Luminis Platform 5.1 Blue Theme for USD.
Planning implementation and achieving results
When we upgraded from our Luminis IV portal to Luminis V, we had a bit of a pickle. The theme from the older version would no longer work with the new version, and even if it did, it no longer spoke to the student experience. Furthermore, the default Luminis theme provided by our vendor could not just be customized because users had grown used to the concept of a tab-based navigation and the default themes did not have a tab-based navigation system. So we had to design and implement a new theme.
A contract with a design company was created for the initial design mockups for the new portal. This company did a great job, but the designs were in plain HTML/CSS. My job was to learn the Apache Velocity templating system and translating the code from the design company into a working theme with a fully functioning tab-based navigation system.
Influencing, communication and teamwork
The first challenge was working with the design company. I had to explain to them how our portal worked and how I was going to use Velocity. I had to research correct versions of jQuery and give them guidelines for baseline CSS and HTML. It was important that their end result was easily translatable to Velocity.
We also spent a lot of time with student and staff focus groups, making sure all their needs were met. We discussed doing more advanced things, such as A/B testing, but time was a concern since we wanted to release everything in time for the Fall Semester.
Analysis, problem solving and creative thinking
By far the most challenging bit was figuring out the tab-based navigation system. The new Luminis portal is based on the Liferay platform and it introduced the concept of Communities. By default, the portal comes with 2 communities, the Admin and the "Home" community. These communities are special in Ellucian's Luminis platform. When you log in, our CAS server will authenticate you and if you are an Admin user, you will get redirected to the Admin nodes which are hard-wired to go to the Admin Community. Likewise, for the User nodes, the system is hard-wired to go to the Home Community. This Home Community is represented as a single tab and then all the other pages go underneath.
The challenge was that our users did not want to have many pages under a single tab, so I had to modify the theme to add additional tabs. I created new communities and mapped them to a tab in the theme. Not all tabs should be visible to all users, so I had to create various roles to determine which users saw which tabs, and then modify the Velocity logic to only show the tabs if the users had those roles. Once I displayed the correct tabs, you have to go through all the pages in that particular community and only display the pages that are public and that a user has access to view. This involved a lot of experimentation, as the mapping between the Ellucian Luminis roles and the Liferay roles can get confusing. I also referred to the Liferay documentation a lot! Thank god for that.
One improvement I wish I had done was spin up an instance of the Luminis portal to run on my local server. That way, I could've tested all my theme changes without having to restart the nodes. Frankly, it was one of those things were we were just pressed for time. It was far easier to just package the build and restart the dev servers since that took 30 seconds, but sometimes I do wish I had done that.
Overall, I liked the end result and I think most users did also. Got a lot of positive feedback from all over, even some from our Ellucian consultants and that really means something given how they probably see dozens of these implementations all over the world. Fun times!