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University calendaring — seeking input

June 11th, 2008 by Erick Beck

Last week I wrote that we’re starting to look at calendaring solutions. Not having done a full survey of calendaring applications at the time I also naively wrote:

“I don’t foresee this as a central application that everyone from across campus would log in to, but rather a calendar that would aggregate and republish individual calendars provided through syndication from the colleges, departments, and offices around campus.”

Having now looked into the calendaring solutions that are available, I haven’t found any of this sort that I’m really happy with. Our top two candidates are Bedework and UNL Event Publisher and both of these work primarily along the centralized calendar model. They can manually import ical feeds, but do not support remote subscriptions. On the other hand, both do offer departmental sub-calendars so that sub-groups of the university could use the system and still have their own calendar separate from the university calendar — but they are still tied to the central system.

So, my question to you the campus web community, is… does this really matter? From the discussions I’ve heard few of us are happy with the solutions we have in place, and entry of events is one of the biggest issues. I’m also not currently seeing a lot of feeds being syndicated out from the colleges and departments, perhaps because no one seems to have a good solution already in place. So does the ability of the central calendar to pull in these events through feeds really make that much difference? Or if we go with a robust central system that offers sub-calendaring that everyone could use for their own groups would you be willing to do event entry there?

Also, if you know of a good calendar system that I might have missed and which does all these things, please pass it along as well and we’ll take a look at it.

Wednesday, June 11th, 2008 Calendar
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4 Comments to University calendaring — seeking input

  1. This is kind of an aside, but — we don’t publish RSS feeds because as far as I know, the Howdy portal doesn’t want them… and that’s currently the only system that’s aggregating news/feeds on a campuswide basis. No effort has been put into creating or publishing them (which would be easy for us to do — everything’s in plone) because no one at the university level has expressed an interest in consuming the information.

    Now, I don’t have access to the Zimbra system that replaced Neo, but — I believe this is the calendaring solution that everyone is using at the moment who has an account. (Personally, my calendar is in my Groupwise system because that’s what synchronizes with my PDA, which is where I actually consume/use that information.)

    I would say it’s a great idea to have a campuswide calendar. But we’ve gotten ahead of ourselves a bit in talking about the technology that’s out there and which technological solution. Who’s going to use this calendar, how are they going to use it, and what information are they going to want to see? How can we effectively subset the data so that the sheer amount of stuff that goes on in this campus community won’t drown out the one or two things that students or staff are looking for? (i.e. I honestly don’t care when the Anthropology department has a staff ‘mixer’, but that is one example of something that would be included on an RSS feed of events from the anthropology department’s website.) And then how do we get the data to where people are actually using it, whether that be Zimbra or a desktop client.

    So — take a BIG step back. Standards-compliance is important, but you have some very big challenges ahead of you if you’re trying to document the upcoming events on this campus. And no one — and I mean NO ONE — will even look at it if it’s got every last event that’s going to happen on this campus. On the other hand, every event is important to someone, and is worthy of being listed and documented.

  2. Karl on June 12th, 2008
  3. Karl, first of all thanks for the comment, you make some good points.

    Regarding audience, you are right, people use calendars in many different ways through many different devices. This is where staying standards compliant helps the process. The chosen solution should be able to work not only as a web-based view to events, but also be transferable to your personal calendar however it is kept. To somewhat address the next concern, this ideally should be granular to the event level so that you can import into your device only the events that are of interest to you.

    The idea of information overload is an important one because you’re absolutely right, it will drive away more people than it helps. This is where intelligent organization of the calendar structure comes in — departmental mixers might be posted only on the departmental calendar and not included on the all-university view. So it is available for those who are interested by does not become “noise” for those who don’t. Organization of the calendar into topical categories can also help — those interested in concernts can look only at that calendar view and ignore athletic events, for example.

    This is definately a large and complex project, which is why we’re looking for input from the campus community rather than doing it in a vacuum and springing it on you. I hope this will make the end result something that everyone can draw some benefit from.

  4. Erick on June 12th, 2008
  5. I don’t want to have to go through and hand pick which events make it onto my calendar. That’s not much better than having all events on my calendar because I still have to deal with all of them.

    We also don’t need event lists based on the organizational chart of the University any more than a good website follows an org chart, though some departments might want a staff calendar or a student calendar (for their majors, perhaps).

    Better would be topical calendars. For example, the Physics Colloquium Schedule or the Digital Humanities Lecture Series or Anthropology Staff Socials. I’m thinking of tracks at a conference.

    An event list such as the DH Lecture Series isn’t really tied to a particular department or college. It’s managed by a steering committee with membership from a number of colleges and the library. So not all event topics can be associated with one college or a department.

    Another calendar that students would probably want is one showing their course schedule and final exams. Each course should probably have a calendar as well where professors could post important events, homework assignments, and exam schedules.

  6. James on June 13th, 2008
  7. You’ve taken a page out of the Bedework manual… “users
    should not need to know what group within an organization’s hierarchy sponsors an item to
    find it. However, an organization should still be able to pull a “departmental” view of the
    calendar information and present only that to their intended audience[.]” This is our preferred direction, so that users can get to the information either topically or organizationally. Ideally all of these views would be importable; the idea of individual item import is an added bonus for those who do want only a few events.

    The academic calendar and and finals schedules definitely would be added as a distinct topic. The class schedule and class calendars would certainly be possible with a shibboleth-enabled application. I like the idea and the ambition, but here I think we’re pushing beyond our mandate. I understand this will open a whole new can of worms, but…the primary audience of Marketing & Communications (not just with the calendar, but as an organization) is prospective students and parents, the campus at-large, and the general public. While we do our best to make sure that our solutions also benefit everyone in the campus community, we really don’t have the mandate or the resources to provide such individual-based resources. We’ll be happy to work with the portal team, Blackboard/Elearning team, or whoever else can take on such a project, but for the time being we’re primarily looking at how to manage event publication.

  8. Erick Beck on June 16th, 2008

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