A Case Study of an Integrated University Portal


The increasing complexity and interdependence of campus technology systems poses a significant challenge to universities. Such efforts cannot be solely the domain of a university technology department but requires participation across the institution in order to ensure success. As Irvine (2003) noted, “a decision about course management platforms or portals and their interoperability with other campus systems is a critical institution-wide issue that involves the whole university community” (p. 5). This case study considers the development of an Oracle-powered database-driven student and faculty information single-sign-on portal at Regent University called myRegent. This recently developed portal integrates with our existing student information and learning management systems, SCT Banner, and Blackboard Learning System respectively.

From its inception, Regent University has leveraged technology to allow students to participate in graduate education without limiting students to live in a particular geographical location during the course of their studies. Since 1989, the faculty have harnessed distance education technologies and corresponding instructional models to extend educational access beyond Southeastern Virginia. In the years since the first distance education courses were offered, Regent University’s off-campus programs have undergone the following technological progression:

• 1989: Off-campus courses offered using audiotaped lectures on cassettes.

• 1995: Implemented the PC-based TopClass software, which provided a secure online discussion forum to increase interactivity.

• 1997: Implemented a Cold Fusion database-driven Web site, which increased capabilities and features for threaded discussions.

• 1997: Upgraded to the Web-based TopClass learning management system providing an online learning environment for distance courses.

• 1997: Adopted Web textbooks published by Prentice Hall Business Publishing for use in online courses to reduce learner costs.

• 1999: Adopted the Blackboard Learning Management System—marking Regent University as one of the first 100 schools to do so—and unifying all online programs into a single online learning environment.

• 2004: Integrated HorizonWimba into the Blackboard system to add rich-media synchronous features into the online classroom.

• 2005-2006: Rolled out myRegent portal across campus, providing a single-sign-in to an increased set of online educational features.

Regent University’s Information Technology Department also assisted in the design and development of a digital media database called ROMA (Regent Online Media Assets). Through a Web interface, our faculty can browse and download images, audio and video clips, and other learning materials through a central database. This rich media database server enables faculty to use and reuse these media assets or learning objects in their online and campus courses. This is consistent with Gilbert’s (2003) call for structured and searchable collections of instructional content to enable faculty to easily locate quality materials admit the electronic chaos.

Both the faculty and administrative staff of the university are adept at using technology to allow students to complete all of their studies off-campus. Most recently, the university has used video-teleconferencing and Web technologies to promote distance learning. Given the growing number of distance-learning students, a single portal allowing a student access to services regardless of geographic location is of particular importance to this university. Furthermore, such a portal will benefit on-campus students by simplifying and increasing access to relevant information and enabling campus students to access these materials during the academic years and summers.


Regent University maintains a university home page at http://www.regent.edu. This newly redesigned, Oracle database-driven Web site provides a convenient way for prospective students, current students, alumni and friends, faculty and staff to access administrative and departmental services. The Regent University home page averages more than 25,000 page views per day. In addition, students have access to the user-centered library portal with a customizable interface to collections of Internet resources, including over 100 separate online academic and professional databases, which are available 24/7 to faculty and students with Internet access. The university also provides the Blackboard Learning System (2006) for online and blended courses, as well as SCT Banner (2006) for our student information system. In short, our students, faculty, and staff currently use a variety of self-service portals ranging from admissions, course registration, tuition payment, review of pay slip information, and access to digital databases.

With all of these resources available to the university community, there is a serious problem of information overload, which prevents members from making effective use of the resources. Campus surveys have repeatedly demonstrated high levels of satisfaction with individual online resources but widely varying usage levels, which have led us to conclude that many quality resources are simply being overlooked (Baker, 2003). Accordingly, we proposed the development of a single-sign-on portal to enable us to better serve our university customers (i.e., students, staff, administrators, and faculty) more effectively. Such a portal would be a truly integrated product, which would allow users to control what they see—customize, personalize, and choose content—and generally make things simple. Our twin goals were to increase customer satisfaction as well as promote higher productivity.

We believed that the information technology (IT) department was the ideal organization to spearhead this managed learning environment development because of the technical challenges involved with such a project (JISC, 2002). Furthermore, IT was in the unique position to serve as a university-wide facilitator, promote integration, recommend ways to change business processes, and, finally, because IT knows the most about how the various schools and departments function. This project was seen as strategic for two reasons. First, the university recognizes the need to use technology to improve the learning experience for students and to improve the business of the university. Second, good applications help the university develop an advantage over other universities that compete for tech savvy students.

As we consider the development of the myRegent portal, we adopted an incremental development cycle. In other words, the first site we launched was not our final site but rather we are building the site incrementally. We want to decentralize some of the portal management so departments can manage their own data and yet provide a single sign-on access to offer quick and easy availability to all our systems. Key issues that we’re addressing include standards for the user interface (i.e., look and feel), systems integration, and how to enable the development of custom modules to enhance the portal’s features. We want the users to know they are dealing with one institution—Regent University—when they navigate our portal.

We went with an Oracle-based solution in no small part because of our strong relations with key vendors such as Oracle, Blackboard, Sun Microsystems, and SCT. Regent has an accomplished marketing department and the university has acted as an impressive, supportive showcase environment for vendors to demonstrate technology to potential clients. In 2002, Regent hosted a higher education technology seminar sponsored by Oracle Consulting. Participants were universities in the Hampton Roads and Richmond area that hold a U.S. Campus License for one or more Oracle products. Additionally, the university has acquired expertise with Oracle Financials, SCT Banner, and other critical enterprise applications. Our success has been due to the deliberate policy of hiring the best team, training that team, and using standard project and change management techniques to effectively manage and control implementations.

The CampusEAI Oracle Portal (2006) software provided both a challenge and an opportunity for the IT staff to jumpstart an initiative we have been actively pursuing for the past few months. The Regent University team is already a cohesive unit that is skilled and knowledgeable in the area of portal implementation and system integration. The staff members have prior experience in full-scale development of a commercial portal. The staff already has solved the technical issues that would present challenges in the implementation of such a project.

The university developed a custom, Web-enabled application using the Cold Fusion Web-database integration platform with a back-end Oracle database system. The objective of this application is to allow users to synchronize passwords across Regent’s network domains, detect unauthorized access attempts, and ensure strong password management. The IT department then performed an analysis of the various mechanisms that disparate applications use to handle security. The department considered encryption schemes, two-tier vs. three-tier implementations, and methods for secure handling of the password. IT then moved to eliminate all the internal mechanisms that allow a user to change his password independent of the custom application. In parallel, Regent University has been revisiting its own administrative policy concerning naming conventions for user accounts and utilize a central creation point to ensure consistency, prevent duplication, and multiple assignments.

The portal is still in early stages of roll-out. Our focus right now is on the education of users about this new single-sign-on approach and the elimination of separate username and password combinations. As a result of this project, we’re continuing to become more user-oriented, addressing operational issues as they are discovered, and continuing to find and implement tools that makes the business of education more user-friendly (for students, faculty, and the administration). The portal is also empowering users to find answers to questions or common problems on the Web site first. This is part of an attempt to be proactive in improving customer satisfaction by providing structured and intuitive assistance. This should reduce calls to the customer support center, which could then focus on solving more difficult user problems.

The portal project has furthered IT’s desire to become a resource that is an expert on the systems it supports from a user perspective. The department intends to be a useful and integrated part of the university, becoming a center of expertise for applications ranging from Microsoft Office, e-mail, various report-generating tools, Oracle Financials, Banner, Blackboard, and others. The department wants all parts of the university to use its expertise and be involved in improving productivity and educational effectiveness. By leading an effort to better identify the data needs of the university community and provide better access to Web-based tools that will allow users to generate real time reports (e.g., metrics associated with Oracle financials, student registration, financial aid, and others to be identified) the portal has helped improve university-wide business practices.


Since the portal is being pursued incrementally, there are numerous additional projects, which are in various states of development. We’re attempting to improve the trouble-handling process used by the computer support center—to improve response times and customer satisfaction. One way of doing that is to create Web-based, self-help tools for users (e.g., to assist them in tracking the status of any trouble report sent to the computer support center). Another is the improvement of IT department computer support center trouble management software (Magic) to help us collect trouble report data in a more structured manner, and analyze trouble report data to identify root causes and trends associated with problems reported by users. Such metrics will help improve the IT department operation by allowing us to identify and fix chronic issues.

We’re also currently working to identify and introduce tools on an intranet that will add value to the university’s operations. An example of such a tool would be the live online faculty/staff directory that we implemented in 2001. Other tools will be found to improve administrative functions (human resource forms, other forms, etc.), and educational functions (instructional training and support, book lists, discussion groups, demographics). This effort implies the need to implement access control on applications that are used to share or analyze sensitive material. Similarly, we’re continuing to refine strategy and goals in response to university needs. The department will seek ways to improve our value and effectiveness to the university—also improving the perception of our user community.

In addition to the administrative and infrastructure tasks, we’re also looking for ways to harness the portal to improve relationships with current students as well as prospective students and alumni. We’re running test pilots for online video-teleconferencing with potential guest speakers from any location using high-speed Internet access. The IT department has developed a kit that can be shipped to any individual to provide a real-time lecture to classrooms in any location and are integrating audio and video archiving features into the Blackboard system. In addition, we’re attempting to implement and integrate more banner modules (e.g., prospect Web and admissions) into the portal to allow prospective students to apply online to the university. Furthermore, we want to extend the relationship with alumni by offering additional functionality through our Web site for alumni such as searching for friends or classmates, updating directory profiles, and receiving materials from the university.


One of the hidden strengths of this portal development is that it is a means of improving the academic community at Regent University. Much of the research into online community has focused on the relational dynamics that appear in synchronous chat rooms, asynchronous discussion boards, e-mail, and other mediated environments. Such community experiences are then compared to their face-to-face counterparts and, not surprisingly, criticized as shallow imitations of the ideal. Such approaches fail to consider that the learner, regardless of geographic location, is simultaneously a member of multiple communities–academic, vocational, familial, social, and others—and these communities exert influence even when they’re not in focus.

This portal project is another step in Regent’s efforts to connect the university with the students’ local communities and use such local relationships to strengthen the on-campus and distance learning experience. Such efforts would likely not only increase the shared sense of classroom community but would recognize the dual citizenship that distance learners have as members of a classroom community as well as one or more local communities. We believe that the net result of such efforts will be an increased affect for the university and ultimately a richer and more fruitful experience for all Regent community members.


Course Management System: (CMS): A computer software program designed to support the delivery of online instruction. Popular CMSs include Blackboard, WebCT, and Moodle. Often used synonymously with learning management system.

Database: A software package for storing information in a searchable and relational structure. Popular databases include Oracle, MySQL, SQL Server, and Access.

Incremental Development Cycle: A process of software development that attempts to create, test, and release code in stages rather than waiting until the entire program is completed. This model ensures that code changes can be made based on user experiences with the incremental deliverables rather than only after the first complete version of the program has been released.

Learning Management System: A computer software program designed to support the delivery of online instruction. Popular CMSs include Blackboard, WebCT, and Moodle. Often used synonymously with course management system.

Learning Objects: Small pieces of instructional content that can be incorporated in, or assembled to create, course content. Ideally, such content is designed to be reusable.

Managed Learning Environment (MLE): The term managed learning environment (MLE) refers to the whole range of information systems and processes of a college or university … that contribute directly, or indirectly, to learning and the management of that learning (JISC, 2002).

Rich Media: Graphics, audio, video, and other nontextual media, sometimes called multimedia.

Single Sign-On: The ability for a computer user to access multiple systems with one username and password combination, thus eliminating the need to log in and out of different systems with separate accounts.

Student Information System: A computer software program used by educational institutions to track student records, usually including personal information, grades, transcripts, financial aid, and other relevant information.

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