Student Systems and Services
South Orange County Community College District
A home-grown, student-centered SIS—created with concrete user input—is uniquely matched to SOCCCD students’ needs and goals.
- By Meg Lloyd, David Raths
Four years ago, South Orange County Community College District’s (CA) legacy student information system (SIS) was on life support. “We layered some web-based services on top of it, but it just didn’t scale to what we wanted to do,” recalls Jim Gaston, associate IT director. “When the vendor announced it wasn’t going to support [the software] anymore, it gave us the momentum and political support to go ahead with something we had been dreaming about for years.”
The dream: to develop a home-grown SIS that would be more student-centered and flexible than any commercially available software.
The decision to craft a new SIS in house was an easy one. The district has a history of custom-developing software solutions on campus, including its student portal. “With commercial software, you never get exactly what you want,” says Vice Chancellor Robert Bramucci. “You get something canned that you can customize a little bit. We looked at the three major ERP vendor offerings and we thought they were not student-centered enough.”
SOCCCD partnered with Neudesic, a consulting firm that specializes in Microsoft .NET development, to build the new system. Student involvement was key to the design process, which emphasized user involvement and rapid prototyping. “We hired students to work on our design teams, so that when we asked questions about how students might use the SIS, they were not hypothetical,” Gaston says. “Those students took ownership of the project.”
Vendor & Product Details
The development timeline for the SIS was scheduled for four years, but the system was actually completed in three and a half—and within the original budget. Although custom development wasn’t necessarily cheaper than an out-of-box solution, Bramucci says, he believes it is worth the effort. “It was expensive to do a four-year development cycle,” he explains, “but once we’ve got it, we’ll be able to build on it to provide our students with services they can’t get anywhere else.”
Providing an experience much like shopping online, the SIS automates the process of guiding students through course selection based on their academic goals. A student can create customized lists of courses he is interested in; view a profile of an instructor; find a course location on a campus map; and review the details of the course offering. He can add courses to his personal shopping cart and view them in relation to other classes in a day/time grid. In addition, he can sign up for daily e-mails that list the classes in his shopping cart, their current status, and how many seats are still available. This information is also available in a personalized RSS feed that is updated every half hour.
The student enrolls in the classes in the shopping cart by clicking on one button in registration. After enrolling, the student can click on another button leading to the online bookstore, automatically loading the cart with the books required for his classes. Also available is a Google satellite image of the campus with markers pointing to the location of each class.
“Technologically, the Google satellite image of classroom locations was probably one of the simpler things we did,” says Jim Phaneuf, associate IT director. “But it was one of the most appreciated and it will be even better when it is available for a mobile platform. It is a service that people wouldn’t have even thought to ask for a few years ago.”
The SIS’s service-oriented architecture has allowed the district to set the stage for future innovations, including mobile access and business intelligence tools for offering proactive recommendations to students. Still under development is a feature called Sherpa, an online guide for students. Sherpa will make recommendations to students much like ones consumers might get from Netflix, Amazon, or iTunes, based on their preferences. The system will be able to target an individual student and e-mail alerts based on his profile. “If your GPA is high, you might want to know about an honors program,” explains Gaston. “If your stated goal is to enter a biology program at UC-Berkeley, we can show you the courses taken by previous students who made that transition.”
Meg Lloyd is a Northern California-based freelance writer.
David Raths is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer focused on information technology. He writes regularly for several IT publications, including Healthcare Informatics and Government Technology.