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This article was originally written for schools transitioning to Portals 3.0 from our legacy platform in 2017.
Creating portals using the Portals 3.0 platform for parents, teachers, students, and other constituencies is an exciting, but potentially daunting prospect for schools. This article provides a “roadmap” of sorts and offering several suggested approaches for rolling out Portals 3.0 successfully. It is recommended that schools coming to Portals 3.0 for the first time work through this document as they consider when and how to launch them.
Recommended Configuration Tasks
Whether Portals 3.0 are implemented in the summer or fall, there are certain configuration steps that need to be followed. The following list is essentially a guided table of contents for this article, giving an overview of the process.
- Designate portal administrators.
- Make design and branding (colors, fonts, images, etc.) choices.
- Define the portal structure for each portal being launched, beginning with the default configuration.
- Optionally, create a site map to help organize content.
- Create the menu structure.
- Create the home screen.
- Create the additional screens.
- Review your v. 2 portal features compared with the Portals 3.0 defaults, and consider where to link to features that you currently have in your various portals.
- Parent, Student, and Teacher defaults
- Students: Classes, Schedules, and Documents
- System Screens
- Other Veracross features
- Define News Management content for each portal being launched. Consider the following as applicable:
- Calendars and events
- Other content
- Determine portal membership.
- Determine a timeline and launch Portals 3.0 in the summer or fall.
Portal Admin Homepage and Portal Detail Screens
Navigate to the Portal Admin homepage to find the available portals, recently updated screens, and links to manage related content, user accounts, and directories.
Click on the name of a portal to open its detail screen, where all options for that portal can be accessed via several tabs:
- General: name, status, design aspects, etc.
- Navigation: menu structure
- Configuration: a number of configuration options for the portal
- Component Screens: Manage and edit component screens in the portal. Use the “Copy” link to copy a screen to another portal or to the current one (effectively duplicating it).
- Content Screens: Manage and edit content screens in the portal
- Admins: Manage portal administrators
- Members: Manage portal members
Anyone administering a portal will need the Portal Admin security role and to be set up to administer individual portals. Set up any portal administrators on the Admins tab in the Permissions section of the portal detail screen. They will create menus, manage content and portal membership, etc.
Design and Branding
Be intentional with your design choices as they relate to your school’s brand from the beginning. For instance, while it can be helpful to have each school level design their own screens, they should make use of colors, logos, etc., that are decided upon in advance and will be applied across all portals. Many schools create a style guide before designing their portals to ensure that users have a consistent experience across screens within each portal, and even across different portals of which they are members.
The background image and navigation bar can be customized for each portal.
Default Portal Configurations
The Parent, Student, and Teacher Portal will be available in a basic configuration that schools can then modify to add customized menus, data components, and — if News Management is purchased — customized content such as filtered calendars, news, blogs, resources, etc.
Optional: Create a Site Map
Creating a site map can be very helpful in organizing the the content, data, and navigation of a portal. Read here for recommendations on creating one.
Menus and Navigation
The menu structure will flow directly from the sitemap.
- What should be the order of top-level menus and the order of menu options within each?
- Single link or a drop-down menu with further options? For instance, in the menu screenshot above, the Headmaster’s Blog is put on the top level to drive traffic to it, even though it might also be an option under “News and Events.”
- Be clear when naming menu options. For instance, “Headmaster’s Blog” is probably clearer than “HM’s Blog” for new parents.
- What information is most important to see every time the portal is accessed? Consider what is most timely and that many users may not navigate to information that is buried.
- Highlight key information.
- Use page elements that are highly visual, e.g., including images along with blog posts, calendars, embedded social media, etc.
- As many additional screens can be created as needed, e.g., a Headmaster’s blog, fine arts highlights, upcoming events, information on ongoing capital campaigns, etc.
- Be conscious how certain components can be filtered. For instance, if displaying a calendar on a lower school page be sure that the calendar is filtered for lower school events.
- Leverage built-in integration available in Veracross to display timely and relevant information where possible. For instance, on a Fine Arts screen, include links to the event registration forms for upcoming performances, or link to online giving forms as relevant to particular pages. For instance, if there is a capital campaign for a new athletics facility, link to the giving page on the Athletics screen.
- Example Screens (e.g., Parent Resource Page, Headmaster Blog, etc.)
Review Your Existing v. 2 Features Compared with Portals 3.0 Defaults
Default configurations of Parent, Student, and Teacher Portals have a number of features turned “on” or “off” that schools might be using in their v. 2 iteration of portals. Schools will need to consider which features they will want to include when building their desired portals, building up from the default configuration. Features are accessed in one of two ways:
- By linking to them (e.g., all-school calendars, Student Logistics Requests).
- By configuring the portal itself in the Configuration tab of the Portal Detail screen (e.g. My Children menu).
Parent Portal Feature Defaults
The following items can be linked from a screen or accessible in the menus:
- Calendars: School and athletic calendars linked. Birthday calendar not linked in default.
- Student Logistics Requests are not linked by default.
- Billing and Invoices are not linked in the default.
- Teacher Conference Registration is not linked by default. They can be linked when it is time for conferences.
- Online donation links are turned off by default. If the school uses online donations, schools can make use of the existing integration with donation forms. This has the added benefit of carrying over the user’s information when clicking on the link.
A number of other options can be shown or hidden in the Configuration tab of the Portal detail screen.
Teacher Portal Feature Defaults
The following items can be linked from a screen or made accessible in the menus:
- The Resource Reservations feature (Portals 3.0 only supports Resource Reservations 2.0) is turned on by default.
- Add Student Behavior, Add Student Comment components can be added.
- Advisor Dashboard. If the dashboard is desired, it is recommended to make a new screen, add the Advisor Dashboard component on that screen, then link to that screen from a page or menu.
- Previously created Axiom links are configured as Portal Links by default. Schools may want to revisit existing Axiom links since in Portals 3.0 opens new organizational possibilities.
- Course Requests are turned off by default but can be linked from a page or menu.
Student Portal Feature Defaults
The following items can be linked from a screen or made accessible in the menus:
- Assignment Dropbox is a dedicated component and is turned off by default.
- The Course Requests link is turned off by default.
A number of other options can be shown or hidden in the Configuration tab of the Portal detail screen.
Student and Household directories by grade level are standard, as well as one Faculty/Staff directory.
- Decide how many and what type of directories to create.
- Decide on directory preference defaults for each directory.
Directories can be as simple or as intricate as desired. On the simple end of the spectrum, a school may simply want to list all students or households by grade level or last name, and on the more complex end, schools might have multiple directories for different organizations (yearbook, teams, etc.) and “views” of students (e.g., by grade level, by campus, etc.).
In planning how simple or complex to make directories, consider how each constituency can most easily access the information they need. For instance, if there are clubs and activities at the school, is it helpful to create separate directories for each of them, or does that needlessly add an extra level of complexity? There may be more to be gained with more granular directories involving faculty/staff because of clubs and other school activities of which they may be a part.
Directory preference defaults also need to be set: for each directory, the school determines the total available fields and default visibility, then individuals can fine tune how they appear.
Students: Classes, Reports, and Documents
It is recommended that schools launch new Portals 2017 after publishing 2017-18 schedules. To do otherwise would be to launch new portals without any schedules. Document publishing will remaing the same as in previous portals.
Link from the general configuration article (where components and content types are currently); also link from menu configuration.
Other Veracross Features
There are several additional Veracross features, existing outside of portals, that can be linked to from portals:
- online giving
- program registration
- event registration
Many different types of content can be created and managed using the News Management Module.
- Review channels. Add or delete as needed for new portal content.
- Set up authors and reviewers for each channel.
- Consider how to present each piece of information.
Channels are used to collect similar content and have been a feature of Veracross communications since the introduction of Composer. Prior to Portals 3.0, most schools thought about channels only as a way to categorize emails, but now channels have a much broader function in categorizing all content that is published in portals. For this reason, review the channel list on the Communications homepage. Decide whether to make new ones based on different kinds of content to publish in the portal.
All news article components can pull from multiple channels, so do not worry about creating more channels. The goal is to find the right number of channels: not too many (too hard for authors to publish their information) or too few (channels then lose their meaning of differentiating content). Be careful not to confuse questions about channels with those about audience. Audience is determined by the portal (parent, teacher, etc.), not the channel.
Channel Example: Headmaster’s Blog. A Headmaster’s Blog should be published within a “Headmaster’s Blog” channel. This is a quintessential use case of having a separate channel, as opposed to publishing blog entries in a larger news channel. The HM’s blog is a discreet kind of content and should have its own channel. Note that it may be relevant to more than one audience. Audience and channel are two separate questions, so in this instance the HM’s blog might be pulled into the Parent Portal as well as the Teacher Portal, and other content portals if they are created (e.g., a portal for board members).
Decide on article authors and review/publishing process for each channel. An author needs to have author permissions on that channel, and reviewers are also configured on the channel.
Consider which article components are best suited to certain types of content For example, information can be displayed as a list of recent entries in a small or large component on the home screen, for instance, or linked from a menu.
Calendars and Event Components
- Decide which calendars to display.
- Decide which events to filter.
There are three personal calendars (household, student, teacher), available based on the user’s role, and four system calendars (school, athletic, birthday, exam). Consider which, if any, of these to display in the Portal. They may be available immediately on the homepage, either via top-level menus or links in a component, or they may be available in a “Calendars” menu of some kind.
There are many options for displaying events. Events get published (displayed) based on the filter settings on each Component, such as by Event Type, School Level, Grade Level, and more (see documentation links below). For instance, if creating a lower school events page, events can be filtered to only show lower school events starting in the next two weeks.
Portals 3.0 has the ability to link to virtually any type of content needed. For instance:
- Link to a YouTube/Vimeo/etc. video using video embed component.
- Link to a Google Drive folder using Google Drive component.
- Link to a Google form using the Google Form component.
Portal Accounts and Membership
Testing New Portals With a Small Subset of Users
Schools may desire to test their new Portals before launching them to all constituents. It is recommended to test new portals with a small group of users, e.g., a subset of teachers or representative parents. Teachers who are also have children at the school can be a good test group, as they will be able to see both the Parent and Teacher Portals. There are two strategies for testing:
- Have certain people use both versions in parallel using the “Portals 3 Tester” role. See next section for further details.
- Cut over certain people to v. 3 and simply have them start using the new platform. To do this, follow the directions in the “To Launch New Portals for Users” section below, except only cut over the individual users desired, not in batch.
To Enable Testing Using the “Portals 3 Tester” Access Mode
- Find users who want to be testers.
- Change their status to “enabled.”
- Change their platform to “Portals 3 Tester.”
Log in to portals.veracross.com/schoolname, which will redirect to v. 2, then manually change the URL back to portals.veracross.com/schoolname/portalname.
To Launch New Portals For All Users
The Parent, Student, and Teacher Portals are all launched (or “turned on”) separately. The following are the general steps to take for launching each one:
- Create missing user accounts using normal account creation options.
- Related documentation: Creating User Accounts in Batch
- On the Members tab of the portal, batch update everyone’s status to “enabled” and portal platform to v. 3.
- Run the Action menu item “Upgrade all portal members,” which accomplishes both tasks.
- Related documentation: Portal Membership
- Send email notifications:
- welcome emails for new accounts
- a general composer email for everyone else
- Related documentation:
- Launching Teacher Portals for the First Time (for new schools)
- Launching Parent and Student Portals for the First Time (for new schools)
- Launching Portals (for existing schools)
- Administrative follow-up:
- Change default portal platform system parameter for new accounts.
- Review primary (“default”) portals for individual users on the person-account detail screen on the Portal Membership tab.
- Change the status of the portal to “active” on the Portal detail screen.
Portals 3.0 or Earlier Portals (v. 2)
When the new Portals 3.0 are enabled in early July, all portal users will still see version 2 at the same URL, just like they always have. Users on v. 2 (which initially will be everyone) will be automatically redirected to a slightly different URL: portals-app.veracross.com/schoolname,and the new 3.0 Portals will be at portals.veracross.com/schoolname. The redirect is transparent to end users.
Users do not need to learn a new URL. The address for portals will remain portals.veracross.com/schoolname. Logic within Veracross determines which version of portals to which a particular user has access and redirects them accordingly. If user are on v. 3 (2017), they will remain at portals.veracross.com. If they are still on v. 2, they will automatically redirect to portals-app.veracross.com.
Schools will have the ability to configure the new platform and then switch individual users over to Portals 2017 (version 3). Default queries will be provided to enable batch updating.
There are three values possible in determining which portals platform to which a user has access:
- Portals 2: the previous version of portals
- Portals 3: the new 2017 version
- Portals 3 Tester: allows the user to log into either version 2 or 3, though their default remains v. 2. Portals 3 Testers will still navigate to portals.veracross.com/schoolname, and then once they are logged in and redirected to the v.2 version, they can manually change the URL back to portals.veracross.com/schoolname/portalname to access v. 3.
Timeline for Launching New Portals
If you are an existing Veracross school, the cutover to Portals 3.0 can happen anytime from mid-July through January 15, 2018. The two basic options are a summer launch or waiting until fall/winter. In either case, schools may opt for a phased or complete rollout. For a phased rollout, schools might turn on the new Portals 3.0 for a certain constituency, e.g., teachers, before rolling it out to everyone else. The rollout could be even more fine-tuned, turning on the new portals for only teachers who also have children at the school, or for a small batch of test users from different constituencies. Since portals are launched on a per-user basis, schools are able to be granular in rolling out new portals if they desire.
A summer launch has the advantage of configuring and launching new portals without the day-to-day pressure of the school year, enabling a “fresh start” for the entire school year. It is recommended to upgrade or create new Parent accounts before launching Portals 3.0 in the summer.
If your school desires to wait until fall to launch Portals 3.0, it is recommended that they are launched alongside a natural check-in with parents, e.g., alongside progress reports or report cards being released, or at PTC time.
Impact On Mobile Portals
Schools that have Mobile Portals will automatically retain mobile redirects to them after Portals 3.0 launches. Because the new portals are mobile-responsive, it is recommended that schools turn off the automatic redirect and use the standard mobile portal URL of portals.veracross.com/schoolname.
Schools with Mobile Portals should talk to their account managers about best practices in this regard.
- How will Finalsite integration work? We are working with Finalsite ensure a smooth transition process. No significant action will be required on the part of schools.
- How do new Portals impact other website provider integration? Talk to your account manager.
- What impact do new Portals have on student assignment dropbox integration with Google Drive? Information will be forthcoming.