Academica has been the University’s official portal for a few days now, and the Feedback section has been filling up with likes, dislikes and assorted comments. I’ve combed through the comments so far and have a few thoughts I’d like to share.
First, there is the notion of a ‘portal’. In contemporary computing terms, a ‘portal’ is a webpage that leads you to facilities that permit you to do stuff. It’s different from an organization’s ‘website’, which is a webpage that allows you to find out stuff. So a portal should be interactive, while a website should be like a reference work (an almanac or a phone book, or even an encyclopedia).
So, most of the links that appear in Academica are either interactive (‘see my paystub’, ‘check my grades’, ‘search for a journal article in the Library’) or lead to interactive links (‘Benefits and Deductions’).
Of course, some lead to other portals, such as the link to the IRB in the Office of Research, and a few are there even though they are static, simply because of popular demand (‘Campus Map’, ‘Research Compliance’), but the principle distinction was between ‘doing things’ and ‘finding out stuff’.
If you want to use Academica as your portal for everything, you can use the search box at the top and select (with the drop-down arrow) to search the WSU Website, where you can find anything that is searchable (parking structure maps, English major requirements, General Counsel’s office) on the wayne.edu domain.
A number of folks commented on the visual appearance (some in less than complementary terms), and seemed to think Pipeline was more visually appealing—an opinion I’d challenge, myself. However, the main reason Academica looks the way it does it that it was designed from the ground up to be easy to use on any device, and particularly to be easy to use with smaller devices, like phones and tablets. It actually detects the size of your display and customizes itself automatically. The reason for this is that increasing numbers of us use mobile devices as our primary means to access the electronic world. A recent study showed that ninety percent of Wayne State students bring smartphones to their classes, and now they can use their phones to check the status of their bursar’s account, or their final grades, and employees can check their paystubs (I just checked mine with my iPhone 5s in three ‘clicks’).
Why did we do this?
Pipeline is at the end of its development cycle–the company that made it is no longer supporting it. That makes it like a car whose spare parts are unavailable. It could keep running, but if it broke suddenly it can’t be repaired. C&IT decided it was better to replace it before that happened, and our local app-programming gurus built something for the twenty-first century. In addition to being usable on all devices it is very adaptable. It will not break a sweat if twenty thousand students check their grades all at once. Those who used Pipeline over the years know that it tended to roll over if demand got heavy. Academica is pretty resilient and should not do that.