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Collin County Community College District: Online Class Schedule Proves Successful

Collin County Community College District (CCCCD) has six locations and more than 37,000 students registered in credit programs or in continuing education. Three times a year CCCCD prints and distributes class schedules for the credit courses. To attract and retain the 16,000 students registered in credit programs the college prints over 200,000 copies for each print run—a minimum of eight copies for each student.

The large numbers of class schedules are printed for mailing to virtually all households in the college region. However, there was concern over the effectiveness of the mail promotion—whether it was the best way to communicate course opportunities to the community.

The Web and its Drawbacks
Wanting to find new ways to distribute class schedules and to market the college, CCCCD turned to the Internet, placing downloadable PDFs on its Web site and creating an online version of class schedule information. Unfortunately, the PDF version didn't improve how students and potential students could use the class schedule information. The PDF made the information widely available, but these documents were static when viewed on screen or printed, and were not usable in ways that added value for the students.

The college had a similar experience with the online version of the class schedule and calendar. Course descriptions could not be easily found and it failed to provide the information in an easily accessible format. The college was also concerned with bandwidth constraints. The 37,000 plus students trying to access the college Internet site could place strain on the host computer system, and might not allow all students to access the information needed. The college also recognized that the majority of students use dial-up Internet connections that would make the problem worse by causing online bottlenecks. CCCCD administrators felt there must be a more effective way to use the Internet to offer class information

Finding the Right Technology
The college identified a new option for publishing the college catalog and class schedule in an electronic format when it began working with MultiView Inc. in early 2002. Documents published using the Web-synchronized MultiView format are installed onto the students' and prospective students' desktop or laptop computers. The MultiView class schedule is used offline by each student, but the information in the application is Web synchronized. The student installs the software application once, and by clicking the update button, it connects over the Internet to a Web site to download a file containing any changes. The application retrieves the updates, seamlessly inserts them into the document at the correct location, and deletes outdated entries. Students can always have the most recent college information on their local computer.

MultiView designed the software for publishing any type of document with dynamic content that is difficult to keep up-to-date, such as membership directories, catalogs, or buyers' guides. The features of the software made it well-suited to the needs of the college, but MultiView still made a few changes to the application. The one feature created specifically for the Collin County Community College District application was "My Schedule," which allows students to build their course schedules right in the application where they can be viewed, changed, and printed.

The MultiView publication can contain any information that would be in the printed class schedule and can use data from multiple sources. The college provided information in database formats for most of the course and schedule information and as PDFs for forms and college background information. Using existing files, the college was able to provide the content for the Web-synchronized class schedule to MultiView.

The MultiView class schedule was an option first identified as an effective marketing tool by the Public Relations department of the college. In addition to providing accurate information in a user-friendly form, MultiView software places the college logo on the desktop of the user's computer as a launch button for the college application.

Administration, Records, Information Technology, and Public Relations members saw the marketing advantage, and the benefit of having a document that can be searched by key words or phrases. Existing college publications could not be searched electronically, often preventing students from finding the information they needed. Collin County Community College District decided the application from MultiView was the best product for their needs and the only product able to provide specific features for the collegiate market. The offline publication provides access to college information in an intuitive page layout and allows students to interact with the class schedule because the information is in electronic form.

"[The MultiView class Schedule] has been very well received," notes Cary Israel, CCCCD President. "It benefits students, the business community, academic advisors, the registrars, and many others. This technology provides access to our catalog and timely updates to class schedules, is easy to use, and is accessible through an Internet connection," he says.

Gradual Implementation
In May 2002 the Web-synchronized class schedule was made available to the students as a downloadable file on the college Web site and on CDs produced for the college. Because the Collin County Community College District was the first institution to use the software to publish a class schedule and catalog, a gradual implementation strategy was adopted. The college still printed and mailed class schedules and the PDF version of the catalog was still made available on the college Web site, providing a number of options for students to view the information. After just four months, the Web-synchronized version of the class schedule was downloaded more than 26,000 times.

Students were accustomed to going to the college Web site for information and quickly started to use the MultiView class schedule, using it without any difficulties. The MultiView schedule includes a prominently positioned e-mail link for students needing additional help. This was included to assure problems could be resolved quickly, but so far there has been very few requests for assistance—in fact quite the opposite—students have e-mailed unsolicited praise for the application.

The software presents information in a page-like format with an intuitive interface of chapter headings and tabs for moving from section to section, and back and forward buttons for moving from page to page within sections. For students with little computer experience, the simple navigation and the onscreen help make it easy to find the information needed.

"We've been impressed with the number of times the course schedule has been downloaded, and from everything we've heard, students are very happy with it," says Dr. Toni Jenkins, CCCCD Executive Vice President. "Students could go to the Web site for information before, it's just that it was very hard to find. There were multiple PDFs, so it wasn't very user friendly, and students couldn't search the online information. With the MultiView application we are able to provide better information to the students, academic advisors, and the community," she explains.

The downloadable application requires the student to have access to a computer and modem, but it makes no difference whether the student is using high-speed DSL or a slower dial-up modem. For the college, the downloadable application has not caused a bandwidth bottleneck on the campus servers, as would be the case with a completely online class schedule.

Students and administrators have found the application effective in providing class schedule information. The application was also a key factor in the selection of the Collin County Community College District Web site for the prestigious Center for Digital Government Best of the Web first place award in the higher education category.

"MultiView has been a tremendous partner in developing our Internet/ desktop class schedule, and its contribution to our Web site has played a major role in our winning the ‘Best of the Web' award," says Jenkins. "[MultiView] has worked diligently to make this product something that is extremely versatile, usable, and beneficial to the students," she adds.

Looking to the Future
The number of times the class schedule has been downloaded exceeded the expectations of the college, and it has been particularly satisfying that the students have required minimal support in using the new system. Every time a student updates information in the application the college is collecting zip codes from a registration screen in the MultiView software. This information will be compared with enrollments to determine a mailing strategy for the printed schedule. It is clear the college will be able to save on printing and mailing costs in the future. They anticipate covering the cost of creating and maintaining the MultiView version of the class schedule and freeing up a portion of the marketing budget for other promotional activities.

The class schedule launched in May of 2002 only included credit courses. Because of its success, CCCCD decided to post the Continuing Education class schedule in the same format, placing it on the college Web site in August 2002.

For more information, contact Dr. Toni P. Jenkins, Executive Vice President, CCCCD, at [email protected].

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