Volume 9, Number 3: November 27, 2002
Web Portals and Higher Education: Technologies to Make IT Personal
Katz, Richard N. et al, Eds.
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002.
Reviewed by AnnMarie Johnson,
The only reason I read this book all the way to the last page was that I had to write this review. I found the book to be very poorly edited, unorganized, and repetitive, with little useful information. It consists of 10 chapters plus a summary chapter. Each chapter might stand alone as an article in a magazine. But when put together in a book, they needed more editing.
Since portals are a fairly new concept with differing views of what they are, I expected a clear first chapter defining the term. On my first read, I did not find this until the fourth chapter. In looking back, I see the first chapter does attempt to define portal. When I read the book cover to cover, I did not find that first chapter helpful in defining the topic. Recommendation: read the fourth chapter first. It was not until here that I felt the portal concept was well introduced. This chapter also gives a good argument for why we should pay attention to them.
Besides this problem, the entire book seemed disorganized. I cannot see any reason for the chapter organization. Only three chapters appeared to be appropriately placed--two chapters that are views from two different campuses about their portal experience were grouped together and the summary was at the very end. Otherwise, the chapters appeared to be randomly placed.
I had no sense in moving from one chapter to another that the authors had ever seen the other chapters. There were no bridges between them. There was no smooth transition from one topic to another. Rather, as I noted earlier, each chapter felt more like an independent journal article. I never had the sense I was reading a cohesive book.
This feeling of separate journal articles can also be seen in other ways. For instance, the same examples were used multiple times. Normally, this would be a great idea in a book, but not the way it was implemented here. Each time, it was presented as a new example. The whole story was offered and the same conclusions reached. They never referenced previous chapters with the example. You read the same information over again.
Chapters 7 and 8, the views from two campuses, are the most interesting and informative chapters for anyone looking toward setting up a portal. In Chapter 7, Bernard Gleason from Boston College includes a good set of leadership objectives, potentially challenging questions to address early on, and responsibilities of an "internet services group." Steven Daigle and Patricia Cuocco from California State University suggest benefits for each area of the university committee in Chapter 8. They also provide a short list of best practices for getting started. A list of policy issues rounds out the chapter.
I did learn a little more about the e-business side of portals--not enough to carry on a conversation about them, but enough to understand others' conversations or articles. I would not recommend this book to anyone who is trying to understand portals or decide whether to use them on their campus.