Attending medical school is a huge commitment, causing medical students to plan their time very carefully. Thanks to Information Builders, the task of evaluating courses has become much easier at the University of North Texas Health Science Center (HSC). IT pros at HSC used WebFOCUS from Information Builders and iWay Software to create an Internet-based course assessment program that delivers reports tailored to individual needs.

The University of North Texas Health Science Center is dedicated to the advancement of all three disciplines of medical science: education, research and patient care. The 15-acre, $71 million complex is located in the cultural district of Fort Worth, Texas.

Academic information services in the department of medical education is the department responsible for academic computing. Its mission is to support the HSC's commitment to excellence in education by providing a wide range of academic information support services to a broad constituency of the center's administrators, faculty, staff and students.

The HSC has always given students the opportunity to evaluate instructors and courses. In the past, however, course evaluations were tallied and distributed using paper reports that had to be printed, sorted, packaged, labeled and mailed.

Academic information services considered a number of turnkey reporting solutions and several report development tools before settling on WebFOCUS. HSC turned to iWay Software, an Information Builders company, to access data from various sources. In addition, HSC enlisted help from Information Builders Consulting for the initial migration from DOS to Microsoft Windows NT. The organization also purchased a training package of advanced reporting techniques.

The development team quickly gained proficiency with the WebFOCUS software. Using this new expertise, they set out to design and implement Quality, a system to collect and distribute course and instructor evaluation data in real time via the Internet. There were two phases to the project: collection of the data from students and distribution of the data to the various constituencies.

The collection process was tackled first. Unlike traditional undergraduate education where there is one instructor per course, most medical school courses have 10 to 20 instructors. The collection process is further complicated by medical students in their third and fourth years of study performing medical clerkships at hundreds of locations throughout the country.

Developers designed Web forms for inputting course evaluation data. Instead of completing a paper form that had to be manually tallied, students could evaluate courses and clerkships by responding to a series of online questions.

Today, evaluation reports are online for all courses, and HSC allows students to enter and retrieve information from any computer with Internet access. Quality also lets students supply daily curriculum comments to the course directors and anonymous e-mails to course faculty. Course comments are accumulated and categorized by organization, presentation, instructor/student interaction, pace, workload, tests, support materials and services. These daily curriculum comments allow the course director to make adjustments while the course is in progress.

Following analysis, databases are updated and reports are created to summarize evaluations for a course or clerkship as well as for each individual instructor. Composite reports, which average instructor results for a given course, are also created. These reports serve as an important benchmark for instructors to compare individual evaluations. Additionally, a "satisfaction index" is calculated for each course or clerkship and each instructor.

The new system saves hundreds of hours in staff time and thousands of sheets of paper each year. Clerks no longer have to collect and enter approximately 65,000 data points from evaluation forms. Additional savings stem from the instantaneous delivery capabilities of e-mail and the Web, which make the processes of hand-sorting reports, packaging them in envelopes, labeling the envelopes and transporting them to the mailroom obsolete.

WebFOCUS is deployed on a Microsoft Windows NT server. Numerical data is analyzed and stored in a FOCUS database while student registration data resides in an Oracle database on a UNIX platform accessed via iWay Software. Long comments are stored in a PostgreSQL database on a Linux system and are retrieved using Perl scripts. WebFOCUS combines these various types of data dynamically each time reports are generated.

WebFOCUS: A complete business intelligence solution designed to support today's most critical e-business and e-government initiatives ­ B2B, B2C and B2E (business to enterprise).

iWay Software sells proven, industry-leading integration products that accelerate e-business application development. iWay Software creates an enterprise architecture that can integrate legacy systems and data, transactions, ERP and CRM packages, custom applications and EAI environments from leading vendors such as IBM, NEON, Vitria and BEA.

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