Candi’s Journey through the Portal
a brief summary
challenges and solutions !
will talk on the general process and how we decided to develop the requirements
and work out what the portal would include and the overall vision.
will then speak about the more technical process of realising this goal and the
creation of the structure and elements involved in the portal.
Started last year (November) with the aim of investigating how the
students would benefit from a personalised portal and with the aim of
creating one !
The idea was part of an objective coming directly from SMT to:
Improve the Learning Experience of students in a
From the start there was involvement from SMT
helped to drive the project and involve the whole
This was essential to ensure all the resources and time
the development and
completion of this project.
2 questions came to mind initially
What information do we want on our portal
What are other colleges doing with theirs
For 1) We had some ideas but we wanted to look at
the whole idea
For 2) We decided to meet with other colleges to
see what they were doing.
Deciding what to put on the portal
Involved representation from right around the college. People sat on
the portal group from many departments around the college
including MIS, ICT, Student engagement, Learning centre..
Everybody contributed to a grid which listed ideas for information to
We decided priorities for each item to be displayed and produced a
What had other colleges done ?
We realised there was a huge variation in what different
colleges meant by the term student portal.
This ranged from document / course information sharing.
To systems integrating information about the student
from different sources.
We quickly realised
what we were attempting was
something totally different and taking the personalisation
to another level.
Our Portal Vision
As a place where key information personal to the student
would be summarised and displayed.
As an access point or doorway through to other systems
This required solving two main problems from a technical
Two main ways the portal would operate
Two main problems
Accessing and displaying information from the different
key systems within the college.
Allowing students to automatically go through to these
Before we look at a slightly more technical view of how
we solved these, which Paul will present, lets just have a
quick look at what we wanted to display on the portal
and our basic design.
Some of the information we wanted to display
Messages relevant to the student e.g. filtered by student age range and
Information from blackboard VLE e.g. tasks and information about their
Details from MIS system on the student which they could check and use to
put a request for change in place.
Student timetables (also from MIS system)
Library books and library fines which were outstanding
Initial Vision of the Portal
So lets look at what the vision was for the portal
incorporating all these elements.
Then we can see how we went about the process of
information about how
to use my.candi
By class from
link direct to
So it was my task to aid in helping us to realise this
vision, using the platforms and web tools within the
college and creating an integration between the data
Moving from Vision to Realisation
We wanted to step back and assess a fresh, all possible ways of providing
the portal framework and not just automatically go with SharePoint.
We looked at housing it within:
Off the shelf packages
First task was to look for a platform in which all this
information would sit
We ended up with SharePoint as the best possible solutions due to these
We already had knowledge in the college of developing with it.
It was already being used in the college for staff and student intranets and by
staff and students.
It had all the features which were required for our foundation but without
having a particular bias such as Blackboard, which would have been primarily
geared towards one role (as a VLE).
Its is also relatively low cost and the licenses and infrastructure were already
After analysing the situation
Now we had decided on our framework we needed to look at connecting our
systems to our portal but before we can do this we needed to:
Look at what systems we want to connect to the portal
What data they held
And how often it is updated
this is essential because this information is now going to be viewable by
students live so we need to keep it as up to date as possible.
Planning of connecting systems
So to achieve the previous aims we need a thorough review of our data
There was a review of each systems information
what does is hold and what
does it relate to and which aspects are relevant to the portal
How up to date is this information ? Who manages the process of updating it ?
How can we connect to it ?
is it in a database like SQL Server or is it
accessed through a url like Heritage or in a bespoke system like PCounter
A map of the data and associated processes was then compiled by the
department responsible for the data.
The process of creating the portal impacted and improved many other areas within the
college and one ‘knock on’ effect was an improvement in the way our information
systems worked and an improved understanding of their interconnection.
Reviewing our information systems
So having now decided upon a framework namely SharePoint and having
deepened our understanding of the systems we want to connect to. We
need to look at the various technologies available for implementing this
connection, there are several options:
Use SharePoint Designer
essentially a design tool
SharePoint programmed web parts in a programming language such as C#
Off the shelf web parts by third parties
Web parts developed by an outside company
How do we actually implement the connection and display of
information on our portal
We started our development by using data view web parts created in
These are great for prototyping and easy to put together. No programming
required but they aren’t as flexible as coded web parts.
For the library web part these weren’t sufficient so we looked at
programmed C# web parts.
We decided to move down this road for all web parts. This does require
programming but its possible to a user configurable options and flexibility
can be built in for users.
Now we are looking at developing generic web parts which could be
configured to access many data different sources.
IMPORTANT: One aspect considered when coming up with our development model is
allowing the portal to easily be updated in the future. We want to avoid bottlenecks in
and reliance on just one member of staff.
Creating the connections
We then invited in a design company with specialist skills in producing
SharePoint master pages and designs:
We selected the best design.
They produced the Masterpages and SharePoint solution packages.
We implemented and tested out the designs
this required some technical
know how, mainly with regard to SharePoint administration.
Then we started to set up the live environment and test.
The web parts were styled, setup and tested.
The My Candi portal went live.
Deploying the portal
With regard to the future I am in the process of developing a way in which
the portal can be used to help the process of updating itself.
A form could be filled in where a staff member requests some information to
be made available for display on the portal
This would start a SharePoint
The department responsible for the information could approve the request.
A request would be sent to the Database administrator who could create a
The approval and completion of the technical set up could be sent to the
person initially requesting the information.
A generic web part is added to the required page and the information is
selected from a dropdown list for display. And configured accordingly by the
person requesting it
The whole process managed from within SharePoint !
We are also now looking at a staff portal which would provide similar
functionality but for our staff and provide a powerful framework for
communication between students and staff using messaging facilities.
We are also investigating SharePoint 2010 as a possible upgrade for all our
SharePoint systems. Some of the benefits:
Improved visual appearance
uses silverlight (like flash on steroids)
It has greater flexibility in connecting to external database sources without
requiring web parts to be created.
Has improved editing interface and consistency with office (Now with new
Must be driven from SMT to make available the resources and time
Involve people from all areas of the college.
Consider all possible systems when developing, although SharePoint is
normally a very clear winner in cases where you are creating an intranet or
Take the opportunity to review procedures and benefits other areas of the
college as a consequence of the project.
Look at different technologies but also consider how future developments
and updates will be carried out
how easily can developments be made ?
Is there a bottleneck ?
If need be, buy in skills required, design or development as needed (if
buying in design get a SharePoint oriented design company)
Automate the process of requesting and updating the system within
SharePoint itself if possible (if this is the system used).
Review of data systems and how they work plus increased efficiency
Brought together different teams within the college not normally associated
Created a new way of thinking of college systems which lead to other
Changes to some procedures and practices which haven’t been looked at
for a while (student lock out and student email format).
Start of the journey into greater and more flexible communication between
staff and students
Great scope for the sharing of resources and information between colleges
which is what this event is all about.
By sharing practices it raises colleges access to the skills and knowledge
required to develop portals and intranets in their own unique way.
We could possibly have an area where colleges could login and access code /
documents and see useful information (its ok it doesn’t have to be a SharePoint
We could also have a common knowledge base of problems and solutions
shared between colleges.
And a list of some good suppliers and the areas their expertise was used in.
Thank you for listening and now to the My Candi portal !
And Finally with regard to college collaboration