With a new "portal" into a virtual universe, Southern Oregon University students can view their grades, pay their tuition, talk to other students, get notes from their professor and learn the latest news on campus — from any computer.
Called MySOU, it's a condensed version of SOU's Web site that makes campus life easier to access by requiring just a single sign-on. Before the portal was up and running in fall 2008, a student would have to remember up to 10 passwords for different Web pages within the SOU system.
Representatives of every part of university life shopped around for the best possible way to reorganize how SOU connects to its community.
"This is designed for communities of higher ed," says Teri O'Rourke, director of information technology.
A goal for the portal is to have all records online, eliminating paper use, cutting down on storage costs and making them more accessible to the public.
"We are always looking for ways to be more efficient," says Jonathan Eldridge, vice president for student affairs, adding that electronic records will be available for years after a student leaves the university.
The community served by the portal encompasses students, faculty, staff, alumni and prospective students from across the world. Everyone can stay in touch, get records and know what is going on at the school.
Change does not come easy, and not everyone in the SOU orbit has made the switch.
While SOU has tried to make the portal easy to use, many students — especially those who have been at the school for a while — are not accustomed to it.
Newer students introduced to the portal during orientation find it easy to navigate, Eldridge says.
"The goal is to not have the entire Web site of thousands of pages to go through. You will pick out the bits you want," says Patrick Massey, SOU's electronic communication coordinator.
The portal can be customized, meaning users can add things such as weather updates and local movie times to their sites.
One of the main concerns voiced in the student community is security. Having the one password is convenient, but is it safe?
"We are always thinking about security," says O'Rourke. When people have multiple passwords they tend to write them down or forget them, which poses a greater threat to security, she says. Having one password that students can keep in their memory is easier to use, she says.
"We are trying to balance security with convenience," O'Rourke says.
"Students need to log out when they leave the computer. It's very important to be aware," says John Stevenson, help desk and training manager. The portal will log users out after an hour of inactivity.
While most of the student body has logged onto the portal at least once, according to the IT department, the goal is to create more content to bring people to the portal every day.
SOU eventually will offer more online courses that will be easier to manage through the portal. It will also allow students, faculty and staff to keep in touch with the university at all times.
"No matter where you are you can be a part of the community," Eldridge says.