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May 23June 6 Personal Web portals on the way



by Barbara Black

By September, students should be able to punch in their new Web identifier code and access a personalized Web page that offers them everything they want to know about their academic life.

This will include their cumulative grades, account status, exam schedule, booklists for courses and student record. Announcements of importance to particular students, like class changes or cancellations, will be delivered directly to their portal. They will also be able to supplement the site with weather, sports, entertainment or information related to student life.

While students are the priority for now, faculty and staff will soon have their own portals, through which they’ll be able to access their benefits information and receive their pay stubs, among other things.

The first model of a student portal is being prepared now, and will be presented this month to a selected group including the Dean of Students Office, Student Accounts and others for feedback. It will be relatively simple, compared to the development expected over the next 18 to 24 months.

“The beauty of the portal concept is that users can potentially consolidate all their Web accounts and cut down on the time and effort it takes to access the information they need,” said IITS executive director Andrew McAusland. “In addition, they’ll be able to design their own access points, getting only the information they want, and of course, they can change that at any time.”

However, he added, the reliability and prompt delivery of the content to the portal system is crucial, and that’s where many academic and service departments come into play. While the back-end integration of the information systems will be invisible to the user, setting it up for the portal system and keeping it running smoothly will be a complex task. IITS will hire a content manager to direct traffic, and add continuous value.

Faculty will have access to things like class lists, student e-mail addresses and online grade submissions, as well as their personal employment information — again, without having to navigate to various areas of the university Web site.

Public portal kiosks will soon be set up around campus with some provision of privacy for the user, and more laptops will be available for students to borrow in the libraries. As more and more transactions become available online, line-ups and pressure on front-line services are expected to diminish.

The university can expect some dramatic cost savings as the system develops to include all members of the community.