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Be Supportive not Restrictive

I was outside recently watching our Research Support Student employees fly our helicopter drone over campus capturing some great autumn video.

Abby

Abby

I also had my dog, Abby, with me since I designated it to be “bring your dog to work friday”. Well Abby was generating some interest from students homesick for their pets while I got into a conversation with a couple of our IT Support Services Student employees about their programming ideas. These ideas come from our encouragement for our student employees to explore ways that we might improve our business processes. The idea was about a web app that the student workers could use to trade shifts with their coworkers. The gist of the conversation quickly focused on their perception that IT only recommended development based on Perl. Well he mentioned this to the right guy, actually the boss, but really what a ridiculous perception that obviously had roots from the past. But that type of preferential influence will not fly today.

Perl does have a significant development presence here and there is nothing wrong with Perl, but that should not dictate the requirements of future development. The student asked if he could develop in PHP but was told that PHP was not secure. Well maybe that a general statement with some merit but probably not of concern for a student employment shift sharing application. The student actually wanted to use Python and then our conversation steered toward new ideas like the possibility that WordPress might be utilized. My major point with bringing this up is that we in IT have to be cognizant of the influence we convey and that our way is not the only way. IT should remember when they were the radical adopters of new application platforms. Consider the fights they must have had with cobol and fortran proponents.

Good Look at our iGFU Mobile Portal

Our student News team wanted to do a story on our iGFU Mobile Portal. They tried to video record a demo off of an iPAD which was not going to work so iGFU author, Brian McLaughlin, made them a simple tutorial that we now use on our website. Checkout the tutorial if you have any interest in what a university mobile portal needs to be. Remember, our mobile portal is basically a skunk works project that leverages the flexibility and performance of HTML5 using Java and PHP to access useful data from general data feeds, Moodle and our PeopleSoft ERP.

The tutorial also highlights a couple of other useful tools. Brian made the video by using an App called AirServer that allows him to mirror an IOS device to his MacBook. He then records it with Quicktime and with a little editing on iMovie you get a very real view of a mobile app. Then we upload the video to our new ShareStream video distribution system which gives us total flexiblity to manage and distribute video (especially if we want to manage copyright). We are investigating if AirServer might offer a better path for iPad mirroring to projector in the classroom.

Bragging about our Mobile Portal

iGFU Main Menu

We were one of the earliest institutions to release a mobile app, iGFU, back when the iPhone was initially released. And we had high aspirations for doing much more with mobile development mostly because I had a talented developer who wrote the original version of the geocaching mobile app for Geocaching.com (see previous post). Well, shortly there after we started implementing PeopleSoft and there was no time to think about mobile apps any more. However, now that we are making great progress in utilizing our PeopleSoft portal we found that it was extremely easy to use that as a foundation for a new and improved iGFU mobile app.

iGFU is similar to all the other university mobile apps or portals, but I do have to say that ours offers exceptional content and value, even though I would be prejudiced. The reason I believe this is because I feel that it leverages the critical needs for a customized portal and we produced it essentially for free thanks to my developer squeezing it in to task list and the acquisition of icons from a recent graphic arts alum. The key is that we provide information that is useful to a mobile university user such as news, course catalog, food menus, campus events, mapping, etc. But the kicker is the access to our PeopleSoft ERP data as this student view shows.

MyGFU access from iGFU

Now for some details: this is just a web app written in PHP with the different functions called from PeopleSoft. The functions are setup pretty much as you would for the PeopleSoft Portal. Presentation manager creates the structure drawing from an oracle table holding the specified data. And then it is called and presented by the PHP code. Since it is all controlled under PeopleSoft we can easily toggle a function on/off and designate the security access roles. When lists are involved like for a professor to see their class roster, that is also an easy call. Because we auto-create our course identifier in Moodle we can also grab whatever we want out of our LMS for students and faculty. The most interesting function may be the survey tool that allows a professor to easily solicite response from class with results displayed live. This is all made available because we are working with an advanced ERP solution built upon today’s web principles.

Responseware for Class

I’m not trying to promote iGFU as the greatest mobile portal but I do think it is important to put development of a mobile portal into proper perspective. It should be a web app so that it runs on all devices and can be centrally managed. Keep it simple, what is not accessed from institutional data sources, should be easily maintained by content owners such as with a shared document. We use a simple spreadsheet layout to allow conferences to build their schedules out.

iGFU is a very young service and we are quickly becoming aware of the desires for enhancements and content placement. So now the real work begins in deciding just how we want to manage this service. Probably best to let everyone assume that modifications are difficult. Maybe that is the real advantage of an commercial version.

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