The Oldham College of Further Education
The nature of Further Education in the UK has changed radically in recent years. One of those changes is to take the college into the community and give provision at external sites. One of the associated problems that arises from this, is ensuring that administrative tasks such as Register marking and collection as well as reporting on community based students is made possible. In addition, tutors require student information to be available on or off-site, 24 hours a day.
The Oldham college has an existing Oracle based student record system that requires a high level of computer skill to operate efficiently and also requires an Oracle licence for each seat. It would be impractical to use this on each member of staff’s desktop machine.
Stage 1 – completed 14 February 2000
The basic requirements for the EasyOcis (Oldham College Information System) were based to a large extent on the result Staff Surveys. These were:
- Student Information
- Class lists
- Sponsor Information
- Course Information
- Register Information
- Student labels (implemented by export of data using Download facility)
- Qualification aims
After it was decided to implement the system using a browser front-end, several options were examined for its implementation:
Data Access Pages – Access 2000 (late November, early December 1999). This option was examined and rejected due to the fact these pages are client side and dependant to a large extent on the spec of a user’s machine, as well as to slow for use by dial up.
ASP pages – hand coded. (early November – mid December). This option was examined and implemented initially for Class Lists (the list boxes still remain). The only problem with this method is maintenance and man-hours required.
ASPdb – (mid December – ). A user friendly COM+ component, which enables easy creation of asp, based pages. This is the method now used for creating EasyOcis. Straightforward to use and maintain.
We chose ASPDB Professional initially and were able to launch the first stage of the system within a few weeks. A basic template page which contained a standard set of properties (colour, field name mapping, table tags, etc) was created. This could be copied and properties changed for the individual page requirement. The data source string is stored in an include file so that any server name changes can be effected with one line of code.
We had to design an interface which would prove simple and quick to use for varying levels of computer ability. As many drop down lists of existing values as possible would allow searches which would always use valid criteria.
The College is school based and the initial contents menu reflected the structure:
By clicking the relevant button, any member of staff is then going to be viewing information restricted to their own particular school. There is also an `All College’ button which shows all information.
After selecting their own school, the following menu appears:
Classlists allow tutors/Programme Leaders and other administrative staff to view the students on each of their courses. At the top grid level, it displays information that is required immediately (eg Next of kin phone number) as well as a thumbnail photo of the student. This is especially useful when a tutor is teaching a class for the first time. They are able to print off a classlist beforehand and can quickly put names to faces.
A simple dropdown list displays all tutors in a particular school. Once a tutor is selected, their courses are shown in another dropdown list. Selecting a course then produces the following ASPDB page:
Classlist (details obscured)
The Details button links to a form view which shows All student information (address details, courses, etc).
- The Student info button allows tutors/admin staff to search for any student, based on a range of information – Student ID (printed on Student ID badge), Surname, Firstname, Programme leader, Mode of Attendance etc:
Student Information Page
The information displayed after a search is displayed in grid form with drill down links to information such as Courses student is enrolled on and attendance.
This displays information concerning employers who sponsor students at the college. As well as showing address/contact information, there is a drill down to show the students who are sponsored and their attendance. Useful for assessors who visit employers to monitor students, etc.
Sponsor drop down list – using ASPDB SelectListbox property
Other Features and Work in Progress
There are various facilities the College requires that are now being implemented using ASPDB.
EasyMark Solo – This uses a simple add/update page to log Contacts which take place between tutors and students which don’t normally fit onto a student register. These can include face-to-face meetings, telephone conversations, visits to student’s home/employer etc. These can all attract funding and the system will record the time spent by tutors on such activities.
Electronic Registers – It is planned to have an extra computer in each classroom to enable registers to be marked electronically (see below). This will allow marking `off-site’ for courses run in the community and will reduce `double-keying’.
As can be seen from the initial menu, there are other facilities being worked on, some have now been completed – such as Schedule View which produces a timetable of room usage and tutor hours.
Many of the facilities now being incorporated into EasyOcis would have been rejected in the past because they would have been resource hungry if hand coding was to be employed. With the help of ASPDB, development time has been reduced to a minimum. As an example, Schedule View took 7 working days to develop.
Any system such as EasyOcis would not be possible without an existing robust database. Often the database front end may not be the best tool for ordinary users to obtain all the facilities they require. The advent of the web has meant that most people now have experience of using browsers. Web enabling existing systems is the obvious solution to many user requirements. Using ASPDB means that such systems can be developed quickly and effectively and gives freedom for creating additional features which in the past may have got no further than the pipe dream stage.
The Oldham College
Software Development/training Team Leader