An ERASMUS study visit

We have said goodbye to our visitor from the University of Trento, Mauro Ferrari.  Mauro is a web application developer and used the EU’s ERASMUS scheme to fund a two-week study visit to learn how we develop software and in particular how we implement the University’s portal, MyEd.

Mauro’s highlights were:

  • Learning about MyEd, particularly Martin Morrey’s EDUCAUSE talk on analytics
  • Talking about our project methods, especially agile projects
  • Seeing how we use development tools such as JIRA and Bamboo
  • Learning about the Drupal Features module for managing changes in Drupal modules

Mauro also complimented us on our attention to the experience of users and our commitment to migrate data across versions.  He was interested to learn about SAP BI Suite and could see how it would help his University but thought that this would be beyond his team’s current capabilities.

Mauro was more critical of some aspects of the user experience in MyEd.  One example he gave was the way that the whole page redraws when a user changes something in the Event Booking portlet.  He also thought the list of available portlets was hard to scroll.  He gave demos of the Trento portal to several of us; there may be lessons that we can learn from their work.

I was interested to learn of Trento’s approach to managing identities with multiple roles.  Each of their systems prompts you to choose your role when you log in, so you have a single identity and can select which role to use if more than one applies.  Their portal allows you to group all your portlets regardless of role.  This would be a big change for us and I am not suggesting that we change tack, just noting that it was interesting to see the different approach.

Mauro also demonstrated their system for creating and managing applications, which covers everything from Doctoral positions to summer school places to public lectures to internal events and more.  Basically it is a sophisticated form editor with a back-end that lets organisers check applications and so forth.  It clearly works for Trento; for us I think the question it raises is whether a central service of this sort would be useful.  Such a service would combine Events Booking, (use of) EventBrite for public events, OLLBook for evening courses, and possibly more.  I don’t see this as a priority but again it was interesting to compare the approaches.

My overall lesson from his visit is that we are a very effective and mature organisation with much to teach other universities.  Which is not to say that we know everything or that we cannot learn from other universities in return.

I would like to thank everyone who gave their time to talk to Mauro for helping to create a successful visit for our guest. I also thank Mauro for choosing us for his study; we were very pleased to be his hosts.