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Portal Applications for Higher Education


This week and next I will be discussing two distinct approaches to implementing portal applications in a higher education environment.

I am going to divert from the type of tools and resources I typically post about (free or low cost web based resources and apps for educators and the instructional process) to take a look a powerful type of application that is becoming increasingly popular in higher education (as well as K-12). Portal applications allow designers and users to integrate a variety of tools and information into a centralized interface. Users, be they students, faculty, or administrative staff, can have one consistent web-based gateway for accessing many of the applications, and much of the information, they need on a daily basis.

The first application that I will discuss is the feature-rich hosted suite of tools from Timecruiser, Inc. Timecruiser has been around since 1995, and boasts millions of higher education users (Timecruiser's application is sold exclusively to Higher Ed). Timecruiser offers a variety of tools that are integrated within the overarching hosted (Software-as-a-Service, or SaaS) Campus Cruiser portal application. The other portal application we will review (next week) is the markedly different Campus EAI Consortium myCampus portal tool set.


The Timecruiser application suite (ed note – Timecruiser rebranded themselves as ‘Campus Cruiser' in early 2010 – KW 9/8/10).
We are pretty far along in our implementation of the Timecruiser application suite at the institution where I work as Director of II&T. We selected this tool from a wide variety of alternatives, and continue to be impressed with the tool as we work through our configuration and roll out process. We are looking forward to taking full advantage of all it has to offer. The modules we are using include the robust Campus Cruiser Portal, the Cruiser Alert emergency notification and messaging application, and the Course Cruiser course management system. Timecruiser also offers a Course Evaluation tool, and they are constantly evolving and enhancing their offerings.

The Timecruiser applications can be licensed together or separately. Licensing costs are very attractive – we licensed the product for less than the cost of just one of the products that it displaced, and incurred no costs at all for infrastructure thanks to the application's SaaS model (in fact, we are freeing up several servers that were used to run displaced apps, which can now be redeployed elsewhere)! The hosted, SaaS model is the only way Timecruiser offers the application, and it is very cost effective, eliminating any need for servers and all associated maintenance. Of course, in this model, one needs a reliable Internet connection. The applications performance has been thoroughly impressive – it always comes up immediately and it seems to outperform most other web sites in terms of speed. Their Service Level Agreement clearly spells out their reliability assurances.

  • The Campus Cruiser Portal: The portal itself is a feature-rich environment that includes extensive functionality including e-mail, calendaring, tasks, bookmarks (web links), file storage (including 1 GB of space per user), and more. The My Cruiser Dashboard allows users to personalize the layout and content of a page (or multiple pages) of their own, utilizing over 30 ‘channels' that provide access to a wide variety of information internal to, and external to, the portal. One can easily access external web sites, and even embed widgets like YouTube videos and any other widgetizable applet. The community tool set uses many of the same tools and more, including message boards, chat rooms, photo albums, etc. Timecruiser has recently added Blogs, Web Pages, and the Cruiser Cafe social networking applet to the tool set. There is more here than we can cover in this limited post, so if you wish to learn more, click here and read further on their web site.
  • Course Cruiser: This Learning/Course Management System is a full featured application, comparable to Blackboard, Angel Learning, and similar CMS/LMS tools. A key difference with Course Cruiser is its tight integration into the rest of the portal environment. Click here to read more on the Timecruiser web site.
  • Cruiser Alert: This emergency notification and messaging tool provides an opt-in interface (which can be promoted via a campaign mechanism that urges users to sign up) and allows users to choose from SMS texting, e-mail, and voice mail to receive alerts from the different ‘channels' that can be set up. Here is a link to more information on this tool set.
  • Other applications: Timecruiser offers a variety of additional tools, including a survey application and the Cruiser Eval course/instructor evaluation app. Timecruiser is constantly working to add new functionality and applications.

This extensive combination of tools and functionality is unique and powerful, and has resulted in Timecruiser being named CODiE award winner as “Best Postsecondary Enterprise Solution” for two consecutive years by the Software & Information Industry Association. If you are considering putting up a Portal (or any one of the above tools) at your institution of Higher Education, or evaluating replacement of an existing tool, you would be well advised to look into Timecruiser's offerings.

Next Week
Next week I will review what I learned about the Campus EIA applications while evaluating portals. This is a somewhat different approach to portal technology. This application encourages the integration of open software tools, and incorporates potential grant eligibility into the procurement process to help displace implementation and supports costs. While Timecruiser is a robust product offering, myPortal and the other tools from the Campus EAI Consortium can facilitate a wider ranging set of tools in a model which might be attractive to larger institutions that have an application development and support staff that can take full advantage of it.


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