Staying on Course
As chair of Foreign Languages and Literatures (FLLT) Undergraduate Studies Committee, Jorge Cubillos' challenge is to plan and implement courses of study and ensure that accurate information reaches students, faculty and advisors.
While some online advising tools exist—UDNotes, Advance Registration Advisement Express, Senior Checkout Express—none specifically help students navigate requirements and develop a structure for their entire program. Because of this, Cubillos was motivated to develop a new online tool that better helps students and their advisors plan coursework.
"I was interested in devising ways of assisting undergraduate students to navigate through our Major requirements. Inspired by existing online financial programs, I set out to find a way to empower undergraduate students to make similar 'calculations' about their course work," says Cubillos.
Now, Spanish majors have access to the web-based UD Online Advisement Planner, a program designed to help students explore the ideal paths and options leading to graduation.
Students respond to a series of questions about their preferences and academic background (desired courses, study abroad destinations, projected graduation date, etc.). The Online Advisor then provides the student with a layout of courses leading to graduation. The plan of courses can be printed or forwarded through email.
"This tool has the 'collective knowledge and wisdom' of every advisor in our department," says Cubillos. "Now, all students have access to this wisdom, and can reliably explore their coursework options whenever and wherever they want. Advisors are called on to provide follow up and resolve problems."
Cubillos' initiative required the expertise of department advisors and technology personnel, as well as the staff of the PRESENT, who programmed the tool. This year-long concerted effort produced the UD Online Advisement Planner, which can be modified to suit the needs of any department.
To make the Advisement Planner available to students, Cubillos "first had to gather the necessary course data. Second, I met with our technology people to come up with a possible structure for this advisement tool. Third, I involved the entire Spanish faculty in the review of the pertinent data . Then, I turned to the PRESENT for programming help."
PRESENT staff member Jeff Whisler used PHP3 to program the tool, which works in conjunction with a MySQL database. To make its use possible, FLLT needed its own server with PHP3 and MySQL installed. The department developed the database of course information necessary to make the tool useful. Using a database facilitates the process of updating course offerings as they change over time.After the program was ready, "I had to implement Jeff's program in our server environment which already runs PHP and MySQL, and create the appropriate database," said Tom McCone, Director of the Foreign Language Media Center.
"The program's knowledge of each of the Spanish options covered by the planner is hard coded, which means that it must be revised substantially by a programmer to be serviceable for other course requirement structures," added McCone.
According to Janet de Vry, Manager, Instructional Services, User Services, the tool is still being refined, but eventually will be available for customization by other departments. In general, departments interested in implementing Cubillos tool will need the following technical specifications to run the online advisor:
If your department has these resources and a faculty or staff member able to devote the necessary time to gathering the department specific information, contact the PRESENT to discuss how to get started.
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"All students... can reliably explore their coursework options whenever and wherever they want. Advisors are called on to provide follow up and resolve problems."
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