SSO Launching new website for UW students

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A new online communication website called Portal will soon be available for all UW students.


Portal is a one-stop shop filled with information students need, as well as a new correspondence method between the university and its students. Portal’s manager, the Student Success Office (SSO), hopes it will reduce the amount of UW-related emails students receive.


The SSO partnered with UW Information Systems & Technology (IST) over a year ago to begin developing the project, which is now in a beta-testing phase. Two hundred students have had access over the last few months to test the site and it’s now being rolled out to the faculty of environment to see how it works with a larger number of users. Jude Doble, Portal’s project manager at SSO, said the launch period will begin this fall one faculty at a time, with plans to have all undergrad and grad students accessing it by Winter 2015.


“[It’s] an online communication tool for students, really focused on that ‘just enough, just in time’ information that we know students need,” Doble said.


She and other staff at the SSO have conducted consultation groups with students since last November to find the “pain points” students have when dealing with the university and what information they struggle to find out.


When you first get access to Portal, it’s a blank slate that students can customize with widgets, which are essentially apps. The available widgets include weather updates, real-time GRT arrival times, which are based on each bus’s GPS, along with many others. The website has notifications much like Facebook, as well as a calendar, class schedule, and ways to report bugs and get help if something is not working correctly.


Doble said eventually students will be able to develop widgets for their pages if they choose;  currently IST is in charge of all development.


“We’re trying to set up the framework for how students would do it and how to make it sustainable,” Doble said.


A feature that will be helpful to new students is the routes widget, which allows you to input a campus location and find out the best way to get there from where you are. Eventually, Doble said, they hope to add information about construction and any other potential obstacles.


Students can use Portal to book study rooms, check their exam schedule, keep track of athletics schedules, and even see how full each parking lot is.


The site will continue to be developed and updated after its launch based on the feedback from users. Doble said it is very important that users report any bugs or share any suggestions they might have for Portal.


The environment faculty was chosen as the first large group of beta testers because of its size; environment and resources studies and knowledge integration students were most recently given access.


A key aspect of Portal, Doble said, is its mobile friendly design, making all of its features usable on the go.


The biggest challenge SSO and IST have faced is translating information into data.


“A lot of great information exists … but it’s not capturable as data,” Doble said. She said they hope that once the site launches fully and more campus partners see it in action, more will reach out to become a part of the project.
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