Portals are a Terrible Thing

We didn’t have a portal when I arrived at Casper College in 2011. We also had serious budget constraints and other spending priorities when I arrived so the extensive list of expensive commercial portal options we explored…were not actually options. We rolled out an instance of Moodle, our campus LMS, as a temporary portal but we knew our search was just beginning.  

Since that time we have looked at a multitude of portal options. I have discovered there may be no term in enterprise technology which inspires more confusion than the term portal. (Who am I kidding…the expanse of IT acronyms out there confuses most folks). In the yesteryear of what we once called the World Wide Web, the term portal often referred to a starting point for well-known Internet search and navigation sites.  Such sites allowed web consumers to explore and access information. These types of portals were text with links and offering a full-text index of content. They also provided the chance to take advantage of the hyperlinking capabilities built into the web protocols. This was a huge step taken to enable users like you and me to more easily access web content.  

Over time, navigation sites such as AOL, MSN, Excite, and Yahoo became the de facto starting point, or web portal, for web surfing.  These sites were more than search engines since they aggregated, categorized and sorted web content to help you find what interested you.   

Sites such as Yahoo have continued to help people sort through and organize info on the personal level but something started happening in corporate and educational settings a few years ago. People began looking for ways to more effectively aggregate and access institutional information. Websites had become no more than static entry points to internal and external web resources even though greater expectations came about as people received personalized services through consumer sites such as Amazon and Google. The concept of a Student Portal came about to provide an active role in managing content from disparate sources and applications so that students, employees and institutional workgroups can access institutional resources easily and effectively. Single Sign-on access to application functionality and services completes the picture, bringing together everything employees, partners and students need in a single, highly efficient customizable environment.

However … what usually ends up happening is that most portals become junky and fail to provide the contextual information an individual user desires. Contextual aggregation with the ability for users to create a digital work environment that works best for each individual is a goal I have had for our users with our deployment of Classlink’s LaunchPad.  Essentially this tool is a Web Portal that allows students, faculty and staff access to Network / Cloud Files and Educational Apps through a single sign on website. Each user has the ability to customize the environment for the way they work.  As an example below is my personalized version of the Casper College instance of Classlink’s LaunchPad.

A personalized Classlink page
We rolled out Classlink in 2014.  I will be publishing a few more posts in the near future which will offer more detail of our roll out of Classlink  and why I think Classlink  will succeed at Casper College where the traditional portal fails.  

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