FAST-NU WEBSITE A VIRTUAL CAMPUS FOR STUDENTS, FACULTY MEMBERS
Dr Zubair Ahmad Shaikh, Director FAST-NU Karachi Campus, speaks about his campus webmasters.
KHALIL AHMED, Senior Correspondent
Dec 04 - Dec 10, 2006
Dr. Shahid Shaikh, Associate Professor at the Department of Telecom/Computer Engineering, FAST-NU Karachi Campus, is a HEC-approved advisor in the field of Computer Science/Engineering. His area of specialization includes Robotics, Controls, Multimedia Communications and related areas. With the addition of Dr. Shahid Shaikh, FAST-NU Karachi Campus is honored to have two HEC PhD supervisors now. Dr. Zubair A. Shaikh has been serving as a HEC PhD supervisor for the last three years. This step will add expeditious impetus to the growth of young and talented researchers.
When PAGE approached Dr Zubair Ahmad Shaikh for an interview regarding the efforts made by the students in the development of an excellent website, he gave us the following information.
Before I tell you about the achievements of our webmasters, let me tell you something about our alumni. Around 70% alumni of FAST-NU are serving abroad thus contributing to the economy of our country by sending remittances. In Pakistan, our graduates are sine qua non for the organizations because of the technical expertise they develop during their degree programs. We develop our graduates in such a way that they become the necessity of the organizations because of their updated knowledge, sincerity to their work and their enthusiasm to do something extraordinary. Let me be specific by telling you that at our campus we gave an opportunity to our existing students to develop a matchless website and they came up with excellent ideas and did perform the job.
FAST NU Karachi website is developed, designed and maintained by a group of handpicked and dedicated students who call themselves "The Webmasters". The Webmasters are proud to be the "men" behind the presence of FAST NU Karachi campus on the Internet which is not merely a simple and traditional website! The FAST NU Karachi website hosts a complete student portal which encourages a virtual environment for collaboration, communication and information-sharing among students. From formal online forums dedicated to courses individually, to informal but resourceful Blogs, from monthly E-newsletters to automated online notice boards; the website is a virtual campus for students and faculty members. This document sheds a brief light on the technical grounds of the website along with an overview of the basic systems that comprise the FAST NU Karachi Campus website.
I take this moment to appreciate all the unflinching hard work and the efforts that The Webmasters team has placed in to put up this professional website in constantly monitoring and fixing its issues and extending its functionality and features' set! But the journey is still on!
We are grateful to our faculty in-charge Ms. Rashda Mehmood who has supported and encouraged our efforts and has provided us with all the brackets we needed from time to time. We are also highly indebted by the guidance and supervision of Mr. Ayaz Ahmed who endowed us with technical knowledge and experience along with the routine push--ups we require at times. And lots of thanks to the instrumental force which is none other than Syed Asim Imtiaz, the Chairman of The Webmasters.
The FAST NU Karachi Website runs on:
Slackware Linux on a Dell P-IV desktop machine
PHP 4 and 5
The Webmasters decided to go open-source for the website. The complete website is developed in PHP as a server-side language. Various open-source classes and libraries were consulted and are being used as part of the overall framework that runs the web applications. Apart from PHP, various management, optimization and scheduled scripts were written in Perl and some using Shell scripting. The same machine is used to serve both internal (intranet) and external (Internet) traffic. This inadvertently means a large amount of load and bandwidth usage. Following is a summary of traffic statistics on the FAST NU Karachi Website (based on Apache traffic logs):
Month Average Hits Daily Visits Monthly Pages Total Hits November 2006 166,939 1,052 18,959 3,672,679 October 2006 128,594 1,059 14,192 3,986,438 September 2006 172,303 1,135 18,628 5,169,114 Average monthly hits: Over 4.2 million (~6,000 hits an hour) Average monthly bandwidth consumption: 122 GB (~4 GB per day)
The Webmasters believe in experimenting with latest technologies. The website is a small showcase of all new and hot technologies that we hear of very frequently these days; RSS, SOAP, ATOM, AJAX, Database File Systems, Web crawlers, email parsers to name a few buzz words. The base framework was developed by The Webmasters to suit the requirements and the need of the website. The framework serves as the base of all applications that are running on the website, that have been built on top of the framework. The framework is explained a little later in this document. The Webmasters revamped and launched the FAST NU Karachi Website in third quarter of 2005, keeping the following aims in mind:
Ease of navigation and use
Bug free, reliable and user-friendly interfaces for students and faculty
Robust and OOP-based backend for easy extension of the website
At the launch time the website features were not as extensive as they are now. The Webmasters are constantly indulged in extending the feature list of the website so that the faculty and students have a feature rich online experience that is worth mentioning. It is also worthwhile to note that in Pakistan very less institutes provide such extensive online applications and services to faculty and students.
The site runs and hosts a number of features and applications. The major elements of the website comprises FAST NU Blog and Articles section.
The area is meant to post campus news, happenings and events organized by the student committees during the academic session. Apart from the updates and news, the blog also encourages students to write articles on various related topics and post them on the Blog's articles section. Only limited number of students are given access to post entries on Blog to ensure content quality.
AUTOMATED NOTICE BOARD
The website runs an automated email to notice board service. Faculty and staff members just have to email the notices (including attachments) to a specific email address. The application automatically parses the email and adds it to the database of notices, which is viewable by all.
Email is the centre of correspondence in the campus. The website features modified versions of popular open-source web mail clients so that students and faculty members can access their mailbox from anywhere, anytime.
Students and faculty members are provided their own profiles wherein they can place their resumes, personal details, qualification, areas of interests, etc. These profiles are accessible and viewable by public.
CONTENT MANAGEMENT SYSTEM
The Content Management System was developed by The Webmasters to ease content update and management tasks. As of the writing of this article the website hosts above 450 pages all stored and managed by the online Content Management System.
Students and faculty members have the option to create their own web pages using the online user-friendly HTML webpage editor.
FINAL YEAR PROJECT MANAGEMENT SYSTEM
We recently introduced a final year project management system for the Computer Science seniors. The system features complete control over deliverables, submissions, grading and management of projects. The supervisors and project coordinators can upload deliverables along with respective deadlines and students have the provision to submit their products all by means of this system.
Instead of using Google or any other third-party search engine, we developed our own site crawler. The site crawler crawls and indexes all web pages so that they are searchable.
CAREER CENTER AND ALUMNI SYSTEM
Career Center and alumni system provides an extensive database of alumni and graduates of FAST NU Karachi. It is a stand-alone portal that provides job posting, event invitations, mailing list and complete profiles of the respected alumni members.
A complete Learning Management System (LMS) is running on the website to provide easy communication and collaboration between teachers, teaching assistants, graders and the students. Each course has its own dedicated and secured forum having provision for uploading lectures, grades, assignments, notices, polls, and can even host a discussion forum.
MONTHLY E-NEWSLETTER SERVICE
After each month is concluded, an email is sent to all students and faculty members by the website system briefing them about all the updates, events, news and notices that have been posted during the month. This is an email service that summarizes the updates on the website.