By Saloni N
Connect, an initiative of the Vice-Chancellor Prof. Ramakrishna Ramaswamy and group of university students went live on August 1, though the design and development began four months ago. It’s a novel idea that seeks to offer facilities like a grievance section, pooling resources and more.
connect.uohyd.ac.in is a web portal that is exclusively for the members of the University of Hyderabad. Its intent is to enable better community engagement and discussions. The portal can be accessed only by members who have an official @uohyd.ac.in email which guarantees the authenticity and credibility of the messages posted in the discussions.
One of its very important features is the “grievance section”, which allows people to directly reach the university officials. “A community member can post their grievance which is sent directly to the VC and the moderators. An email is automatically sent to the moderators and VC to check this grievance. Once the concerned authority writes an answer, an email is sent to the person who posted the grievance. The answer can be made private or posted in the public forum in the grievance section by the concerned authority who answered it,” explains Sameer Khan, part of the connect team and PhD Scholar at Center for Neural and Cognitive Sciences.
Plans like adding some options to this feature are being worked upon that would allow the member posting the grievance to choose which concerned authorities the message should be sent to. “We will also add a timer to track how long before the grievance is answered satisfactorily to assess the efficiency of our campus officials in responding to grievances”, adds Sameer.
The initiative was taken by the VC, and a group of university students, who evaluated various options for designing and launching the web portal. This team of students are actively designing and maintaining the website and this endeavour will continue to be the student’s responsibility.
“We hope the portal will be actively used for discussing topics pertinent to our campus life”, says Sameer. It is also intended to allow the members to share resources.
Free speech is also an important aspect of Connect, though Sameer acknowledged that this happens on UoH confessions page and on random blogs but what they offer is Persistence. He states that persistence means that the topic will not be blurred under a barrage of status updates and removed from active visibility which happens on Facebook. “We want to make sure that the topics you start can be discussed perpetually and with prominent visibility on the site,” he added.
They also have a calendar which can be “crowd sourced” to show all events being organized in the university campus. It is being actively maintained at whatsupuoh.blogspot.in so that even non-university members and alumni can see all the events. There are plans to enhance the calendar to have filters to highlight academic, social, official events and are also working on pooling in data about events happening in all universities within Greater Hyderabad area.
Connect also has a jobs portal where campus recruitment and job offers will be posted and a novel feature called “offers and requests”. Here one can share your resources like offering tutorials in vector algebra. New features like course list, campus map, facility booking, etc. are being constantly worked on and requests are always being looked after.
The process: inception to reality
The first steps involved meetings with the VC who gave a general view of what he hoped to see in a technology that would increase “community engagement”. A team was put together by Abu Saleh (PhD student, Comparative Literature) who sought out active members with programming skills (in May 2013).
He adds, “As I have previously worked on developing websites and have experience in systems engineering, I took the task of producing a “requirements document” which was shared with the team and with our VC.”
They vetted possible solutions for web development, server-side data storage and cost effectiveness of current solutions used by other campuses. Google apps was identified as the most cost effective. They also decided to use a service provided by a company called Bang the Table which is an expert in providing “community engagement tools” to various governments across the globe. “Our VC was particularly satisfied with Bang the Table’s track record in providing services to cities in Australia and when we started our development work Bang the Table provided a dedicated team in Bangalore to assist us,” he adds.
One can write to Connect at firstname.lastname@example.org.