Case Western Reserve University: Expanding Access, Extending Boundaries

By Lev Gonick and Ronald Ryan

Case Western Reserve University (CWRU), located in Cleveland, Ohio, has adopted an ambitious technology goal. Simply stated, the university's vision is "Technology everywhere, all the time, any way you want it." The January 2003 deployment of MyCWRU—a pioneering universitywide portal for students, faculty, and administrators—represents a significant step toward achieving the university's progressive technology vision.

MyCWRU is a third-generation, Web-based, interactive, and transaction-based framework. It is informed by the university's broad vision of striving to be the most efficiently run research university in the world and committed to the IT Services Division's No. 1 goal of customer service and satisfaction. The portal seeks to combine the philosophy that a university portal should mimic the study, work, and play triad of the typical university experience. As student focus groups consistently underscored, the framework needs to be fun, interactive, and customizable. In addition, it should provide access to services like drop/add, grades, and class assignments, as well as offer other services, such as information on movies available at local cinemas, just-in-time bus schedules, instant messaging, and video and music content.

Integrated Interests
The first public release of MyCWRU portal provides all members of the CWRU community (students, faculty, staff, alumni, and even visitors) with a "single sign-on" to their integrated teaching and learning interests, student services, and extra-curricular aspects of campus life. Students, for example, can access their integrated e-mail, daily calendar, grades, classes, and student services online. MyCWRU also enables students to register for classes online. The portal and its underlying technology populates the university course management tool using registration data, and provides each student with a personalized, Oracle-based Web calendar derived from course selections and other daily activities. In addition, the portal features an e-mall that allows students to order goods and services—primarily technology-oriented products—online and at significantly discounted prices.

The underlying technology in MyCWRU is a community source middleware effort called Campus Athena. The middleware, developed in part by Case Western Reserve University, is based on a Web services strategy for higher education. When a student authenticates himself in the log-in screen, credentials and authorizations are passed from the student registration system, to the course management system, to the calendaring product, and even to the Web mail service. For example: a student who enrolls in Engineering 131 will automatically find themselves in the Engineering 131 course management system; their calendar is now populated with 90-minute blocks scheduled on Tuesday and Thursday from 2:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.; assignments and class announcements are automatically posted to their personalized page; and a collaborative student e-mail is available for the small virtual group associated with the Engineering 131 course.

In the version 2.0 release, scheduled to launch this year, the university plans to expand MyCWRU to include portlets to enable faculty and administrators with an executive dashboard that delivers critical decision-making tools. These include one-touch dynamic access to key reports, integrated access to course information, a personalized calendar, and e-mail. In addition, the portal is scheduled to deliver innovative and personalized support for ongoing faculty research activities, integrating with libraries and databases related to each faculty member's ongoing research interests—essentially delivering a customized university research library to the desktop. Other features of the version 2.0 release include wireless access, streaming video, IP telephony, instant messaging, and other features requested by student and faculty focus groups.

Innovative Infrastructure
The MyCWRU portal taps the power of the Oracle Database bundled with the portal technology within the Oracle9i Application Server. It also incorporates Campus Athena, a Web services middleware or Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) framework that facilitates the real-time integration of higher education enterprise systems.

Case Western Reserve University began to build the MyCWRU portal in April 2002. The university was looking for a standards-based enterprise portal solution that it could seamlessly integrate with its enterprise e-mail system, calendaring system, learning management system, home-grown legacy student information system, and authentication and authorization systems. These enterprise systems were functioning primarily as stand-alone applications. They either did not interact with one another or interacted with each other via a home-grown integration process.

CWRU was looking to build a portal that would provide users with "single sign-on" access to the student information, learning management, e-mail, calendaring, and authentication and authorization systems, and function as one integrated, interoperable and CWRU-branded environment. The university also wanted to move toward a robust Web services integration standards of SOAP/XML for Middleware or Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) to guarantee that all of the systems would "talk to each other" in an intelligent and secure fashion behind the scenes. For example, CWRU envisioned a portal that would use Web services standards to ensure that, when a student added or dropped a class in the student information system, the learning management system would also automatically reflect this change. Cost, return on investment (RoI) and scalability were also major considerations in selecting technology solutions and partners.

After evaluating several technology options, CWRU selected the portal technology within the Oracle9i Application Server coupled with the Campus Athena Web services middleware. The Oracle portal solution provides an extensible framework that integrates Web-based resources (applications, business intelligence reports, Web pages, and syndicated content feeds) within standardized, reusable information components. The framework also provides single sign-on, content classification, enterprise search, directory integration, and access control.

Extending University Boundaries
The deployment of the first generation of MyCWRU, which was completed in less than six months, supports several of the university's strategic technology objectives. First, the university has instilled new levels of discipline into its enterprise database environment, merging five active production databases into a consolidated solution, delivering a more cost-effective and efficient information architecture. It has also successfully ported database functionality to the Web—enabling faculty, staff, and students to access critical information through a browser and supporting the university's information technology goals of end-user productivity, ease of use, portability, flexibility, and customization. Finally, MyCWRU extends academic, social, and workplace engagements beyond the physical boundaries of the university and the traditional nine-to-five, Monday-to-Friday work week—advancing the university toward its goal of delivering "technology everywhere, all the time, any way you want it."

For more information, contact Lev Gonick (lev@cwru.edu), Vice President for Information Technology Services and Chief Information Officer, Case Western Reserve University, or Ronald Ryan (ryan@cwru.edu), MyCWRU Project Director, Case Western Reserve University.

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