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Special Annual Awards

2008 Campus Technology Innovators: Student Advising Technology

2008 Campus Technology Innovators

WITH ONE SWIPE of a student's ID card, Harford advisers are automatically notified at their desktops about the student waiting to be seen. The system also provides an online photo of the student and a copy of his or her transcript.

Innovator: Harford Community College

To help students 'sail' through the advising office, technologists teamed an unlikely group of products and came up with a winning solution.

Monitoring and responding to student academic and campuslife needs and requirements is a challenging task for any college adviser; on the other hand, moving through the advising office is often more than a challenge for most students. At Harford Community College (MD), a new IT effort is facilitating the way students interact with that office, enhancing advising services by improving accuracy and efficiency, streamlining the process for students and staffers, and augmenting the school's ability to counsel more students more effectively each day.

The system is called SAILOR (Student Advising Information and Log On Recording), and its creators say it was designed to help students "sail" through the advising office. SAILOR utilizes Banner ERP from SunGard Higher Education, identification cards from NuVision Networks, Xerox DocuShare, PaperPort from Nuance, and a host of other technologies. Joy Hatch, VP for IT, maintains that with more than 11,000 Harford students visiting the advising office each year, something had to be done to streamline the process.

Thus SAILOR was born in spring 2007, when Application Developer Bill Merryman set out to design change for the advising process. Before beginning work on the system, he met with staffers in the Career and Transfer Services department to discuss the process and the goals of the system. He returned to meet with the same individuals throughout the development process, to share what he had created to date, and to take suggestions for improvements or changes.

According to Hatch, the final product exceeded expectations, due in large part to the willingness of advisers to participate in the development process, and Merryman's ability to incorporate that feedback. "SAILOR is an example of technology innovation designed for collaboration between the departments that produced the system, thus allowing greater service for students," she says.

Today, there are two main components to the SAILOR application: the web interface that students use to log in, and the desktop client that advisers use to manage and monitor student academics and activities.

The web interface is hosted on Harford's web server, which runs Internet Information Services (IIS) from Microsoft. The pages make use of Microsoft's ActiveX Data Objects (ADO) to communicate with: a) an Oracle database (to get a student's details as required), b) an SQL Server (to access a table containing the list of reasons why the student requires advising), c) the list of advisers, and d) a table to which the student's sign-in information is posted. These pages also make use of a component that communicates to each of the adviser desktop clients, notifying them of a sign-in waiting to be seen.

In fact, the functionality of the adviser desktop client relies on a student swiping his or her identification card through a reader connected to the program, upon arrival at the campus advising office. The swipe automatically enters identifying data, and in addition to immediately notifying advisers at their desktops about the student waiting to be seen, and the reason for the visit, the system also provides an online photo of the student and a copy of his or her transcript-- information that saves advisers the time they used to spend digging up these files on their own.

Thus far, the impact of the SAILOR system has been marked. For starters, SAILOR has streamlined the institution's advising process, making it more efficient across the board. Statistics indicate that Harford advisers saw 8 percent more students in the spring semester of the 2007-2008 school year than they did in the fall semester. Harford technologists say they've seen performance improvements in other areas, too, including security (the new online photos guarantee that students are who they say they are) and cost effectiveness.

Down the road, Hatch says she expects the project to be replicated for advising offices in other schools. Already, Harford has allowed other community colleges in Maryland to use the concept; additional systems based loosely on this idea are in the works, as well. Also in the works are plans to roll out similar systems for the Registrar, Admissions, Financial Aid, and Disability Support Services departments.

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