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A Michigan community college is building an open-source integrated Web system where students and advisors can access key student information easily.
Although other community colleges have built similar enterprise systems, what might be different about Mid Michigan Community College's system is that it will merge with the college's website and portal to become one place to go.
Mid Michigan Community College plans to make it easier for students, staff and faculty to find information with a home-grown, open-source application called the Student Measured Achievements Reporting Tool (SMART System). The college received a nearly $400,000 grant from the U.S. Education Department's Title III grant program. With the five-year grant, Mid-Michigan is working toward having 100 percent of students, faculty and staff trained and able to access the system by 2015.
In the past, students and advisors go to four or five systems — such as the student information, advising and learning management systems — to gather all the pieces of information they need. More than half of the students at Mid Michigan Community College come from low-income backgrounds, are the first people in their family to attend college or have disabilities. And they need to know where to find information easily.
"One of the major issues for us has been that we find a new tool that meets a lot of our needs, and so we adopt it, but it doesn't necessarily meet all our needs," said Jessica Wicks, director of Internet technologies and distance education at Mid Michigan Community College in Harrison.
The SMART System won't replace the other third-party applications the college already uses. What it will do is collect key information from each of those existing applications, including Admissions, Enrollment, Financial Aid, Advising, Retention, Library and Learning Services and Distance Education. The new system will allow students, advisers and instructors to access these key pieces in one place.
"We're going to be pulling select, targeted information for this SMART interface so that there will be that one-stop shopping for information. But they will also be able to go to the individual applications to do what they need for more in-depth things," said Anthony Freds, the CIO of Mid Michigan Community College.
For example, a faculty member could log into the SMART website to access student data and rosters. Then the SMART System will serve as a launching pad for them to easily leap to the learning management system to do in-depth content creation and delivery, said Lori Cortez, Title III grant project coordinator.
Depending on what group users belong to, they will see different modules of the SMART system and choose which modules to display based on their interests. SMART will not just be its own application, though. SMART, the college's Web portal and website all will merge to provide an integrated Web experience.
These types of systems will become more social as time goes on because users want to interact, customize, comment, like and build circles of influence, Wicks said.
"That's something that, unfortunately, most of our learning management systems and student information systems are really lacking," Wicks said. "We have the user demand there, but the product hasn't quite come to that point yet."
And Mid Michigan Community College is also cognizant of supporting smartphones and tablets that will access the SMART System, Freds said. By using Twitter's open-source toolkit called Bootstrap, the college is making sure the system's content will be mobile-friendly.
The SMART System is in the beginning stage of development. A team from the Internet Technologies Group and Title III meet bi-weekly to identify and learn the framework, tie data sources together and identify conversations they need to have with stakeholders.
Programmers are shadowing student advisers to get a better idea of their workflow, what systems they access and what questions they need to find answers for. And the programmers also are surveying other groups, such as advisers and student support services staff.
"What this gives us a chance to do is develop things around what they need and what they see as the best path to the information that they need," Freds said. "And I think that's pretty unique, especially when there's so many different sources of information, and they all have their own interface."
Too often people are limited by the constraints of the software, Cortez added. "So the approach that we have taken with this project is, 'What is your ideal information? What is your ideal path to it?' So we can build the software around the need rather than pushing our need to fit the boundaries of that software."
The project is already on its way to exceeding the grant's September benchmark of giving 30 percent of Student and Academic Support Services staff access to the SMART System.
As the project moves forward, Mid Michigan Community College is open to collaboration and sharing what it's doing with other colleges that want to get ideas.
"Open source philosophy goes hand in hand with higher education," Freds said, "and so we will share anything with anybody who is interested."
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