessible.
- An extensive student survey resulted in over 900 completely filled out surveys. These results were the basis of many design decisions for the final version of the portal.
- A weblog was set up to inform the students and other stakeholders about developments and considerations during the development process.
The portal should have great value for the organization. Students have more efficient and customised access to that information that is most relevant to them. Still, the portal is much more than that. Creating a useful "cockpit for student applications", requires an extensive consultation and alignment between needs and interests of students, information suppliers and technology providers. In this process, bridges are being built between people and organizational units and much synergy and energy can be released in the university organization. As such, the portal acts as a "university wide web" in which users and suppliers of information and ICT meet each other in a continuous process of idea generation and collaboration, resulting in the development and integration of essential work support systems and processes.
I am moving on now with CommunitySense, but am very happy that I have been able to put some community theory into good practice...