In use by nearly half a million users, the .LRN platform was orginally developed to support universities, and now we also use it with schools, businesses and non-profit organisations.
The David Geffen School of Medicine (DGSOM) at UCLA today has more than 2,000 full-time faculty members, almost 1,300 residents, more than 750 medical students and almost 400 Ph.D. candidates. The UCLA Medical Center has been ranked "Best in the West" by U.S. News and World Report's annual survey of the best hospitals in America for fifteen consecutive years. The medical school is ranked ninth in the country in research funding from the National Institutes of Health and third in the United States in research dollars from all sources.
DGSOM has 21 major departments and nationally recognized centers and institutes, and there are dozens of smaller centers and units. Until recently, DGSOM’s public web presence was diverse and inconsistent. Each department maintains its own server with its own look and feel. After an external consulting group’s review of the entire DGSOM operations the comment was made that the UCLA health sciences web sites were a “…wickedly heterogeneous morass of inconsistent presentations, navigations, capabilities, and technologies.” Outside visitors easily became lost and an important marketing opportunity was being wasted. The opportunity to leverage the UCLA brand image was being squandered and visitors were being frustrated.
The Dean’s office formed the web sub-group and charged it with designing and coordinate the development of a new unified web portal to the UCLA Health Sciences. One of the primary goals was to establish a consistent design that presented intuitive and simple navigation mechanisms. The design was coordinated with other marketing efforts and publications to carry the UCLA brand image. The technical requirements included the need for a templating system to allow for design changes, a general content management system, specific legacy database integration issues, and several unique applications.
The Computing Technologies Research Lab (CTRL) at UCLA was given the development project. CTRL is a software development group within the DGSOM that primarily provides open source solutions to research and clinical data collection, management and reporting problems. While currently not dotLRN contributors, CTRL developers have used the AOLserver and TCL to build web-based applications since the early days when the software was called Naviserver. CTRL has developed many OpenACS packages and naturally selected the OpenACS 4.6.3 (the current version at the time) as the framework upon which to develop the new UCLA Health Sciences portal and federated sites. The site has an Oracle 8i backend RDBMS.
The CTRL CMS is a consolidated presentation of tailored OpenACS applications and custom developed packages. (See figure 1). Editorial control of the content of the portal is distributed across several offices and among many individuals. The CTRL CMS allows content managers to control dynamic content as well as static content. The Static Content Publisher package provides distributed management control over static content while maintaining consistent presentation using sets of templates.
Figure 1. The CTRL-CMS interface displaying the Static Content Publisher index page.
A central component of the UCLA Health Sciences web portal is the Personnel System. The Personnel System holds faculty and physician information. The types of data it contains include: contact and basic information, titles, degrees, research interests, and publications. This package makes these data available to each of the Health Sciences federated sites implemented (OACS subsites).
“…The Faculty Database [Personnel System] is a very important resource that is an enormous time-saver over how faculty research profiles used to be maintained. I expect that the Faculty Database will ultimately become the basis of the entire campus faculty dossier.” Dr. Leonard Rome Senior Associate Dean of Research, David Geffen School of Medicine, UCLA.
The Health Sciences Portal cost just under $250,000 to develop. CTRL is a university sales and service unit that charges $50/hour for development. A little more than 5000 programmer hours have gone into the technical development of the site.