B.C. universities to receive universal Web portal

A one-stop service portal for British Columbia’s university students is one step closer to completion.

Bccampus, the overseer of the $1-million Web-based project, recently selected Vancouver-based MAKE Technologies to contribute its connector toolkit to the future system that will eventually serve 27 of the province’s universities.

The project aims to provide B.C. students with a universal Web portal where they can register for courses offered by any of the 27 institutions, validate prerequisites, and complete institutional transfers seamlessly in next-to-real-time.

In partnership with Sun Microsystems and Learning Assistant Technologies, MAKE will ensure each system is connected to the other while maintaining a universal language and individual security for each one.

Christian Cotichini, executive vice-president of products at MAKE Technologies Inc., said there are many challenges to ensuring all these things happen properly.

“”You’ve got these multiple trust domains, multiple technology domains, legacy platforms, political domains and privacy policy domains,”” he explained.

“”Each university has a proprietary, customized student information system and learning management system that has the content and the data that we need access to.””

MAKE must provide the necessary federated Web services to ensure all 27 systems are integrated cost-effectively into a network that sees a homogenous view of all these systems, said Porter.

This is done by placing an “”embassy”” behind each of the 27 firewalls to deal with all the complexities of interfacing and accessing the legacy system data.

The embassy also provides a management point where a university’s IT staff can provide security on the student data, said Cotichini.

“”So they won’t allow that data to cross their firewall unless it’s on an encrypted link that has been authenticated by their own system.””

David Porter, executive director of BCcampus, expects the connector toolkit to be pilot-tested with four institutions this fall before rolling out to all institutions next year.

“”We’re aiming for an Expedia-like interface — one that’s designed for academic institutions that can validate prerequisites and credit transfers. We want a single point of entry for information, registration, financial aid, and student services for online courses, while making sure we validate each institution’s (unique) governance rules.””

The overall goal will be to make student mobility more flexible, he added.

Currently, transactions related to course credits can be a “”highly manual process”” that might require students to go to multiple institutions, send letters or talk to people, said Porter. “”This will save students a lot of time.””

BCcampus was created out of a 2002 provincial election platform to promote e-learning.

Similar portal systems include the one used by the University of Texas. The tele-campus project serves all of the school’s campuses. Kentucky and Indiana are other areas that have implemented such systems, said Porter.

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