The Knowledge Network Education Vrije Universiteit (KnowVU) main objective is to share knowledge on education: learning from each other, telling about, ask and give each other advice. I’m working part-time at KnowVU to work on the renewal of their website. When i started back in March 2017 the current KnowVU website was outdated and very static and outdated. For the new website we wanted to really create a platform where teachers would be able to exchange information. I decided to get back to the drawing table and start completely from scratch. After 10 months the project was completed and the result can be viewed on knowvu.nl.
What are the key features of the new KnowVu platform?
The platform of the KnowVU has as main goal to be a place where teachers from different faculties can exchange information about eduction. Because of the nature of universities there are a lot of researchers working. Besides research a university also provides education to students and researchers often also work as teachers. The KnowVU exists to support the teaching skills of teachers.
On the platform the main datasource for information on teaching is called the Kennisweb or knowledge-base in english. This is a page where every data entry with regard to teaching is displayed and can be searched with the use of filters and queries.
The organisational structure of the KnowVU is build up by members, this are teachers from the VU that have joined the KnowVU with the goal to contribute to the knowledge base. Members can have various statuses like e.g. KnowVU ambassador. An ambassador is linked to a faculty in the VU and can serve as a point of contact for visitors with questions.
The knowledge from the kennisweb and the members is combined on a page called VU-experts. This page lists some highlighted projects that are proven to be effective in practise. If a teacher from faculty A wants to retrieve information about a certain topic, this teacher can look on the VU-experts page to find the person with experience in this field. The goal of the VU-experts page is to prevent reinventing the wheel on certain topics.
Development of the platform
Besides the standard WordPress file structure this for this project 3.5K lines of custom written code are used. Most of the work has been in the creation of the members page and user profiles. Each user that is registered on the platform can update their own profile and create links to other elements in the platform such as prizes won and kennisweb pages. With this platform i sometimes had to push the capabilities that WordPress provides. By combining build in functions and writing dedicated modules for functionalities the development process was quite smooth. The codex provides lots of background on the possibilities and i was able to fill in the gaps when i wanted more.
For design of the site i chose an clean and easy to use UI. The design should support the users toward exchanging information and be easy to understand and use. By creating a similar layout for the front and back-end users found is easy to update their profiles and create content, even without previous experience in WordPress. The platform is also designed with a mobile first mentality, analytics data from the previous month shows that around 20% of users visit the platform using mobile devices.
The goal for this platform is also to be scalable and easy to implement in other educational institutions. Exchange on teaching experiences should not be limited to only the VU but shared with other universities. Currently there are examples of other universities in the Netherlands that have a similar organisation that focuses on the sharing of teaching information. But there is no centralised network in place that connects experts across the country. A vision for the future of the concept behind the current KnowVU platform is the creation of a centralised network that focuses on exchange of information