The Living, Learning Environment of a School

Feature Article | December 12, 2007 by SAP News

Blackboard, Inc. was founded in 1997 with a vision to enable educational innovations by connecting people and technology. This innovation and leadership has rewarded the Washington D.C. based company with sales of over $180 million dollars in 2006. Today, Blackboard’s online learning application is the most widely adopted course management system among U.S. postsecondary institutions.
It was a chance meeting at the EDUCAUSE 2006 annual conference between Blackboard’s Aaron Goldstein, head of International Business Development at Blackboard, and members of the SAP Public Sector group, where the seeds for the Blackboard/SAP partnership were planted.
Online classrooms for today’s distance learning applications must include real-time services – a tough challenge for most educational institutions. Academic applications such as the Blackboard Academic Suite can readily handle the e-learning revolution with features such as Syllabus Builder, a tool that enables instructors to design and develop lesson plans. Performance Dashboards give a view of student progress, indicating if a student has reviewed specific content items. And Gradebooks provides central storage for student performance, including grade weighting, item analysis and custom grading scales.
The Blackboard toolset is state of the art but there are some core business needs that it is not designed to address, and that’s where the power of SAP Campus Management, a part of the SAP for Higher Education & Research suite shines. SAP for Higher Education & Research supports all processes from front office to back office – including those involving prospects, students, and alumni, as well as financials, operations, procurement, human capital management, reporting, and analytics. Support for integrated workflow results in fast, organized, and productive management processes across the campus and research community.
“At the end of the day, it is about allowing educational institutions to effectively leverage the IT investments they have made on both the academic and administrative ends,” says Ken Thompson, Vice President of Strategic Planning and Global Operations at Blackboard, about his company’s partnership with SAP.

Passing grades

There was a time when the only computers on campus existed in the administrative office, and the most effective way for students to share information was to staple flyers to the bulletin board outside the cafeteria. Back then, educational institutions developed, often internally, a trove of homegrown systems to manage student enrollment, financials and human resources – disparate systems full of inefficiencies. Data integrity and communication between systems proved cumbersome and expensive to maintain for most educational institutions. Operational management of educational facilities is enormously complex and the business model hinges on school systems being efficient and accurate.

The benefits are many

SAP for Higher Education & Research acts as the hub for the Blackboard Academic Suite, ensuring data integrity and reducing manual errors. Through the power of the SAP NetWeaver platform, schools using Blackboard software can push or pull student or faculty master data, stored in SAP, directly into course schedules, grades, or workflow residing in a Blackboard Academic Suite front end. This end-to-end solution allows institutions to effectively deliver digital content to faculty, students, and other constituents without running reports, exporting data manually, or writing custom code.
Furthermore, the merging of data between the SAP and Blackboard platforms arms decision makers with instantaneous metrics about students, faculty and departments. Never before have academic institutions been able to capture, deliver, and measure reactive data from those interactions back to the administrative personnel with such ease. “There’s a big push in the education landscape for accountability. Are students learning what they need to compete? Are departments performing up to standards? Institutions need to have measurable results for accreditation and federal or state grants,” says Thompson.
The academic faculty has reason to cheer as well. Without the integration between the SAP Campus Management System and the Blackboard Academic Suite, faculty might have to provide student information to administrators, who in turn would enter the information into SAP Campus Management. Then, the administrators would manually enter that information into the Blackboard Academic Suite so that students could see their grades online. The new closed loop between the programs ensures data integrity and provides students, teachers, and administrators the information where they need it, when they need it.
At Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium, connections to the SAP administrative system pre-populates student data into professor’s classes and schedules, saving time for the professors and resources for the university. “Previously, students had to use different commercial and open source systems for each course. They had to surf to multiple web solutions and now they have one login for all their courses,” says Leen van Rentergem, head of IT services at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven.
At K.U. Leuven, any changes in the administrative environment are immediately updated through SAP NetWeaver. That data is then pushed to the Blackboard environment, where it is used for course evaluations, curriculum maps, or reports. The face of today’s learning environment necessitates that educational institutions merge e-learning capabilities with backend data.
“We had to do something central; we cannot offer education today without an e-learning environment,” says van Rentergem, who adds that all of the students at his university have portable computers and handheld devices. “They expect one portal to facilitate all of their education needs,” he says. “The SAP/Blackboard environment is really the living, learning environment of the school.”
With the majority of today’s academic institutions providing e-learning options, students can put away their No. 2 pencils, and higher education leaders can say hello to a new breed of academic technology – enabled by Blackboard and powered by SAP.

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