The following is a guest post from Gerald Haigh.
Bishop Grosseteste University in Lincoln chooses the Office 365- based portal ‘MyDay’ from Microsoft Partner ‘Collabco’. The implementation is in line with the University’s commitment to providing the best possible level of engagement and quality of learning experience for its students.
Bishop Grosseteste University
Any description of the Collabco ‘MyDay’ portal is likely to contain the words ‘user friendly, ‘attractive’ and ‘collaborative’.
In this case, the words, are doubly appropriate, because they can just as easily be found in any description of Bishop Grosseteste itself. For well over a century, what is now BGU was a successful teacher training college whose students, nurtured in a highly innovative and professional environment, were much sought after by knowledgeable primary heads. Now a fully independent university, it offers a wide range of courses, many of them still focused on teaching and related profession.
Currently there are some 2,500 students, and plans are afoot to expand to 4,500 over the next five years. The intention, however, is to stay on the existing campus and to retain the distinctive Bishop Grosseteste identity and professional ethos. The anytime-anywhere availability and friendly face of the ‘MyDay’ student portal, implemented by Collabco and BGU head of IT Richard Corn, and planned from the ground up with full student input, is clearly going to be a major factor in this.
The one-stop shop.
More and more schools, colleges and universities are discovering the value of an online ‘portal’ — an easily accessible front page offering a wide choice of ‘click-through’ links to everything the student needs in order to organise and do their work. From the start, Microsoft SharePoint has been highly influential in the implementation of such portals. Now, with Office365 it’s become so much more possible to build very comprehensive portals so that a student with a single sign-in, can discover what she has to do today, work on the VLE, see whether library books are due, or emails waiting. And that’s probably just the start, because portals have a habit of growing as their users realise that there are even more possibilities than they originally envisaged.
‘MyDay’ at BGU
A student who logs in to ‘MyDay’ at Bishop Grosseteste University is instantly in a friendly and welcoming place. A banner says ‘Welcome to the BGU Student Portal’ and there on the page is a bright, bold and self-explanatory array of tiles ready for mouse click or touch, depending on the device. From there everything, such as timetable, library, due payments, the ‘Blackboard’ VLE, email, ‘OneDrive’ storage, announcements, a news feed, all are one click away with no need for further sign-in. Richard Corn says,
‘It’s all about easy access to systems from a central page, a one-stop shop for everything, as much information as possible to do with life at BGU’.
On the screen, it quite deliberately looks deceptively simple, so much so that the casual observer feels bound to ask why, given the features, availability and integrating power of the elements of Office 365, an institution can’t build their own portal?
The answer is that it makes little sense to divert a busy IT team to a task that’s always going to take longer than anyone thinks. As Richard Corn says, ‘Why commit staff time and equipment to that when you can go out to a supplier who’s already done it?’
He goes on to explain,
“In the Autumn of 2013 we were looking at solutions for engaging students. Collabco came to demonstrate MyDay to students and staff and it looked like a really good product.”
That first impression was immediately reinforced by the speed and efficiency of the installation.
“The main implementation took only twenty-eight days, up to the end of February 2014… After that we needed to tweak some details and work out who was going to be responsible for various aspects, and it went live in May.”
The ‘quick start’ feature of ‘MyDay’ is because Collabco are well aware of what institutions are looking for in the first instance.
As Martin Creevy, HE Business Manager at Collabco explains.
“The main advantage of MyDay is that it doesn’t require the customer to change anything, It hooks straight into the student experience, providing a good blend of organisation and information. Typically they need a calendar, email, library, epayments and access to the VLE. So within a month we can give them eighty percent of what they’re going to need.”
But, of course, says Martin, it won’t stop there.
“We have a whole set of tiles that the university can install themselves at later stages.”
Richard clearly sees the portal as a living thing, growing and changing in response to growth and change within the University.
So, for example, The BGU portal has a tile for ‘OneDrive’. Richard Corn is keen promote this further so students make full use of the facility to store their work, and stop the use (and frequent loss) of memory sticks.
Another tile about to appear is ‘My Grades’, which will undoubtedly provide a learning focus and motivator for students.
Already in existence, but being much further developed, is ‘Library’. Here, Collabco are currently working to achieve full single sign-on integration with the OCLC (Online Computer Library Center, Inc) system which will give students a full-feature online library service.
There are plans, too, for a tile that links straight to Microsoft’s business-orientated social media tool, ‘Yammer’, which is included in Office 365.
Perhaps the biggest new development, though, will be the implementation of a staff portal, which will open up new possibilities for communication and collaboration.
That BGU’s student portal has quickly become successful and popular is very significant, because portal implementations, whether home-grown or developed with a supplier or third party consultant, can sometimes be long-drawn out and difficult.
In most cases, it has to be said, the key lies with the management of the process rather than with the technology itself. So what were – and continue to be – the key factors in the BGU case?
Using proven, global standard Microsoft technologies.
Microsoft Office, and Office 365, in all its aspects, is highly developed, comprehensive and fully integrated. It also has high credibility with users, with a look and feel that’s universally familiar.
This is really important. Because BGU has licensed Office 365 ProPlus for all staff, students automatically have access to Office 365 Pro Plus at no extra cost. This ‘Student Benefit’ provides BGU students free access to their portal and to the latest versions of all Microsoft Office technologies on any of their devices – desktop, tablets, phones. There’s no doubt that this free licensing for students is a key factor in achieving an adoption rate at BGU which is in close to 100 percent. Soon it will be even easier for students to acquire their free Office 365 Pro Plus because there will be a tile on the BGU portal which enables them to download it directly for themselves.
Anytime, Anywhere access.
The fact that students can log in to their portal on any of their devices, anywhere where there’s web access (or via a ‘MyDay’ app on iPhone, Android or Windows phone) is a huge plus point. It means that students can clarify where they need to be, and see any issues and tasks they have to deal with before they even start their working day. Then they can continue to check the portal as and when they wish, on whatever device is most convenient. The effect is to help clear away the kind of confusions, misunderstandings and failures of personal organisation (wrong place, wrong time, no print credit, big library book fine, missed meeting) which so often stand in the way of efficient learning.
Working with an experienced partner.
Collabco have honed their ‘MyDay’ product, exploiting Microsoft technology to the full and gaining experience over a range of different implementations. Very importantly, too, they form a partnership with the customer, staying with them, listening and offering suggestions, from initial enquiry for as long as the product is being developed and extended. Richard Corn says, ‘We are constantly on the phone with them, saying we want to do this or that, always enhancing the product.’
Full student involvement.
It wouldn’t make sense to present students with a finished product. BGU and Collabco have involved students in the development of their portal right from the initialConclusion demonstration stage through three months of testing. As a result, there is now virtually no negative feedback from student users.
Bishop Grosseteste built its reputation on wise and well-tried innovation. This latest story, featuring student voice, a visionary IT department, an experienced Microsoft Partner in Collabco, and, of course, the power and cost-effective efficiency of cloud-based Microsoft Office 365, sits well within that fine tradition.