The Open Polytechnic

Site purpose

The Open Polytechnic is New Zealand's first choice for open, flexible, distance learning. It is a government-owned and funded education institute, delivering courses throughout New Zealand and internationally. They offer over 100 qualifications and 1,200 courses from certificate to diploma and degree level (Levels 1–7 on the National Qualifications Framework), ranging from technical and vocational training to higher professional and continuing education.

The Open Polytechnic wanted their public website, including online enrolment system, to be rebuilt completely, as part of an overhaul of its technology infrastructure. They sought to improve their web presence and streamline the way they interacted with students through the website. One goal behind the rebuild was to increase the number of people who enrolled online, as opposed to the more traditional paper-based enrolment process. The key step to this would be for prospective students to be able to get from the home page to the enrolment page in as few steps as possible.

The SilverStripe CMS was the technology chosen for the site, and a team from SilverStripe Ltd was contracted to carry out most of the work.

What we did

The website the Open Polytechnic required was extremely complex, involving a public website, sophisticated registration forms, and a number of internal databases which all needed to be connected seamlessly. Using SilverStripe technology, we were able to bring all these elements together.

As well as our technology being the glue for the project, SilverStripe Ltd also played a key role in the development of the site. We took responsibility for developing the core parts of the overall solution.

The new system runs on a load-balanced Linux, Apache, PHP, PostgreSQL platform, and intergrates with a variety of Microsoft SQL Server and .NET systems. The website was previously a marketing focussed website without an enrollment system and ran on Plone CMS.

The usability, information architecture and wireframes for the site were created by Optimal Usability, and design work for the site was done by *experience, and implemented by SilverStripe. We integrated a number of custom web services to collate, and process data about students from various sources. Together this created an interactive enrolment plan which acts as a shopping cart prior to enrolling into a course. The interface aims to simplify the decision making process around time commitments, by estimating and summarising study hours in selected courses.

Since the SilverStripe CMS platform was used, we collaborated with in-house developers at Open Polytechnic, and mentored them towards being able to maintain a shared code base.

The Scrum-based project ensured a high level of collaboration between different stakeholders, including co-location of SilverStripe developers at client offices.

We imported the details of hundreds of courses and programmes, with thousands of additional relations like availability indicators, in a per-formant fashion which allows the business to update large amounts of critical data without relying on us as a vendor.

Despite the wide scope, SilverStripe Ltd were able to deliver the project within the tight timeframe of six months, and the site was relaunched in December 2010.

To deliver against very tight timeframes, an Agile process was used. This was lead by the Open Polytechnic and delivered great results.

What users can do now

  • Now when enrolling students select Open Polytechnic programmes and courses, they know exactly the workload and how long the study will take. Steps are clearly shown, and students are able to save and exit at any stage, if they need to complete the enrolment process later.
  • The site responds to learners based on their personalisation, for example offering course suggestions to make up a programme “people who viewed this, also viewed...”.
  • The Open Polytechnic now have a solid platform for easy future development, which allows for new innovation as needed.
  • The site templates are compliant with W3C WCAG 2.0 AA standards, enabling users with visual impairments and other forms of accesiblity needs to easily use the website.

Measures of success

 A number of benefits are expected to be achieved over the next 12 months. To date, over 60% of their students apply online using the new online enrolment form. A more accessible, information rich, website has led to a reduction in marketing costs for paper-based materials such as brochures.