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Panther Central unifies SFCC’s Web-based services

Submitted by on October 30, 2009 – 3:07 pmNo Comment

Panther-Central-AnnouncingIn May 2010, South Florida Community College’s Web-based services will be integrated into a single portal: Panther Central.

Panther Central is SFCC’s version of Luminis, a component of SunGard Higher Education’s Banner Unified Digital Campus. Once it is launched, Panther Central will be the single point of access to all of the college’s electronic services, including Banner, PAWS, and Panther Den Online, as well as a system for delivering e-mail, college announcements, and other forms of communication.

Dr. Linda Ward, chief information officer, and Richard Merritt, webmaster and Banner Document Management System coordinator, said Panther Central will revolutionize the way the college delivers information and communicates with employees and students.

“Panther Central will enhance the educational experience by uniting campus services, learning communities, and administrative resources into an efficient, personalized, self-service environment,” Dr. Ward said.

 “It won’t necessarily change the electronic services we already have, but it will combine them under one roof,” Merritt said.

Here’s how Panther Central will work. A user logs in from any computer with an Internet connection and then goes directly to his or her personalized home page. What appears on that page depends partly on the user’s role – as a staff member, faculty member, administrator, student, or alumnus – and partly on the user’s choices. For example, e-mail and college announcement channels may be permanent features on the home page, but the user may choose to subscribe to college-generated feeds, like those from student clubs, or external news and social networking sites. Each home page will contain a series of tabs, which take users to college-related sites such as Financial Aid or Registration.

Employees will use Panther Central to check college announcements, maintain personal calendars, and access pay and benefit information through PAWS. Student services staff will go to Panther Central to enter student data or communicate with students.

Along with providing easy access to Banner and Panther Den, Panther Central will offer features that enhance faculties’ overall teaching experience. For example, every college course will automatically get its own Web site, where instructors can host threaded discussions and post announcements. Further, Panther Central will provide real-time integration between Banner and Panther Den, so that any information instructors enter can be instantly accessed by their students.

“In the past, if a course was created in Banner, it would have to be imported into Panther Den,” Merritt said. “That process will become more automated in Panther Central. It will have a huge effect on eLearning.”

Students will use Panther Central to access services available through Panther Den and PAWS, receive announcements, maintain a calendar, register and pay for classes, check the status of their financial aid, complete online course work, correspond with instructors and other students, monitor their grades throughout the term, and receive news feeds.

One of the advantages of Panther Central will be the ability to target content to specific users. This will be particularly valuable for delivering announcements, which can be sent to all users, some groups of users, or only those who meet very narrow criteria.

Over time, Panther Central will impact student life at the college. Each SFCC student club will get its own site, where members can blog, chat, post announcements, and feed information to subscribers.

Panther Central is being built in phases, Dr. Ward said. Currently, the Luminis Project Steering Committee is selecting the components for the initial release of Panther Central. The design, installation, and testing phase will run from the last week of November through January. By February, Dr. Ward will begin choosing various staff members to help test the pre-release version.

“We will ask them to look at the content and the design to make sure it is functional,” Dr. Ward said. Once Panther Central is up and running, additional components will be added in the future. “We will continue to use the steering committee to make sure we have the pieces we need and are eliminating the ones that don’t work for us.”

Dr. Ward has been heavily involved in the Luminis Project since she came to SFCC three years ago. “The money was available for the portal, but we held off because of the budget crunch,” she explained. “This spring, we decided that we didn’t want to wait any longer. We really needed this.” In mid-October, members of the Luminis Project Steering Committee and clubs sponsored by the Student Government Association (SGA) chose to name the portal Panther Central.

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