My, My, My! In the near future, you can forget My Yahoo, put aside My Excite, drop My MSN, delete My AOL or any other portal system you are using online. There soon will be a better, more efficient and personalized way for Washington State University students, faculty and staff to access course materials, communicate with one another and conduct university business online.
In mid-August, WSU will launch the initial version of its own portal that has been in development for the past year. During the first few months of the startup phase, the portal will be limited to faculty and a relatively small group of students. By 2004, all students, faculty and staff will be able to use it.
Defining the term
What is a portal? In Internet parlance, it’s a door or gateway to the Web. WSU’s portal is a personalized website where you can access a wide variety of information and Internet tools customized to your specification.
Users will be able to access personalized information via their portal from any computer with an Internet connection — remote or on-campus — by signing on with their WSU network identification and password. A single sign-on will provide access to resources that now require separate sign-on procedures.
A new website at www.wsu.edu/portal-project provides details about the WSU portal.
‘Wave’ of the future
The portal will be launched in phases. On Aug. 18, all faculty and academic support staff will have access to it. Students whose classes use the CTLT Bridge will have access on Aug. 25, the first day of class. The rest of the student body will gain access to the portal in waves throughout the fall semester as the portal’s computers are capacity-tested and proven.
“We’re referring to August as our soft launch,” said Jerry Gordon, planning coordinator in Information Systems, one of the partners in portal development. “We need to test the portal system and see what kind of a load it puts on the servers, then tune them to give us consistently good response time. We’ll add users in waves as quickly as we can build up the load and test.”
Better communicationThe initial version of the portal will offer a streamlined package of services to undergraduate, graduate and professional students. Faculty will have access because they will use the portal to provide course resources and contact students in their classes.
“The portal is important from a teaching and learning standpoint,” said Nils Peterson, assistant director of the Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology (CTLT), another partner in portal development. “It will allow faculty to easily and efficiently communicate with students, make assignments, electronically provide course materials and syllabi, cancel classes, post grades, share files, hold online discussion forums, and access all WSU Libraries and other online research tools.”
The portal will provide access to CTLT Bridge and WebCT without signing on again. Similar services for Blackboard users at ICN, Spokane and Vancouver is anticipated.
The portal will provide a much improved electronic vehicle for faculty to keep in touch with students. Currently, tracking student e-mail addresses is labor intensive and frustrating, as students move from one e-mail service to another.
“If a faculty member wants to use e-mail to notify students in a class, he or she currently can collect the e-mail addresses via RONet, which isn’t 100 percent effective,” Gordon said. “With the portal, however, that instructor can post an official notice to the accounts of all their students.
“This is not e-mail. The message is secure and is deposited directly into students’ portal accounts with guaranteed delivery.”
By early 2004, all faculty, staff and students should be able to use the portal, including features such as:
• class schedules
• assignments and grades
• financial aid status
• housing and dining accounts
• university paystub records
• personal calendars
• Web-based e-mail accounts
• registration information
• deadline reminders, emergency messages and other official notices
• weather and news reports
• information on student, intramural and club activities
• requested news about campus lectures, athletic events and other activities
• instant messaging
• favorite Internet links
Over time, the portal will be expanded to offer more functions and services. Eventually, faculty and staff will be able to access their employee records, retirement funds, and conduct virtually all their university business in the portal, said Mary Doyle, chief technical officer and vice president for Information Systems.
“The portal will move us toward a seamless, integrated, intuitive information environment,” she said, noting that this is a high priority in the new IT strategic plan.
This week, a group called the Portal Team began a college-by-college PowerPoint presentation series, offering an overview of how the portal will work, its advantages, and what colleges and departments can do to get ready for the initial portal launch.
A wise investment
Administrators are dubbing the portal as a wise investment, with joint sponsorship coming from Student Affairs, Information Systems and University Relations.
Charlene Jaeger, vice president for Student Affairs, said her division will “save thousands of dollars each year in mailing costs. It also will allow us to communicate better with students and each other, which will increase staff effectiveness and divisionwide collaboration. Application processing will be faster, paper handling will be reduced, and front counter and phone traffic will decrease.”
The portal also will enhance communications and the sharing of data among numerous divisions and departments, including Admissions, Student Affairs, Financial Aid, Registrar, Business Affairs and Housing and Dining Services.
“Many competing universities have portals, and the WSU version can be expected to be a plus in the marketing efforts to recruit high-ability students,” noted Sally Savage, vice president for University Relations and co-chair of the implementation team for the strategic plan quality goal.
Meeting strategic goals
“The portal will be a boon to our efforts in improving internal communication at every level of the university,” said Barbara Petura, associate vice president for University Relations. “For example, the portal will offer easy-to-use tools for sending targeted messages to the people who need the information, whether they’re students in a particular class or the faculty and staff in a particular college.
“Improving internal communication supports WSU’s strategic goal of building an environment of trust and respect, as well as one of our marketing plan goals,” she said.
Mary Gresch, associate vice president of strategic communications and marketing, describes it as a “giant step toward achieving a world-class Web environment, with ease of communication between and among faculty, students, staff and administrators, and access to a multitude of services through a single site.”