The University e-Portal: A Portal for Learning

by Dr. J.T. Yu

Recently, the University's student intranet has been replaced by the CityU e-portal. This marks the beginning of a new era in the use of electronic communications in the University.

There is no doubt that the World Wide Web (WWW) has completely transformed the use of computer networks for distribution of information. Everybody, from large multi-national corporations to single individuals, is putting up WEB sites that promote and describe their organization or the services they provide.

In the University, a lot of effort has been put into maintaining the University's home pages. This is the University's gateway to the internet and is an important way to introduce the University to the general public.

The University has also set up separate intranets for our staff and student members in order to disseminate information applicable to the intended category of users.

For both the internet and intranet, academic departments and administrative units have developed their own departmental "home" pages. Instructors have also put up home pages for their courses, and students have personal web pages for themselves. Soon, we are swamped in a sea of information.

One problem with these home pages is that they are all organized from the point of view of the content provider. This leaves the user of the information to search for the relevant information at the time they want them. This is, at best, a hit and miss proposition.

Portals are solutions to this problem of content management. Under a portal, information is dynamically organized and presented from a user's point of view. The goal is to make sure that the right information is presented to the user at the right time.

In the University, we have several major constituents, - staff, student and alumni. We realize that the information needs of each of these constituents are widely different. In the current implementation of the University's e-portal, we have decided to focus our attention on our primary constituent - the students. We have thus described our portal as a portal for student learning.

When a student logon, she is linked immediately to her personal data in our student management system. Links are established to the courses that she is taking, to the website of her home department, and to special references that have been prepared for her in the library. There are also links to general references like an online dictionary, resources on Hong Kong, etc. The list of these useful websites will continue to grow as we receive feedback from the users.

An important feature of the portal is our "headline banners" that bring together information on activities, events and news that are of interest to students. For example, in a "banner" that announces the release of course grades, links are provided to the parts of the "academic regulations" that contain information on the definition of grades and academic standing and on procedures for appeal of course grades.

Although we have focused the design of the portal to the needs of the student, it does not mean that the portal is not important to the rest of the University. Indeed, because we are here for the students, the portal is in fact of utmost relevance to everyone that works in the University. The analogy would be to a student newspaper. Although the target audience of the newspaper is the students, most staff members of the University would pick up a copy of the newspaper to learn what their students do. Staff members are urged to logon to the portal and browse. (It only takes a couple of minutes a day!) Staff members, as content providers, are also urged to consider the power of this new medium and how they can make use of it to enhance communications with their students.