The IWMW 2014 event is rapidly approaching- this year the annual event for university Web managers will take place at Northumbria University on 16-18 July. So if you haven’t book your place yet, do so quickly!
In the latest guest post from speakers at the event Martin Morrey, Web Integration Manager at the University of Edinburgh provides the background to his plenary talk on Rebooting MyEd – Making the Portal Relevant Again.
Martin’s talk will open the third and final day of the IWMW 2014 event.
Rebooting MyEd – Making the Portal Relevant Again
Apologies to all for the late arrival of this blog post, but I’ve just spent three of the most intense weeks of my working life helping to upgrade the University of Edinburgh’s web portal, MyEd.
Reflecting on this experience has taken me back a masterclass delivered by the intranet usability guru Gerry McGovern, which I attended in 2008. At one point during the day, Gerry started talking about portals …
“For years, I’ve been going around asking people what a portal is, and I still don’t really know. The best definition I’ve come up with is: ‘A portal is like a website…except it takes five times longer to develop.'”
Not for the first time that day, this was a cue for much hilarity. For a long time afterwards, I was the smug website guy, pitying the lot of the poor, self-deluding, portal people in the office across the corridor.
Gradually though, I became more and more intrigued by the challenge of making a better portal. Eventually I made the fatal mistake of commenting on the University’s portal here and there, and lo-and-behold in late 2011 I was put in charge of it.
Web portals were a concept that was born, and to a large extent abandoned again, in the mid-noughties. However, in the education sector it seems to have hung around, presumably because it does actually deliver some value.
So what is a portal? Is it just a list of useful links, or a personalised information hub, or a completely customisable experience? In our case it is a bit of all of these things. What it should be though, is an experience centred on the needs and priorities of the end-user, which actually makes their life easier, as well as supporting the process needs of the institution.
The University of Edinburgh’s portal system was established in the noughties with great investment and fanfare, but later-on other IT priorities took over. So, ironically, a system that was meant to be dynamic, flexible and focussed, ended up feeling static, out-of-date, and cluttered.
Improving our portal from there has been a slow process. Portal systems have integrations-with and dependencies-on a whole range of other information systems. When we upgrade our portal, updating and testing all these integrations is a real headache. We are working on a better way of doing this, but in the meantime, we just have to live with it.
Just like a website, a portal needs really active monitoring and management, if it is to continue to meet everyone’s needs effectively. Unlike a website however, tools like Google Analytics don’t give you the information you need to do this off-the-shelf. The first I thing I did with MyEd, was to find a way to get meaningful analytics on the usage of its content.
Our analytics revealed that mobile users seemed to prefer the clunky, desktop-optimised interface of our web portal, over the trendy native-app that had been rolled-out just the year before. We didn’t have the resources to get the best out of both, so since then we have focussed our mobile effort on developing a mobile-friendly skin for the portal.
My team has used its portal analytics, the results of user surveys, and student input, to inform the design of new layouts and interfaces for our portal. I’ll be presenting the full story of this process, and some of the initial outcomes, at IWMW 2014 in my plenary Rebooting MyEd – Making the Portal Relevant Again.
About the author
Martin Morrey is the manager of the Web Integration Team at the University of Edinburgh, with responsibility for portal, wiki, web hosting and web development services. He has been working with the web for 18 years, and the mobile web for 14 years (remember WAP?).
He presented at EDUCAUSE last year on “Adding Analytics to the University Portal”.
Formerly an e-learning specialist and software entrepreneur, he won a SMART award in 2000 to develop a mobile-learning system and was co-founder of Intrallect Ltd.