Web gets personally precise for students

June 18, 1999

The University of Sydney's 35,000 students and 5,000 staff have become the first in Australia to use a new web portal system that aggregates content and services from a wide range of sources onto a single web site.

Dubbed "MyUni", the system gives users password-protected access to a home page that is generated on the spot according to their own preferences. A student's personal homepage provides a range of relevant information such as their lecture timetable, examination schedule, outstanding library fines, and any announcements from the faculty where they are enrolled.

As each of these areas is handled by a different university computer, getting all the information together would previously have meant logging on to several different systems. With the intranet portal, however, all the data is displayed through a single page.

Academics and students can log on to the system anywhere in the world, so that international students are able to check their examination results without waiting for them to arrive via the post, said Sydney's intranet systems project manager Robert Silver.

Since the system came online in April, the take-up has been high, Mr Silver said. "The response has been very positive. It's been very well received and as more of the students become web proficient, we will see many more of them taking part."

Mr Silver said that Sybase's WebDynamo database technology allowed MyUni to pull data from many computers, including systems running on Sun Solaris, Digital Unix and Windows NT, and present it on one page.

Groups running arts, music, sports or other events no longer have to put flyers on walls and noticeboards all over campus. The announcements can be posted online and targeted to people with relevant interests.

The system cost Aus$500,000 (Pounds 206,000) to install but Mr Silver said that a further rollout of infrastructure, which would provide more services, would be much less expensive. He said the university expected to make considerable cost savings in future as the need for printing and postage falls.

MyUni has many of the features that are standard on commercial web portals such as free web-based email and webpage hosting. Mr Silver said the main aim was to help staff and students filter the mountains of information generated in a large institution.

"It's all about using the portal strategies used on the web at large. Sydney Uni has well over 100,000 documents on the web and wading through that can take some time," he said. "There is a great business case for using portals within an organisation with thousands of users because you are trying to deliver a lot of complex information to a lot of people."

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