GOing… GOing…

GO will be going this Summer, to be replaced by a new home for students and staff to access University systems and services and find information to support their studies or work. This series of blog posts will explain some of the changes that are coming…

Last time we looked at the history of GO as Edge Hill’s staff and student portal. While GO offered customisation, in the design of new student and staff homepages we are looking to offer a standard set of functionality to provide quick and easy access to the information and services that the majority of users need most frequently.

Our Google Analytics data shows that most users logging in go straight to key university systems and services like email, Learning Edge or access to files so these have the greatest visibility.

Some services are popular only at certain times of the year so it’s important to improve visibility of these links during those periods both to promote their use and to make them easier to find. Something like requesting a parking permit is going to have a flurry of activity this month, but quickly tail off and following the initial surge of requests, it’s okay for it to be discoverable through different routes.

Not everything can be a top level link and we need to provide access to the wide range of information and services used by staff and students less frequently.

We’re taking a few different approaches to this:


We’ve categorised and grouped all the links to information and services we provide from these new homepages into a handful of broad headings like Living and Money Matters. These purposely don’t map directly to departments as often users don’t know (or care?) who provides a service, they just want to find something out or get something done. Each category might have its own top/popular/timely featured services which serves the purpose of highlighting the kind of information inside and providing quick access to commonly used systems.


First up – “solving” website search is hard, like, really hard. I’ve been trying for the best part of ten years to make the best possible site search and it’s impossible to get it right for every search query from every user. There’s a reason Google have thousands of engineers working on the problem. We’re able to tap into some of that work and we currently use Google Site Search to power our website search engine. It works on a subset of their main search engine index meaning only public web pages can be included in the results making it useless for GO which was all behind a login but ideal for our new student and staff homepages where we link to public “gateway” pages rather than directly to the authenticated system. By using Plain English and adding metadata to pages we should be able to return relevant results (e.g. we need to return the page about Intercalation when a student has never heard that term types in take time off). It’s not going to be perfect and please let us know when you come across things you don’t expect!


Last time I talked about how the customisation features of GO have a very low adoption rate and introduce support challenges but with personalisation we’re taking a different approach. We’re looking at ways to supplement the default user experience with additional functionality tailored the users needs and usage patterns. For example if there is a particular service that a user accesses on a regular basis we might bump it up the list so it’s quicker to access. If a user is already logged in then we can provide students with links relevant to their course and staff links appropriate to their role and department. Unlike the customisation features in GO, this won’t require the user to do anything extra and it should supplement default content making support easier. We have a few technical challenges to overcome before we can push some of this functionality out, but it’s coming Real Soon Now.



GO will be going this Summer, to be replaced by a new home for students and staff to access University systems and services and find information to support their studies or work. This series of blog posts will explain some of the changes that are coming…

GO has been Edge Hill’s staff and student portal for a long time: the current version can trace its routes back 10 years. In that time it’s had over 100 million views and used for a total of 290 years.

The initial launch of GO was the first time we had a single point of access to a range of services for students such as the VLE, email and module re-enrolments, plus links to support and information.

The platform introduced single sign on for many services meaning you could log in once and be signed into a range of systems without having to reenter usernames and passwords. Before GO users would often have to remember different passwords for each system.

While GO has served us well, we perhaps haven’t given it as much TLC as we would have liked over the last couple of years and it hasn’t kept up to date with the latest technology and ways people access services online.

While the main Edge Hill website has a responsive design – it adapts to show well on mobile phones and tablets as well as desktop computers – GO’s main interface does not which means a non-optimal experience for the fifth of users accessing from a phone. The main site sees over a third of visitors from a mobile device so there is potential for growth if we improve the user experience.

When GO launched there was a trend towards providing users with the ability to customise their user experience. We followed the example of sites like iGoogle and Netvibes in pulling in widgets from both our own services and third party sites and presenting them in a single dashboard. These could be added and removed, and the whole page customised to suit the user.

There were two main problems with this approach. Firstly, it is difficult for staff supporting students to know where to find information as it’s not necessarily in the same place, or may have been removed entirely. Secondly the adoption rate of customisation features was very low, and while it was welcomed by a small proportion of users, it didn’t garner enough use to justify significant further development.

Ten years is a long time in IT and a number of the underlying systems that power GO are a little long in the tooth and approaching the end of their life, with better alternatives available.

Next time we’ll be looking at some of the thinking behind the development our new student and staff homepages.