The Glasgow Guardian goes behind the scenes at MyGlasgow
MyGlasgow is a platform that we all know and use, which of late has been at the forefront of student concern after a sudden, and somewhat worrying crash during enrolment. We at The Glasgow Guardian had questions: what is the point of MyGlasgow? What went wrong during enrolment? And what’s the future of this platform? The MyGlasgow IT services team kindly invited me to find out.
So what is MyGlasgow? Love it or loathe it, it is our University’s one-stop shop for student and staff services. Providing a multitude of features it holds together various departments and drives the core administration behind a student’s entire experience here at Glasgow. As the administrative sister to the Moodle platform, for all its outdated appearance, it is actually one of the most versatile online platforms around, allowing for student support at any stage of the academic process. To give some sense of scale, every student login pulls from over 700 unique blocks of data to generate their comprehensive profile, drawing together administrative and academic information on the student. This versatility extends to support integration with the vast library services the University has to offer. All this managed by a core technical team of 14 people – plus support staff – and various managers of the different services available.
However, all systems can have issues and this September one such seemingly catastrophic issue arose. After initialising the largest update in MyGlasgow’s history, a few configurations in the underlying setup were causing an unusual increase in server load. These lay largely undetected until enrolment began and traffic began to slow considerably. The IT team made the snap decision to bring enrolment offline to fix the problem, leading to several days of outage and the system appearing broken and abandoned. Behind the scenes, IT services were hard at work: after tracing the problem, IT services completed a series of updates to remove the underlying issue while other members of the team pulled on additional resources from outside the University preparing the system for a smooth reactivation at its scheduled reopening.
As a precaution, IT services contracted some extra servers in preparation for the load. Within the opening two minutes of MyGlasgow being back online, there were over 15,000 unique logins — many students were waiting to log in as soon as possible — and the system started serving every single one of them; a load under which no further problems were seen, heralding the end to a stressful few days in IT services.
So what changes does the MyGlasgow team see in the coming years? Primarily – and possibly unsurprisingly – all of the current stakeholders are keen to see the development of the user interface. The update at the heart of the problems during enrolment was to integrate a service called fluid, a web style interface that can be slowly rolled across the platform during future updates. MyGlasgow has reached a point in its development where although its functionality is quite comprehensive, the user experience leaves much to be desired. It should be noted that problems navigating and using this portal due to misunderstanding the user interface is still the primary reason for a student raising an IT support ticket. The team behind this development are keen to make MyGlasgow a much more streamlined and intuitive system. Interestingly, however, the platform is also looking to improve its data hierarchy to group data more effectively for student and staff access. It was clear during the meeting that continual improvement and investment in the platform is an important part of the work done by IT services and it was pleasant to find such a passionate group behind the scenes of such a vital entity on campus.
Who knows whether any of the big changes will happen in our academic lifetime? From my encounter with the core MyGlasgow team, however, it is clear that they are endeavouring to keep the platform alive under a load of ever-increasing student numbers, whilst improving it for the students already here. So love it, or loathe it, by the end of your academic career this system used by staff and students really is more OurCampus than MyCampus.