Portal users nearly double since last spring

Listen to an extended interview with Sam Levy, vice president of IRT.

Portal Audio

Portal, a Web application that combines elements of Blackboard, Murphy Online and Outlook e-mail, is growing in popularity. Since its launch last spring, the number of daily visits has nearly doubled.

When Portal was initiated last semester, it averaged 1,800 visits per day, said Elizabeth Houle, Web and media services director for Information, Resources and Technologies. This fall, Portal has received an average of 3,500 visits a day and 14,000 page views per day. But IRT is unable to discern what portion of the students using Portal are undergraduates or graduates, Houle said.

“That [number] is pretty solid for us,” she said. “It shows we’re fulfilling a need.”

And those numbers are exactly what developers had in mind.

“The numbers are what we hoped for,” said Sam Levy, vice president of IRT. “[It] takes time to grow something like [Portal].

Student reactions to Portal

Senior Peter Swanson said he enjoys using Portal.

“Portal is great if you want to use it for your agenda,” he said. “There are some things I don’t use Portal for, but for planning my schedule, I like it.”

Yet some students do not understand Portal’s components.

“I don’t even really know what Portal is,” freshman Lindsey Bitter said. “I don’t understand why I would log in to it when I could just log in to Outlook or Blackboard.”

Junior Sophie Kempf tried out Portal when it first was launched last spring. But she has not been using it this fall.

“I’ve used [Portal] about three times when it first came out last March,” junior Sophie Kempf said. “Though you can send e-mails and see your inbox from Portal, it doesn’t work to the full extent that Outlook does.”

Kempf said she wonders if Portal will eventually replace Outlook e-mail. But Levy said this will not happen.

“Portal will never replace the applications [Blackboard, Murphy Online and Outlook e-mail],” Levy said. “[The] nice thing [is you] can have it both ways—you can go into Outlook separate from Portal. Portal is a gateway into [Blackboard, Murphy Online and Outlook e-mail].”

Future features of Portal

Currently, Portal allows students to e-mail, view news, chat with classmates and review their schedules.

“For the foreseeable future, we see it expanding,” Levy said.

To better serve the students’ needs, a special IRT team plans to add more features to Portal, Houle said.

“[Portal] enables us to keep track of what is of interest to our community by hearing from people about the features they want to see incorporated,” Levy said.

In the future, IRT plans to further integrate TommieMedia.com, add a collaborative writing tool and enhance the e-mail and calendar to name a few, Houle said.

“We have a small development team of four people, and our plan is in late fall or J-term to release a couple of features on our list,” she said. “We have gotten the most feedback for on-campus housing, which is scheduled [to be featured on Portal] next month or so.”

In the future, students will be able to schedule appointments with advisers, Houle said. There will also be more student networks added.

“Another piece that is coming that we didn’t finish when we launched [Portal] is the plan to have more networks, such as dorm or floor networking,” Houle said.

Eventually Portal will also fulfill the needs of the faculty and staff, Levy said.

Houle encourages students to contact the tech desk or e-mail her to suggest features they want to access through Portal.

Rebekah Frank can be reached at rfrank@stthomas.edu