Helping Students Find Each Other
If Friendster and Tribe are more helpful to your students than your institution’s
online systems are, you may have a problem.
Columbia College Chicago is aiming to be the most student-centered
arts and media school in the world. That’s a tall order for what was historically
an urban commuter school, although, in a recent switch, a quarter of the 10,000
students became residential. Yet still, there isn’t even a traditional
student center on campus. And in the past, students have complained that it
is hard to get to know the 1,500 faculty (1,200 of whom are part-time), and
difficult to network with other students who aren’t in their classes.
That’s a drawback for students, especially in the arts and media, says
Bernadette McMahon, CIO and associate VP of Information Technology. “We
have 10,000 students trying to find each other,” explains McMahon. “A
student will say, ‘I’m shooting a film, I need a grip, and I only
know the people in my class.’ We want to create a place where our students
can connect with each other; a place like Friendster, but for academics, not
Why Go Outside the Institution?
Social networking sites such as Friendster (www.friendster.com),
Tribe (www.tribe.net), Friendzy
orkut (www.orkut.com) have
collectively linked millions of individuals in ever-expanding circles, based
on common interests and self-describing profiles. Columbia hopes to tap into
students’ yearning for networking, and strengthen it with the kind of
content that only a college community can provide.
In fact, the college will be using ePortaro’s (www.eportaro.com)
online portfolio system—custom integrated with the school’s Jenzabar
(www.jenzabar.com) student information
and portal software—to provide ways for students to display their talents
for the benefit of potential student co-collaborators and also for potential
future employers. In the background, Jenzabar’s student system will handle
authentication of students and verification of academic data about students,
such as their majors and course enrollment.
The college also sees this as a way to make the faculty more accessible to
students through faculty portfolios and online work. The faculty, who are bombarded
with meetings and other duties, may even get a virtual place to work together
on committees. “This is to augment face-to-face contact, not replace it,”
Previous experience with portals gives Columbia administrators hope that moving
toward more online networking will be well received. Four years ago, the college
signed with an ASP (application service provider)-based portal company that
has since gone bankrupt. But, “It was a real enabler,” says McMahon,
explaining that “two thousand students signed up for it and they were
using it right up until we pulled the plug.”
McMahon anticipates plenty of work and possibly bumps in the road to get the
new system running according to plan. “It has to be integrated. Students
don’t want to go into different systems to use the portfolios or to network.
And we don’t want to input the student data more than once—it has
to pull from the ERP system.”
This will involve pushing the envelope with the existing products, but the
college has secured the cooperation of its vendors to pull it all together.
There are non-technical problems to be worked out as well, such as defining
etiquette, preventing harassment, protecting privacy, and setting policies for
granting and revoking rights.
“It’s a great vision,” says McMahon. “I just hope we
can get there.”
The Vendors Go ‘Social’
Software companies in the higher education arena are becoming aware of the potential
allure of campus-centered networking. They are either planning to build social
features into their products or are providing features that give students and
others the experience of working within a virtual community.
aired its concept of “presence-based awareness” at the recent Educause
in Orlando. Why should getting bumped out of a filled-up course be a lonely
experience? A student who is online and suddenly finds herself looking for an
alternative course selection should be able to turn to other students who are
interacting with the system at the same time, just as if they were in the same
room. Graham Tracey, product manager for Enrollment Management and Student Services
solutions at Datatel, says that when Datatel’s new portal environment,
ActiveCampus, debuts in 2006, its design will eventually allow administrators
to add social networking functions and create a seamless experience across the
entire lifespan of students.
“We want to create a place where our students can connect with each other;
a place like Friendster, but for academics, not for dating.”
McMahon, Columbia College Chicago
As for SAP’s NetWeaver Portal (www.sap.com),
that product is designed to provide real-time, virtual collaboration rooms where
users can work together, no matter where they are located. SAP’s portal
also integrates other collaboration tools, including shared folders, group calendars,
team assignments, instant messaging, and chat rooms.
SCT’s Luminis (www.sungardsct.com)
is a widely used portal solution, often teamed with SCT Banner, although it
can be used with any administrative software. Still, powerful portal environments
like Luminis can be out of reach for smaller institutions. So, SCT recently
announced a portal designed as part of the SCT PowerCAMPUS administrative system.
This new portal presents a new option for institutions that want to create the
integration and personalization provided by a portal environment, but with less
complexity and cost.
Then too, the electronification of the portfolio has produced a powerful tool
for bringing people together on the basis of their accomplishments and special
interests. Oracle (www.oracle.com)
gives colleges and universities a way to extend the boundaries of their community
with a new product called Oracle Personal Portfolio. The online portfolio allows
students and faculty to highlight their work via a portal for use in employment
searches, class assignments, accreditation, credentialing, and networking.
Explore the Possibilities
Students today are exploring the power of virtual networking, often without
reference to the institutions they attend, even though the campus itself represents
a powerful set of ready-to-exploit connections. This is a good time to explore
the personal networking potential of the software environments that your institution
has already put into place.