May, 2014

Student Portal off to good start

The launch of the University’s Student Portal project this week was the culmination of months of intensive work by IT Services, the Registrar’s Office and a variety of stakeholders across the campus.

Jamie Chinn, IT Services’ Application Development Manager, says feedback from students so far has been overwhelmingly positive. “We’re thrilled. Not only do they like what they see, but they’ve provided us with great ideas for new features, and how they’d like to see the content and features laid out.” To encourage continued feedback, the portal team is running a 10-week contest for which every submission is entered into a weekly draw for a $100 gift card.PortalScreenshot

The portal currently integrates Moodle, The Bridge, Library and Bridge Bucks systems. Students can find their grades, account balances and course information, along with critical information such as important deadlines, crisis communication and other announcements.

Chinn says the work will continue over the summer to enhance and adjust the portal’s features, and monitor its performance. Next steps include integrating Google email and calendaring, as well as providing information and helpful links for new applicants to the University. The versatile system is configured to display only information that is specific to the user. “For example, only new applicants will see the information that is relevant to them,” says Chinn.

“The portal is available to all students now but we’ll be pushing out our communications to students more broadly in the fall. That version will incorporate as many suggestions and improvements as possible over the summer.”

The portal can be accessed at http://www.portal.uleth.ca

For more information and to keep apprised of the portal’s continued development, visit http://blogs.ulethbridge.ca/portal-update/

More details on the GoogleApps for Education roll-out can be found in our March blog: http://blogs.ulethbridge.ca/it-services/2014/03/27/student-email-moving-into-the-21st-century/

Consultation results in collaboration

 

Technology can fuel the collaborative spirit in ways researchers of the not-too-distant past never thought possible. Collaboration tools, like many other types of 21st Century business interactions, are born of need and limited only by the imagination.NVivo

Faculty of Education professor David Slomp had been using a stand-alone version of an application developed to organize and analyze non-numerical or unstructured data, such as audio files, videos, digital photos, and a variety of text-based data. NVivo enables users to classify, sort and arrange information according to individual needs. But, as with all software, its capabilities and functions continued to develop and become more robust.

After doing some initial investigation through NVivo, Slomp knew he needed the ability to share files with his research assistants in Ottawa and Halifax in order to work on them collaboratively.

“David knew the desktop version had its limitations and approached us about support for the server version,” says Wim Chalmet, Application Support Analyst.

Slomp says going from a simpler desktop version to a server version with multiple people using it required a level of expertise he did not have, and the ability to rely on people who understand the technology has been a relief. “The value for me is that I don’t have to worry about the complex technical aspects of integrating the technology. I have a lot of confidence in the IT team’s abilities. Wim has been pretty dedicated to the project. I know that when issues arise, he’ll be managing them.”

When Trevor Butler, Manager of Technology Services in the Faculty of Management, became aware of the product, he obtained permission from the Faculty of Education to share the server. It was simply a matter of purchasing the licenses after that.

“Sharing the same resources provides great economy of scale,” says Chalmet. “But it also gives users additional benefits because we gain a significant amount of product knowledge through the experience, allowing quicker resolutions to any issues. Also, it fosters collaboration and enriches the experience with peers.”

Slomp concurs. “Working on a project like this requires lots of negotiation with the vendor and, through the use of University resources like IT Services, creates a higher level of collegiality and understanding. I think, too, there’s a high degree of competence. Technical experts like Wim and Daryle Niedermayer know what they know, and know what they don’t know.”

Next steps for the project include providing access to an additional research team in the fall.

For more information, please contact Wim Chalmet at 403-380-1837 or wim.chalmet@uleth.ca.

U of L art collection data – gathered and accessible

When the University Art Gallery decided it needed a way to better manage its art collection data, it took advantage of a Canadian Heritage grant and consulted IT Services to assist with the implementation of The Museum System (TMS).

“TMS is a robust software product that is used by museums and galleries around the world to manage their cultural and scientific collections,” says Wim Chalmet, ITS Applications Support Analyst. “The grant covered the cost of the software, but the Gallery sought an in-kind donation of resources from us to implement the system.”data collection

IT Services looked at different available software packages, vetted the business requirements against the specifications, and validated that TMS would be a good choice.

Once the decision was made, IT assisted with how it would be implemented by setting up the infrastructure, network and services to ensure the environment would be appropriate. Then came the conversion.

“The implementation process involved converting data from the entire collection of approximately 17,000 pieces, which proved to be challenging,” says Chalmet. The data was in a variety of locations and programs, and it all needed to be amalgamated and put into one source. Much of the process to convert all the data was automated with the direction of the TMS vendor, and Gallery staff were heavily involved in fine tuning it.

“TMS staff have tons of experience helping clients convert data from a cat’s breakfast of sources, but at the U of L Gallery we were doing this for the first time,” says Gallery Manager Jon Oxley. “Data came from Banner, from our in-house Filemaker files from years back, and from a variety of image folders. TMS created the data-mapping template for us to review prior to the conversion. U of L Collection Registrar Juliet Graham had to carefully review over 100 source columns and target fields. Getting any one of them wrong would create considerable grief in the near future.”

The success of the project can be attributed to keeping Gallery staff fully involved with issues and concerns as they arose, says Chalmet. “It was really a collaborative effort between ITS, the vendor and the Gallery.”

Oxley agrees: “Before the pixels were drying on the contract last fall, Wim brought the Gallery staff together to explain how the project would proceed technically. Up until then we were completely absorbed with design and financial issues. There was a fair bit of educating Gallery staff, on Wim’s part, on the architecture of secure data in a public access world,” says Oxley. “The TMS technical staff were great, and extremely patient with the Gallery, but Wim always followed up conference call meetings to clear up the many things we were fuzzy on.”

The Gallery’s main impetus in using TMS was the quality of its eMuseum web portal into the Collection.emuseum

“While TMS is the application, eMuseum is the web front, or online presence of our art collection,” says Chalmet. “Anyone can go to the site and search the collection for pieces they may want to borrow for their own exhibitions, or cite in research. The public can view most pieces in the collection, subject to the artist’s copyrights, and any information the Gallery has about the pieces.”

Oxley says Gallery staff have been using the TMS database in-house for two months already, and are adding research data and images that have been accumulating in files over the years. “We use the database on a daily basis,” said Oxley. “It has already helped develop several coming exhibitions – it allows for incredibly quick theme searches, assists with planning for the resource power to move art, creates text copy and allows quick communication about artworks between Gallery staff.”

Over the summer, staff will be formatting the public collection database to gear it for the many students, faculty and curators – both on campus and around the globe – who will be using it for art and exhibition research.

Although the graphic design work has not yet been completed, the nuts and bolts of the U of L Art Gallery’s collection can be viewed at: http://artcollection.uleth.ca/emuseum/