Problems with portals

Seth Meranda hates portals. That much is clear from this lovely rant against the portalization of higher ed websites.

To Seth’s way of thinking, portals are a manifestation of all that is wrong in academic administration. They are “a poor excuse of bolting on a silo of political process to a university’s website.”

Not only that, but:

Portals are not designed for the correct target audience (students), rather they are designed to enforce out-dated, non-user-centric workflows that appease [non]decision makers. Furthermore, portals fail to aggregate the student life experience. They do not combine all aspects of student interests (academic, residence life, involvement, advising, athletics), instead they primarily focus on only the academic side.

In addition, portals do not provide branding. Slapping your logo on the top and scheming the colors isn’t branding. Branding is entrenched into user experience. Branding revolves around your students’ experiences and expectations related to your institution. Portals cheapen brands by lowering user experiences and hindering expectations.

Seth goes on to advocate “a more holistic, user-experience-centric approach. ‘Experience Architects’ need to work with students (current and prospective) to determine online content and design. Student input needs to become the dominating impact on our future realignment strategies. … The ‘Experience Architects’ will hold the conversations with students, and both will work collaboratively.”

Ron Bronson tends to agree. Riffing off Seth’s post in an entry of his own titled Portals Aren’t Solutions, he writes: “If more innovation, collaboration and assessment of what students need was being done, we’d be able to go a lot further along in creating useful applications and leverage the talents within our own walls a lot better than we do.”

I can’t say I disagree with either Seth or Ron. But it would be nice, for the sake of debate, to hear a different perspective.

I wonder what Paul Redfern‘s take might be on the topic. Paul presented a good session about merging portals with university websites at the CASE Communications, Marketing and Technology Conference earlier this month. Paul is the director of web communications and electronic media at Gettysburg College, he seems to have found a happy medium. Maybe he’ll join the discussion. Paul?

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Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

3 thoughts on “Problems with portals”

  1. Of course I am interested in joining this conversation. I just posted a comment on Seth’s blog but since I was mentioned here too thought I would also post my thoughts in this space.

    “This is an interesting string of comments. Seth in a lot of ways I think you are right on the mark. But I would argue that the future of the web includes a blending of the portal and the college website. Users want to come to (in my case) http://www.gettysburg.edu log in and be delivered content and services relevant to them.

    I have noticed over time that too often IT controls/manages the portal and communications/marketing has very little to do with the strategy and vision of how to use the portal. By blending the services and content you can begin to deliver a personalized approach to the web while having a unified experience for the user.

    Your point about silos is also well taken. I am trying very hard to get the Gettysburg College to think about our audiences and not our divisions when we start to think about functionality.”

  2. The conversation continues in the comments from my original post. Based on the comments Paul has left, I believe he and I are communicating the same idea.

    As I mentioned, portals have been used as yet another silo in higher ed. In a sense, they create yet another fractured section of our domains. What I would like to see is explored in Paul’s comments: “a blending of the portal and the college website.”

    From my earlier comments: “A student should be able to navigate to http://www.gettysburg.edu, (and assuming they have been authenticated) be able to see personalized content related to academics, the bookstore, housing, campus recreation, clubs, organizations, etc… Through this page, they should be able to accomplish tasks related to their status (degree audits, pay tuition, sign up for super circuit, check their email, integrate their calendar, etc…), all without having to either travel to another section of the website or re-authenticate or learn a new user experience.”

    Thanks Andrew!

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