Design

New Appearance for NHS ePortfolios – coming 31st January 2015

Following feedback from our users and customer leads we are updating the appearance of the NHS ePortfolios.

We have been working on a new interface and:

  • It will lead to a more user-friendly ePortfolio experience.
  • The user interface will have a more modern/intuitive look and feel.
  • The site will work better on touch screen devices such as phones, phablets and tablets.
  • It is mainly a cosmetic change: the underlying system is unaffected
  • No data will be lost as a result of this.

The release date for the switch to the new appearance is Saturday the 31st of January 2015.

On this date the main website at https://www.nhseportfolios.org will switch to the new appearance by default for all users.

If you encounter any technical issues following the switch to the new appearance, this should be reported using the support form within the help menu or by email to support@nhseportfolios.org. When reporting issues, PLEASE clearly state that the issue you are reporting is about the new appearance and, as normal, please provide us as much information as possible to help reproduce the issue – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hcr2fh2rabs.

Feedback on the functions and content of the ePortfolio should still be channelled through your usual project leads. We hope you like the new appearance as much as we do!

The NHS ePortfolios team

Helpful links:

Improvements to the Personal Library – October 2014

From Saturday 25th October 2014 we are introducing within the NHS ePortfolio Personal Library facility: drag and drop functionality for moving files, and the ability to view/ delete (directly from the Personal Library page) links already made to items.


Overview – The Personal Library is a tool within ePortfolio for uploading and maintaining key documents which act as supporting evidence. A Certificate for instance uploaded to the Personal Library might be supporting evidence for a Curriculum item, or associated with forms which require documentary evidence. It is possible to create folders related to a specific year or subjects, and when you upload a file into your Personal Library you can also add a description to help you later recall its context. Users can opt to keep files private or share them with their Supervisor(s).
 
Drag and drop file/ folder movement – If you wish to move your files between folders in your Personal Library you can now do this by dragging the file from one folder and dropping it into another one. It is also possible to move folders into other folders in the same manner. There is a short demo video here. Note however that this functionality generally requires the use of a mouse, and is not supported on touchscreen devices.
 
Directly viewing/ deleting links, and renaming – There will be a series of links at the right of the Personal Library page providing actions possible for each item. By clicking “Links” the user can view the links already made to Personal Library items and, where applicable, delete them if necessary. This avoids the need to search an ePortfolio to find where an item is linked before it can be deleted from the Personal Library, as at present.

Browser support – Please note that the drag and drop feature requires the use of a modern web browser. In particular, this feature is not supported in version 7 or earlier of Internet Explorer.

Development approach – The Personal Library is an item of core functionality and is currently used to manage in excess of three million documents. To support the new interface we have fundamentally changed our underlying architecture to ensure reliability and improve performance.

How to get NHS ePortfolios changed

Sometimes users of the NHS ePortfolios website have ideas about how the system can be improved or amended.  However the NHS ePortfolios Technical Team has very limited remit to make direct change.  Instead most change requests have to come from the “commissioning bodies” that define what content should be in an ePortfolio and how it should function.

For details of what content is and isn’t controlled by the NHS ePortfolios team please see “Who makes decisions about ePortfolio?“.

Change requests by Site:

Foundation

For the Foundation ePortfolio there are two main bodies that can request change requests:

1) The first of these is the UKFPO Curriculum Delivery Group.  This group has the authority to make change requests pertaining to “Core Content” for the Foundation ePortfolio.

For Terms of Reference for this group see the following document:

www.foundationprogramme.nhs.uk/download.asp?file=FP_curriculum_delivery_group_tor_membership_february_2014.pdf

2) The second Group is the NHS ePortfolios Foundation Team Advisory Group (TAG). This group meets twice a year and should include representation from every UK Foundation School.

This group has the remit to make change requests that are not relevant to national core content and/or functionality.  Each Foundation School/Deanery/LETB has one contact as follows:

Foundation School ePortfolio contacts:

Foundation School/LETB/Deanery Contact
East Midlands -details currently not supplied-
East of England -details currently not supplied-
STFS eportfolio@stfs.org.uk
North West Thames feo-nwtfs@imperial.ac.uk
North Central Thames nctfs@ucl.ac.uk
North East Thames netfs@qmul.ac.uk
Mersey Liz.morrissey@nw.hee.nhs.uk
Northern foundationprogramme@ne.hee.nhs.uk
Northern Ireland -details currently not supplied-
Oxford foundation@thamesvalley.hee.nhs.uk
Peninsula Trudi.Geach@southwest.hee.nhs.uk
Scotland Jill.murray@nes.scot.nhs.uk
Wales -details currently not supplied-
Wessex Wessexfs.enquires@wessex.hee.nhs.uk
West Midlands Foundation@wm.hee.nhs.uk
Yorkshire and Humber foundation@yh.hee.nhs.uk

Where the contact is noted as “details currently not supplied” this means that the NHS ePortfolios team has not been supplied the details of the nominated contact for change requests for that area. We suggest you contact the organisation directly.

Any suggestions that you have for changes to the content or functionality should be directed to these two bodies.  As the Foundation schools feed into both these bodies, contacting them is generally the best place to start.

Update to the ePortfolio Summary Report

We’d like to make you aware of a change to the Summary Report which is in plan for the next few weeks.

In a nutshell: You will now get a choice of which Form Group(s) you want to report totals for, rather than reporting against fixed pre-determined Form Categories as at present, improving the detail and flexibility of the report.

Example User Interface Screenshot (click to zoom):

 

Other than this, please note that the report will retain the same functionality and you will still be able to achieve the same results as you currently do with the report.

Please find below a background document to this change:

Document: Update-2014-09-10 – Forthcoming change to the Summary Report.

If you have any questions about this change please do not hesitate to get in contact with us. Below is a recording of a webinar from 17th September giving some background information on this change (10 minutes) – we also plan to make a shorter video on how to use the new style report when it goes live, which is scheduled for a few weeks’ time.

Foundation ePortfolio User survey results

In July 2012 an online survey was conducted of all Foundation ePortfolio users at the request of the UKFPO. The survey ran for three weeks and generated 2,425 responses. Although the results were available immediately, the survey coincided with ePortfolio Review and as the information was commercially sensitive the results are only being made widely available now. This paper summarises the most common comments of respondents, but is not a systematic evaluation of the data.

Down the ePortfolio Survey Summary (PDF format)

 

NHS ePortfolio Speed

Summary

We are constantly working to make sure the ePortfolio is accessible and usable in the wide range of environments in which it is used.  We have received feedback on the speed of some pages in the application from a small percentage of users and we are keen to address this. We hope the information below is helpful but please get in touch if you have further feedback.

The NHS ePortfolio is a complex web site that delivers information (content) to a wide range of roles within multiple ePortfolio versions. The content is derived from data accessed from an ever-growing database. Page load times can depend on the complexity of the task that page must perform and on the source, quantity and complexity of the data needed to fulfil that task. Load times can also be affected by overall site activity, be it numbers of concurrent users or by the commonly requested tasks in operation at that time. Lastly, national and local network speeds can limit pages loads as can the age, type and specification of the computer being used to display the web page.

The aim of this short article is to discuss NHS ePortfolio site performance and why, though the majority of pages load quickly, some pages can take rather longer to load.

What happens when you access NHS ePortfolio?

When you log into your ePortfolio account, your web browser requests access to the ePortfolio software that is installed in web servers that return the appropriate content. The software consists of code that determines what should be sent back and what it should look like (i.e. how it renders in a web page in your browser). Behind the code on the server is a database that stores all the information about who you are, what access rights you have, which are your forms and curricula, posts, training programmes, supervisors, and how these items are inter-related. So, for any web page to be delivered to your browser the software must process a series of database “queries” in order to construct the page that is returned to you.

 

Some numbers

Some pages are more complex to display, such as a Summary Overview, Curriculum or Review of Evidence page. This is because database queries that are performed when requesting these pages search very large data sets. A significant part of the ePortfolio involves accessing web pages that must deliver data derived from several complicated data requests, all of which will take time to process on the server.

 

Patterns of activity

There are periods of time throughout the year when activity increases and so pressure on the web server increases too. Activity that makes the web server work harder isn’t necessarily due to increased numbers of visitors or by increased numbers of page views (i.e. the number of pages being processed and delivered to the user’s browser). Some pages such as the Form Summary Overview or Curriculum Overview will require higher levels of processing than a ticket request page. So, if you have several hundred trainees checking their Form Summary page (e.g. as they prepare for ARCP) the servers are all working harder to search and display the data.

The graph in the figure below shows how site usage (as page views) increases in the run up to post rotation changeover as trainees rush to complete assessments & other forms before moving on. A particularly busy period is seen during May and June whilst ARCPs are in progress. While the number of people during this time starts to decline the load on the server remains high as ARCP Reviewers access particularly complex, data heavy pages.

What affects how long it takes for a page to appear?

The time it takes for a page to appear fully loaded on your web browser after you have clicked a link or menu button can be influenced by a number of factors:

  • How much work the server has to do to generate the page (by the software and the database) before sending it back
  • How big (in terms of kilobytes) is the page being returned to you
  • How fast is the network connection between the client and server, and how much competition for resources (known as contention) is encountered by users of that connection.
  • How quickly can the browser on the client computer process the HTML and scripts locally to fully render the page

Is ePortfolio slow?

It is difficult, if not impossible, to obtain bench mark values with which to compare ePortfolio performance against. Which pages do you compare? Which sites might you compare performance with?

An indication of global page load times by country, industry “vertical” and other interesting web statistics can be found at http://brandongaille.com/acceptable-web-page-load-times-by-country-and-industry/ or view the info-graphic from this site by clicking this thumbnail (opens in a new window):

What we are able to see from analytics data is that while 17% of pages take less than 1 second to load, 36% of ePortfolio pages take between 1 and 2 seconds and a quarter of page loads take longer than 7 seconds (see the graph below).

The slower page load times will be a result of specific pages that are more difficult to generate and serve rather than just pages simply running slowly.

Known complex pages include (in no specific order):

  • Trainee home page
  • Supervisor’s selected trainee home page
  • Foundation TAB summary page
  • Trainee assessments page
  • Trainee curriculum page

In each case these are pages that require a significant amount of data access and processing before being delivered to your browser.

What are we doing to improve performance?

The work to improve site performance is a constant and ongoing process. An obvious source of potential improvement can be found by upgrading the server hardware, i.e. multiple load-balanced servers in a virtual machine environment. In autumn 2012 we migrated to a virtual private cloud environment with exactly this setup, and as a result saw significant improvements in performance. However, this alone will not necessarily solve all speed issues and there are cost limitations of further increasing server power.

Much of the work in improving site speed involves looking at the software and database. Work is currently focussing on analysis of the software to find more efficient ways of achieving the same output, removing redundant or extraneous functionality, identifying and eliminating database bottlenecks. More effective and efficient database architecture and design can also lead to better data access rates by the software. Already we have seen improved service during periods of peak activity during ARCP in May and June 2013 as compared to the same period in 2012.

Conclusion

We have made good progress over the previous 2 years to provide an increasingly stable and speedy web application.  We still have work to do to make the NHS ePortfolio more responsive and deliver content more efficiently. While this process of improvement is an ongoing task we have to accept there are limitations in resources in terms of hardware and in terms of technical staff needed to find, develop and implement changes.

Keep up with updates and developments by following us on Twitter: @neseportfolio

Do you have any comments you’d like make? Use the comments box below to voice your opinion or give us any feedback. 

Under pressure: how the ePortfolio system performed during ARCP

During the summer the NHS ePortfolio experiences a significant increase in the level of usage and activity in the lead up and during the ARCP process for Foundation and Specialty trainees.

User activity

As shown in the Figure 1 below, the number of page loads due to extensive user activity peaks towards the end of May with 3.1 million page views across the entire ePortfolio. Over half of these are specifically Foundation ePortfolio users.

Of interest is the average page load times that peaks in mid-June. This is particularly marked in Foundation-specific data and can be accounted for by the change in the type of pages being accessed during June compared to May. During ARCP reviews the server will be generating a higher proportion of complex report pages that require the server to have to process more data.

(a) All users

(b) Foundation users

Figure 1. Page views (blue lines) and average page load time (red line) for all users (a) and just Foundation Users (b)

Server performance

The performance of the server (Figure 2) showed spikes in the data transfer rate (blue lines) and measured overall server response time (elapsed time, red lines) with a peak coinciding with the date of highest usage (22nd May). Greater daily spikes are seen seen during June while transfer rates flatten from the end of May onwards. The occasional transfer rate troughs coincide with scheduled downtime for software updates. Users who may have  experienced delays in opening pages or submitting forms during May and June may have been subject to network issues related to local IT systems or infrastructure that we can’t detect or influence.

Performance Summary May June 13

Figure 2. Server performance during May and June 2013: data transfer rate (blue lines) and overall server response time (red lines)

Summary

Overall, there was no reported or detected performance problems with the ePortfolio that could be attributed to high levels of general activity (as seen prior to ARCP) or by high levels of complex processing activity (as seen during ARCPs). This can for the most part be attributed to recently implemented server architecture that can be “powered up” during peak times but also to ongoing efforts by the development team to identify and remove software and data “bottle necks”.

 

 

New features for Supervisors and Programme Directors

In conjunction with improvements to our search functionality for Foundation Administrators (see below) we have also improved the ePortfolio so it is easier for a Foundation Supervisor,  Foundation Programme Director, Dental Trainer or Dental Advisor to review multiple trainee accounts.

1. Select trainee

When a trainee account is viewed via ‘My trainees’ (if you are attached via a post/block) or ‘Programme Trainees’ (if you are attached via a programme/scheme), you can now select a trainee’s page and view it before clicking the new ‘Switch selected user’ button found on the left of the screen.

2. A trainee is selected

This will open a box that will list all the trainee you are attached to via post or programme.   Which trainees you see will depend on the role you are using and how you selected that first trainee.
3. Popup to select a different trainee

If you select a different trainee you can click directly on the name to switch them, or (where you have a long list) you can start to type their name into the text box to get to them more quickly.  You will be taken to the same ePortfolio page, but for that next trainee.
4. A new trainee is selected

If you ever need to refresh the trainees listed just return to your home page and start with a new trainee selection.

 

Improved search functionality for Foundation Administrators

The functionality for searching and selecting trainees has been significantly improved in the most recent update (release 8.8), though currently only available to Foundation and Dental Administrators.

Previous to this update, when an administrator filtered for a set of trainees using the “Search Trainees” page, after selecting a particular trainee they then wished to choose a different trainee from the same list they needed to repeat the search process.

The new functionality will allow the list of trainees to persist so that it is possible to switch between them without having to repeat the search process.In fact this facility also works when using “Administer Posts” and “Administer Users” (so not just trainees)

The steps are shown below:

1. Search for the trainees as normal

1. New Search

2. The search returns a list of trainees

2. Search Results

3. Search Results names

3. Select a trainee to work on. Note the new button on the top left “Switch Selected User”

4. New button

4. Clicking “Switch Selected User” produces a pop up box where up to the first 50 trainees from the search list are shown. You can click directly on the name to switch them, or (where you have a long list) you can start to type their name into the text box to get to them more quickly.

5. Pop up to select a different trainee

 

Who makes decisions about ePortfolio?

ePortfolio’s growth since 2005 has been a collaborative effort between a wide range of organisations and professions. Ongoing feedback has suggested that many users would appreciate clarification on where the responsibilities lie for ePortfolio.

Broadly, all content and how and when it is presented to you is determined by your Organisation (e.g. Medical School, UKFPO, Royal College, Professional Group, Postgraduate Deanery). Some organisations collaborate formally to agree what is available, so that there is a standardised approach across distributed groups or geographies e.g. Postgraduate Deaneries, Foundation Schools and Medical Schools. NHS ePortfolio provides the ePortfolio software i.e. the code that underpins the website, and the secure storage of the data.

 

What is your Organisation responsible for?


 

Category Examples
Content and format of all assessments

 

DOPS, miniCEX, CbD, Supervised Learning Events, Core Procedures, MSF TAB
Reflective practice Reflective notes

Categories for reflection

Headings in reflection forms

Curriculum Length, content & structure of the Curriculum

Whether you are required to link certain items

Timelines & frequencies How many assessments are required during each placement

Any minimum requirements eg every SLE/assessment must be linked to n curriculum items

Supervision & progress Who can complete supervisor reports

Content & structure of supervisor reports

ARCP process & documentation

Permissions Which ePortfolio roles have read & write access to your data within the ePortfolio, and for how long
Declarations & agreements Health & probity declarations; educational agreements
Courses & alerts Adverts and alerts for events or deadlines
Data entry Adding and updating user information
Data exchange Links to and from any other systems eg College database, exams, e-Learning for Healthcare
Non-technical user support Password reset, form editing/moving, information
Change requests Timing, frequency and funding of changes to content
User acceptance testing Final approval of any changes or modifications requested by the organisation
Engagement with users To determine the requirements and priorities
Training and user guides

 

Face to face, written, video and/or audio guidance and/or training on how to use the ePortfolio system.
Communication Dissemination of information about content and processes (including changes) to trainees, supervisors and administrators

 

What is NHS ePortfolio responsible for?


 

Software code
QA and technical testing against requirements specified by your organisation
Deployment (scheduling & uploading of code from test to live environment)
Monitoring the infrastructure (eg environmental monitoring, network monitoring, load balancing monitoring, web server and data base monitoring, firewall monitoring and intrusion detection) to detect and correct abnormalities.
Hosting
Database backup & security
Technical support including resolution of bugs
Providing data extracts and reporting from the database as requested by the relevant organisation
Layout of material displayed in the main content area (fonts, graphics, pictures implemented following advice and guidance of organisations)
Engagement with Organisations and users to encourage dialogue and collaboration with the development of the software

 

What do you do if you have ideas, suggestions or other feedback about any of the above?


If you have feedback about any of the items in the first table above, please contact your organisation. If you are unsure which organisation to contact, your organisation’s logo should be visible on any page of your ePortfolio.

If you have a technical support issue, contact support@nhseportfolios.org

You can follow us on twitter @NESePortfolio