'Sexy' Grades on the Phone


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Jim Helwig (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
Jim Vogel (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
Session presentation at the 2012 Jasig Sakai Conference

This past winter the Registrar’s Office at the University of Wisconsin-Madison set the goal of delivering grades to students on their smartphones by the end of the spring semester. This was the first step in making it easier for students to access important information currently available only within PeopleSoft. After considering a variety of approaches, they decided to leverage the mobile capabilities of the campus portal. We will discuss the decision making process, system architecture, design process, progress to date and plans for the future. We will highlight the role uPortal and uMobile play.

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  • Last year Scott Owczarek, new UW-Madison Registrar, heard requests from students for easier access to important information. Up to this point, most student record information has been accessible only via the Student Center, the self-service portion of the PeopleSoft student administration application. Students would have to log into the portal, navigate to the Student Center portlet, click the Student Center link, and navigate to their grades. None of this was optimized for mobile devices.
  • Scott had a vision: Classes are over, the last final taken, and a Susie is headed home for the summer. The door room is empty with everything packed into dad's car. As they head on down the highway for the long journey, dad wants to know what her grades are. Susie pulls out her smart phone and a few clicks later proudly announces straight A's. Scott wanted that vision to be reality for UW-Madison students. And he wanted it to look sexy.The Registrar's Office decided to launch an initiative for making student record information readily available on mobile devices. For the first phase they targeted three things: final grades, classes map and class schedule. In January of this year they decided to tackle Final Grades with the intention of rolling it out by the end of Spring semester. Four months from start to finish.
  • Under a tight timeline, several options were considered. One was licensing third party software that promised to deliver native mobile apps that integrate with PeopleSoft. That would be costly in actual dollars as well as time and resources needed to deploy the system.
  • Another option was to leverage the existing Mobile UW native apps available on iOS and Android devices. Up to this point, those apps only displayed publicly available information and were not tied into the campus authentication and authorization system. It would also require students downloading the applications and would not improve the experience for students accessing the content via a browser, either on the phone, notepad or desktop.
  • In the end the decision was made to leverage My UW-Madison, the existing campus portal. The portal was scheduled for an upgrade that promised a mobile optimized view. By deploying the content as a portlet in the MyUW, the information would be readily available on any device with a browser.
  • Advantages of this approach include:* Leveraging existing authentication and authorization system* Leverage existing portal audience, habits, name recognition and trust* Improve experience for users of any device* No need to download native app* No need to download updates* Portlets naturally focused on compact delivery of contentThe timeline was very tight. There was little existing direct display of student record information in the portlet, so this was new territory. It was also decided that we would use Web Services to expose the PeopleSoft data and we had limited experience with that. There was no one team that could pull this off. It was clear it would need to be a collaborative effort involving many different teams.
  • When the portal team first got wind of this, we wondered if anyone in the uPortal community had done something similar. It turned out that there were developers interested in adding final grades functionality to the existing Jasig Courses portlet. This portlet displayed a students list of courses along with related course information. The addition of grades was on their roadmap. It made sense for us to collaborate with the uPortal community and extend this existing portlet instead of writing one of our own. That portlet was designed with a pluggable interface that allowed institutions to write connectors to their own local student information system, regardless of what application they were using.
  • Thus we embarked on project involving several teams:* A uPortal community developer from Unicon would develop the basic portlet view and data model.* A portal infrastructure team member would develop the wiring to populate the data model from the PeoplsSoft web service.* A Registrars Office developer would implement the PeopleSoft web service.* A Division of IT user experience specialist would assist with the UI design.* A Registrars Office developer would implement the user interface skin.
  • There were a few bumps in the road as we rushed to move this out. As we got closer to rolling this out, it was clear that we were not going to be enabling the mobile optimized. While we did go ahead with the uPortal 4 upgrade, we did not have time to do testing of all our portlets under the mobile view. Additionally, the My UW-Madison portal advisory group was having a difficult time making a decision as to whether or not all portlets would be available in the mobile view and what the user interface would look like.
  • That said, we were still able to roll out a mobile friendly view of final grades. In particular, students would be able to go directly to the portlet via a deep link, https://my.wisc.edu/portal/p/FinalGrades. This played an important role in the phased roll out.
  • While our testing indicated performance should not be an issue, this was the first time we were using web services to integrate the portal and PeopleSoft and were were a little hesitant to put it in front of all students at the same time. We first deployed it in production but did not add it to the default layout. This allowed select students to search for and use the portlet, validating that it was functioning in production as designed. The second phase was sending out the direct link in an email to a student advisory group. This was shortly followed by a tweet from the main UW-Madison twitter account. Finally it was added to the default layout for all students and former students.
  • The story continues as we work on enabling the mobile friendly view of the portal. We have a team focusing on a My UW-Madison mobile road map and business plan that will document why we are pursing a mobile strategy, what decisions we are making after looking at peers and emerging trends and the project timeline. Ideally we will have this enabled before school starts in the fall.At the same time, the Registrars Office is prioritizing what portlets it wants to tackle next. We will also be reviewing what strategies to use for accessing student record information in the future. As the Registrar works on exposing this data for consumption by applications, the proliferation of point-to-point web services may not scale. We already expose curricular information via a hub system that makes an operation data store version of the information available via web services. There is an ongoing project to add new data elements to the hub but the data models are carefully thought out and final grades was not on the near term road map.Finally, there is still some interest in making this information available via a native mobile app. While we still need to have strategic discussions with the steering committee of the existing public mobile UW app, we are in a position we we could take advantage of uMobile and easily publish a native app that contains final grades as well as other portal content.
  • 'Sexy' Grades on the Phone

    1. 1. Jim Helwig Jim Vogel University of Wisconsin-Madison June 10-15, 2012Growing Community;Growing Possibilities
    2. 2. How we embarked on thisjourney 2012 Jasig Sakai Conference 2
    3. 3.  Content of slide 2012 Jasig Sakai Conference 3
    4. 4. http://www.flickr.com/photos/jepoirrier/372208491/ 2012 Jasig Sakai Conference 4
    5. 5. http://www.flickr.com/photos/indraw/4857101224/ 2012 Jasig Sakai Conference 5
    6. 6. 2012 Jasig Sakai Conference 6
    7. 7. 2012 Jasig Sakai Conference 7
    8. 8.  Portlets naturally focused on compact delivery of content Leverage existing authentication and authorization system Leverage existing portal audience, habits, name recognition and trust Improve experience for users of any device No need to download native app No need to download updates 2012 Jasig Sakai Conference 8
    9. 9. 2012 Jasig Sakai Conference 9
    10. 10.  Registrar’s Office Portal Developers Communications Unicon 2012 Jasig Sakai Conference 10
    11. 11. How we actually accomplishedthis 2012 Jasig Sakai Conference 11
    12. 12. We actually did it! 2012 Jasig Sakai Conference 12
    13. 13. 2012 Jasig Sakai Conference 13
    14. 14. https://my.wisc.edu/portal/p/FinalGrades 2012 Jasig Sakai Conference 14
    15. 15. 2012 Jasig Sakai Conference 15
    16. 16. http://www.flickr.com/photos/fatguyinalittlecoat/5637806412/ 2012 Jasig Sakai Conference 16
    17. 17. Jim.helwig@doit.wisc.edujames.vogel@em.wisc.edu 2012 Jasig Sakai Conference 17