The June 2011 issue of Database Trends and Applications features and article written by Joyce Wells titled Web 2.0 Toolkit Helps College Create Self-Service Student Portal.
Revelation's O4W Relieves Administrative Burden at River Parishes Community College
River Parishes Community College (RPCC) is an open-admission, 2-year, public institution. It is located in the small Ascension Parish town of Sorrento in what is known as the River Parishes region of the state because of the parishes' proximity to the Mississippi River. The college provides courses up to and including certificates and associate's degrees and also provides programs for personal, professional, and academic growth to the communities it services.
Now more than a decade old, RPCC was created in 1999 after the Louisiana Community and Technical College System was created to address the fact that, though Louisiana was one of the most populous states in the country, it was without a community college system to serve its citizens. RPCC joined six other community colleges in the state under the new system, and now serves students in Ascension, Assumption, St. James, St. John, St. Charles, Tangipahoa, and Washington Parishes, as well as portions of Iberville and Livingston Parishes.
A sign of the strong demand for its educational services, enrollment at RPCC has increased from 300 students 11 years ago, to its current student body of 2,600. However, despite its steadily growing student population, like many other publicly-funded institutions, the college is pressed financially and does not have the funds to bring on additional personnel to handle the increasing administrative tasks, Allison Vicknair, dean of students at the college, tells DBTA.
Students change and technology advances, says Vicknair, observing that there was also strong demand for faster access and 24x7 access to information. Even if the college did have the ability to add staff, she notes, that would not be the best use of the college's resources. "It is much better to help students help themselves."
Addressing the challenges, RPCC recently implemented a new self-service student portal based on Revelation Software's Web 2.0 toolkit, OpenInsight for Web (O4W). The new portal allows students to accomplish a range of tasks on their own, such as scheduling classes, without requiring assistance from school administrators.
A customer of Revelation since its inception, the college started with Advanced Revelation and has made upgrades along the way, moving to the OpenInsight Windows version in 2004. OpenInsight, Revelation's flagship product, is an application development environment that enables development teams to work collaboratively to design, develop, and scale high-performance business solutions on networks, the web, and mobile devices.
RPCC's new student portal, which integrates back into OpenInsight 9.1.1, was implemented in the fall of 2010 prior to student registration for the spring 2011 semester. And, even with some of the functionality still to be deployed, it has already alleviated administrative requirements in terms of scheduling and information-related tasks for both Vicknair and Ashley Gray, director of counseling services.
"It has made my life so much easier now that we don't have to key in every schedule manually," says Gray. "The information is already dumped into the system, and I am just double-checking each schedule to make sure that things look all right. It has made the process of scheduling classes for students so much faster on my end. And, it has been very well-received by students." While registering for classes is one of the most time-consuming tasks that has been assumed by the students, other activities such as printing out their academic histories, looking at their official transcripts, running degree audits to see how their credits apply toward different degree programs, and viewing and printing bills for fees are other important tasks that students can now accomplish themselves, says Gray. "In addition, we have a message board so if there is an issue with a schedule, a student can see the message."
While RPCC realized it needed such a portal a good 5 or 6 years ago or more, for a variety of reasons, it was not possible until now. "When we first thought of doing this, we talked with an independent consultant who wanted to do the web based side of it, but she and I didn't talk the same language," explains Barbara Evans, a programmer and DBA at Louisiana State University, who helped with the portal development and is now retired. The consultant wanted to use SQL Server, says Evans. "I needed her to work with OpenInsight and understand how that worked." In addition, Evans tried working with some other Revelation products, including OECGI and the precursor to O4W, WebOI, but did not deem them robust enough to do what was needed. It was not until Evans attended a Revelation Users' Conference about 2 years ago and saw a demonstration of O4W that she realized how much progress had been made. From there, it took a year to secure the funding to contract with Revelation and few months of actual planning, programming and testing.
Currently, to schedule classes, students pull up their web pages, enter the information about the classes they want to take, and their schedule request goes into a holding tank, says Evans. "Ashley has a process that she goes through, which includes a prerequisite check against the student's request and, after that review process, updates are applied." If the student does not have the necessary prerequisites, or the class is full, that information is conveyed via the message board.
The development team at Revelation Software was hesitant about allowing the portal to be fully dynamic and operating straight into the system, until RPCC was sure that it was functioning as desired. "That is really what I want to do in order to take the burden off of Ashley," says Vicknair. "That way, students can do a lot of their own scheduling, rather than having a 24-hour lag time. We hope to be able to turn off that review process soon and allow it to be fully functional. For now, though, it is a safety net to make sure that all the programming is working right."
Looking back, says Gray, "Revelation has been wonderful to work with and quick to respond to any questions or concerns. They are very thorough and detail-oriented." And, says Vicknair, "Whether it is a small request such as a button that needs to be changed in size, or a really deep programming issue, they were great through the whole process. And, the web page is beautiful; they made it look just like our regular web pages.