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Campus Portals: Beyond the Bulletin Board

Portals are taking college campuses by storm, unifying academic communities through their high level of customizability, scalability, and interactivity. Everyone—freshmen, faculty, staff, and alumni—now relies on the portal to both push and pull information. Offering enterprise level connectivity with a personal touch, portals have rapidly become one of those technologies no one can imagine having done without.

Below we profile some of the major portal developers who are active in the higher education market. Although there are variations in the particular suite offered by each of the vendors profiled here, all offer at least a minimum of institutional customization, campus communication, course management, and personalization of page content.


CyberLearning Labs offers Angel, an easy-to-use, practical course management and collaboration portal solution. Angel is designed so that instructors with little or no training can quickly develop online course materials, exercises, and tests, pulling in material from Word and PowerPoint, or other applications as needed.

Normal and advanced modes accommodate all levels of user experience. In addition to its course management functions, Angel also serves as a portal and communication tool. Users can customize their Web space with bookmarks, calendars, and task lists. School-wide, group, and individual posting options are inherent in the package.

With Angel 5.0, released in April 2002, the portal framework has been greatly expanded to enable easy customization of the portal environment. Individual users can add, rearrange or remove information components, or “data nuggets”, that the system administrator has made available to them. A nugget can be information (e.g., news, announcements, etc) or access to an application such as access the student information system. These customization actions are as simple as clicking the desired nuggets and specifying the location on the screen.

Angel portal security is role-based, meaning that different users have privileges and limits determined by their role. Nuggets can be customized based on this role information. The systems administrator has the ability to add a custom nugget easily by registering it with the Angel portal and specifying which roles may have access to it. New nuggets can be easily developed using the Angel Portal Programmer’s Guide and application Program interface. Contact: CyberLearning Labs, Indianapolis, In.; (317) 860-3810;

Blackboard Community Portal

Developed to completely integrate campus communities and stakeholders—from students to faculty to alumni—the Blackboard Community Portal allows campus administrators to bring academic, e-commerce, administrative, and community services online.

Part of Blackboard Version 5, the portal features a modular architecture that supports tens of thousands of users and thousands of courses; an open architecture that supports third-party learning applications, interfaces, and system services to seamlessly interact with the Blackboard platform; and Blackboard’s course management system, which offers course and content authoring tools, an assessment engine, and synchronous and asynchronous collaboration tools, as well as other applications.

Users enter the portal by clicking on one of the tabs, which replicate the look of file folder tabs. These tabs take the user to one of six areas: the My Institution entry page, Courses, Community, Institutional Services, Academic Web Resources, or Web Services.

Blackboard’s portal offers role-defined views, which customize the content based on each user’s profile, whether that person is a student, prospective student, alumnus, or professor. There are seven possible profiles in Blackboard 5.5. Along with those role-defined views, users get customized links and bookmarks, drawn from a list of available modules.

There are more than 100 out-of-the-box modules available from Blackboard. Institutions can also create up to 14 institution-specific modules, 2 for every user role. The portal offers Web-based e-mail access as well. The Blackboard Community Portal can be integrated with both the Blackboard Transaction System and the Blackboard Learning System. Contact: Blackboard, Washington, D.C.; (800) 424-9299;


CampusCruiser from Datatel promotes the exchange of information among all participants in college life through e-mail, bulletin boards, class management, campus and personal calendars, faculty-to-student chat, and classroom chat. CampusCruiser and Colleague come fully integrated.

When CampusCruiser portal and Colleague are deployed together, the result is a secure Web-based environment that integrates the data from Colleague with the portal technology to provide increased online service and access to the entire campus community through a single log-in.

Students can check their course syllabus, register for classes, drop classes, print a copy of their class schedule, share files, and chat with other students and faculty through the secure gateway using the secure log-in. Contact: Datatel, Fairfax, Va.; (703) 968-3342;

Campus Pipeline

Campus Pipeline’s portal product is embedded within its Luminis Platform II, a unified suite of infrastructure, application, and portal elements that combine to provide a solid framework for campus digital activities. The portal features provided in the Luminis Platform II create an online environment that can be customized by every member of the campus community.

Compatible with the JA-SIG uPortal framework, a common portal reference framework, these features include the ability of users to turn almost any Web-based information or application into an information “channel” accessible through the campus portal; a publish and subscribe channel model, which enables constituents to create and subscribe to information channels of their choice through the campus portal; and a variety of customization and personalization features, which enable end users to select the channels they wish to view, determine where the channels will be situated in their version of the portal, and create personal channels. Contact: Campus Pipeline, Salt Lake City, Utah; (801) 485-6000;

eCollege CampusPortal

eCollege’s CampusPortal replicates the interactive and community aspects that students and faculty experience on a traditional campus in the online environment. As part of eCollege’s suite of Campus Solutions, CampusPortal serves as a comprehensive digital campus. Schools can purchase the entire portal solution, or buy separate module packages to create a custom digital campus. The packages are a portal calendar package, community package, Web access package, and alumni package.

Administrators can integrate CampusPortal with eCollege Teaching Solutions, as well as with other administrative applications. Administrators have complete control over the creation and editing of content within their institution-branded portal. They can also personalize content based on role/user group, targeting unique messages to specific groups, including alumni.

CampusPortal gives faculty and students access to all online courses and course supplements, as well as online interaction and information sharing outside of the courseware through study groups, tutoring services, and clubs. It also provides Web access to headline news, personal stock portfolios, and other online resources.

Students and faculty can organize their information on the home page, and integrate all individual course calendars and personal items into one master calendar, with color-coding and customizable features to identify courses and activities. The calendar is downloadable to a PDA. Contact: eCollege, Denver, Colo.; (888) 884-7325;

Jenzabar Higher Education Portal

The Jenzabar portal offers an individually-tailored portal experience to each user. Each time a user logs in, the Jenzabar application pulls the relevant information from registration systems, professors’ Web pages, the Internet, e-mail systems, and other school-specific resources. So, each user receives information specific to his or her needs and interests.

Communication features include e-mail, private chat, course bulletin board discussions, customized posting, and a simple-to-use personal profile section. For the instructor, Jenzabar has created easy custom course Web pages that don’t require any knowledge of code or computer languages. There’s a nifty handout section for delivering material in many different media to students, and a feature that posts syllabi changes daily. There are organizational tools as well, including a resume builder, portfolio center, calendar, Web page builder, and travel resource center.

The Jenzabar portal can function as a stand-alone smart portal with LMS capabilities or as part of certain integrated Jenzabar ERP systems. Institutions can purchase modules that will allow authorized users to access appropriate administrative functionality, such as Registration, Degree Audit, Advising, and directories, through the Web. Contact: Jenzabar, Cambridge, Mass.; (617) 492-9099;

Oracle 9iAS Portal

Oracle’s 9iAS portal was designed for enterprise situations and is applicable to higher education, government, and nonprofit environments. It offers high-end features and customizability. Wizards and page templates make page design, editing, customizing, and organizing material, easy, requiring no knowledge of HTML, coding, or editing of configuration files. The portal is customizable to particular constituent groups, but administrators can control the amount of tinkering and customization by users.

Page content can include both portlets (re-usable components that expose an underlying information source) and content items (individual pieces of content-text, image, hyperlink, etc.-that reside on a page). Administrators and designers can configure the page structure with both wired and wireless hardware in mind. The portal engine is deployed on Oracle 9iAS Containers for J2EE, for maximum performance. Contact: Oracle Corp, Redwood Shores, Calif.; (650) 506-7000;

PeopleSoft Campus Portal

Pre-built with PeopleSoft 8 Internet Architecture, Campus Portal offers an out-of-the-box solution that shortens implementation time and simplifies upgrades. Schools can customize the look of the portal to reflect their unique colors, mascot, content and brand. The Campus Portal is delivered with role-based navigation to PeopleSoft content; administrators can customize the navigational links, as well as the design of individual “pagelets,” the modular building blocks of the portal.

The portal can draw on PeopleSoft applications or integrate with a campus’s existing systems and Web development to provide a central point for all users to gain access to relevant campus services, including admissions, registration, financial aid, payroll, personnel, grading, and alumni relations. It’s possible to partner Campus Portal with existing online vendors—such as the campus store—or combine it with PeopleSoft’s own e-commerce solutions.

With this portal platform, a single sign-on gives the user enterprise-wide access to Internet-based applications, knowledge management suites, collaborative services and communication tools through a common Internet browser. PeopleSoft’s portal features content management capabilities to ensure relevant, current information is available for the campus community.

When users sign on to the Campus Portal, they see a familiar-looking Web page with Tabs that organize the content, their productivity tools (such as e-mail and calendar), search capabilities, favorites, and a variety of pagelets. These customizable pagelets can link users to PeopleSoft eBusiness transactions with contextual support information, other ERP applications, Intranet and Internet content, vendor sites, campus department sites, campus news, to-do lists, and more. Contact: PeopleSoft, Pleasanton, Calif.; (800) 380-SOFT;

Student Online

Student Online creates revenue-generating Intranet portals for institutions of higher education. Student Online returns to the host institution some of the revenues generated from the e-commerce portion of the platform. It also sells wireless hardware with monthly service fees, kicking back some portion of the proceeds to the school. The site offers personalized user accounts that integrate with existing ERP software, course tools, and an array of Internet content, communication modules, and organizational tools.

Students can use the portal to track automatically updated information on courses, activities, events, headlines, and job opportunities, and to register for classes, check their course materials online, and communicate with their school community. Instructors can communicate with students, display course materials online, hold full-fledged online courses, and collaborate with colleagues via the inter-campus network. Administrators can send university-wide broadcast messages, create subcommittees and forums, and help generate revenue for the school. Student Online offers both hosted and non-hosted options.

All users, including alumni, have access to Student Online’s e-commerce offerings. The product features an automatic organizer automatically populated with class times, club events, and professor e-mail addresses; Web-based e-mail; an alert function for high-priority messages; Personalized Content Feeds based on user preferences; course management tools; and integration with SIS functions. The entire application is available on a wireless cell phone, allowing for portable e-mail, calendaring and priority messaging from professors. Contact: Student Online, New York, N.Y.;

uPortal from JA-SIG

uPortal is a free, sharable portal under development by JA-SIG (Java in Administration Special Interest Group) institutions of higher-education. The portal is designed to be an abridged and customized version of the institutional Web presence. In essence, uPortal is a personalized, friendlier port into the larger World Wide Web.

The portal features individual customization functions and community-creating tools, such as chat, forums, and surveys. uPortal is an open-standard effort using Java, XML, JSP, and J2EE. It is a collaborative development project with the effort shared among several of the JA-SIG member institutions. Interested parties may download uPortal and use it on their site at no cost. Currently, at least two dozen institutions have either live or demo uPortal sites. Contact: JA-SIG,

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