Board to vote on Banner updates to improve student experience

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Personalized passwords for student emails may be available in spring, a district official says.

Bleah B. Patterson

sac-ranger@alamo.edu

The district board of trustees is scheduled to vote on Banner changes today allowing students to personalize student email passwords.

Many students and faculty dread using Banner because it is cluttered and filled with jargon, Pamela Ansbury, associate vice chancellor for fiscal and administrative services, said, and now district officials are taking steps to make the software cleaner and more user-friendly.

Students enrolled at one of the Alamo Colleges have five tabs to choose from once logged into Banner. Ansbury said the terminology is conflicting, confusing and redundant.

Some links and resources are duplicated from one tab to another, such as “Canvas Student Resources,” appearing in three separate tabs; “Financial Aid” under the “My Page” and “Home” tabs; and “Web Services” and “Alamo GPS” appearing in more than one tab.

Ansbury is also concerned that some information about adding and dropping courses, financial aid, student accounts and registration may be conflicting and unclear.

Students have to use a software-generated password of random characters to log into district email.

In conjunction with Dr. Thomas Cleary, vice chancellor for planning, performance and information systems, Ansbury said the software has finally been updated and students will be able to personalize passwords. She said she hopes to have the change as soon as spring.

Banner is higher education software implemented for administrative, finance, financial aid and human resources in spring 2010, while the student facets of Banner, including registration, and access to courses launched fall 2010.

Cleary said Banner was the successor, an updated version, of SIS Plus, also owned by Sunguard, a technological support company for public sector organizations.

“We had SIS Plus for 21 years before that,” Cleary said.

Banner, like SIS Plus before it, serves as a database for human resources for the district, student admissions, financial aid, registration and other operating services for faculty and students.

According to a Northwest Vista College faculty survey, Banner’s service is an improvement to past services, such as Passport, allowing easier access to student academic records.

Overall, Northwest Vista College’s faculty survey reveals the positives do not out-weigh the negatives.

“We spent the summer looking into Banner, trying to feel it from a student’s perspective. Now that the semester has started, we have to deal with all of the administrative things, but a larger emphasis on student intensiveness has been implemented. We honestly just never really looked at it before,” Ansbury said.

She said once she and her staff looked at Banner, everything had to change.

“We’re aiming to standardize and simplify terminology. The key is to remove redundancy and clean it up,” Ansbury said.

“Right now, we’re working on it internally with Cleary. But eventually, we might like to bring in an expert to redo the entire thing. Right now, the goal is to make it as user-friendly as possible before fall 2015 registration begins in April,” she said.

“That would be great,” Steve Samet, counselor at this college, said. “If they actually do it, I’d be impressed.”

He continued saying it sounds like district “may really be trying to fix it.” He also said the system is inaccurate, putting some students on academic holds wrongly, not allowing them to register for classes, and taking students off holds who should not be.

The problem so far, Samet said, is the way Banner is structured, “The students have a really difficult time engaging with it.”

By Oct. 31, Ansbury hopes to assemble a Student Experience Advisory Committee, with college administrators, faculty, technicians and five students who will have voting rights on the committee.

Gathering the committee will complete Phase 1 and allow Phase 2 to be completed in December.

Northwest Vista College offers the largest number of student development classes in the district.

“I’ve interviewed NVC SDEV classes, both day and night classes, to pinpoint some of the main issues,” Ansbury said.

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