You've Come a Long Way, Baby!<br>eLearning Portals
We can all agree, long gone are the days when static information was simply
pushed through Internet and intranet networks for those who happen to come upon
it by a search engine or by navigating a Web site. Today’s savvy users
pull and consume more intellectual capital than can be pushed, and no one is
savvier and more information-hungry than today’s college student. Portals
are a means for keeping their educational experience full.
Back in 2000 during the dot-com frenzy, portals were largely content-driven
destinations and many popped up to serve the education sector. But they are
not merely a way to market a university’s academic departments, or provide
general information about its faculty, administration, and registration requirements.
Much can be learned from the corporate sector, where portals play a more critical
role in the market as the user interface to fact-based solutions.
Today’s Portal Advances
Enterprise-level portal solutions within the corporate sector, such as CA CleverPath
Portal, are well established. Successful organizations are mastering how information
is organized and exploited with corporate dashboards, elaborate reporting tools,
business intelligence mining, and predictive analysis capabilities. Combined
with this ability to deliver relevant, just-in-time information on demand, and
the option to collaborate and access training, portals have already made for
a complete performance-enhancing solution in the corporate sector—and
now, they are beginning to do so in higher education.
Technical enterprise-level advances revolve around access and security. How
do students securely access the internal campus network from a wide area network
(WAN) like the Internet? They connect through a virtual private network (VPN)
connection. With software they download to their computers, such as the Contivity
VPN Client by Nortel, users securely tunnel into the network. Worried about
network security? You should be, but single sign on (SSO) solutions such as
CA eTrust Single Sign On and CleverPath Advanced Access Control Option can provide
seamless integration with the portal. With respect to user compatibility, any
portal is system agnostic because the user logs in from a Web browser. This
means any student with the proper VPN software and signon credentials can access
the portal from any location as long as she has a computer with Internet access.
On the server side, where information and services are distributed from the
campus, the portal is relatively easy to administer and provides for a standardized
look and feel important to today’s colleges and academic departments.
Instructors are able to deliver courseware and information specific to any curriculum or class through easy-to-update ‘channels’
and ‘portlets,’ both of which organize information specified by
its respective owner and are updated only by those with the appropriate credentials.
If designed and built correctly, solutions such as Macromedia Breeze, Flash,
and Authorware can deliver easy-to-build and updatable course content. While
the portal provides centralized access, an ideal model includes a learning management
system (LMS). In short, an LMS tracks and coordinates distribution of courseware
and student progress. An LMS can provide augmented scheduling, login, and attendance
tracking that can include time on task and record test scores. Robust LMS solutions
can customize curricula or courses based on valid learning objectives, pretests,
On the client side, customizable interfaces allow students and instructors
alike to organize subject-based portlets and set up class-specific workplaces
that provide access to homework, templates, and relevant information sources.
Portlets for e-mail clients, scheduled calendars with assignments automatically
populated by the instructor, dictionaries, encyclopedia, and anything else one
might decide to display from the Web can simply be clicked and dragged to a
At a synchronous level, meaning a live instructor is present, portals are the
initial interface to applications delivered by solutions such as Macromedia,
PlaceWare, and InterWise. Like corporate trainees, college and university students
can attend online classes or seminars. They can interact with a live instructor,
guest speaker, and each other, through slideshows, audio, video, instant messaging,
and real-time polling that allows the student to provide feedback. Collaborative
options allow for whiteboards along with demonstrations through application
sharing. Web instructor-led learning solutions can automate the attendance process
and even allow for the administration of exams in multiple choice, true/false,
fill-in-the blank, and essays—whether timed or not—submitted on
demand or at the pace of the student.
Portals are filled with content, and in academia some are just beginning to
enhance instruction through learning management systems, asynchronous distance
learning and online classrooms.