K-12 Portal Brings Honolulu Community Together

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Acentralized, collaborative portal is bringing the widespread community of Punahou School (www.punahou.edu) together to share values, ideals, thoughts, learning, life experiences and “ohana” (i.e., family values and camaraderie) - anytime, anywhere.

Punahou School, a college-preparatory day school in Honolulu, has implemented what is believed to be the first K-12 customized portal. Nearly 4,700 students attend Punahou and reflect Hawaii’s ethnic, cultural and soci'economic diversity. More than 400 students graduate annually, 98% of whom go on to four-year institutions. Known for the success of its Advanced Placement program, the Academy (grades 9-12) is a leading source of Presidential Scholars and National Merit Scholarship semifinalists.

Keeping Students, Faculty Connected

Although other K-12 schools have e-mail and Web sites, few compare to the level of customization, collaboration, services and resources available on Punahou’s portal, ePunahou. The portal provides resources and tools for more than 50,000 students, faculty, staff, alumni and parents to access course schedules, calendars and announcements, as well as to communicate within the classroom and globally via e-mail, message boards and chat rooms. “The portal brings together Punahou’s community into one centralized, collaborative environment,” says Eric Brown, CIO at Punahou School. “It allows for anywhere, anytime access to the values and opportunities offered at Punahou.”

The Punahou portal relies on SCT Luminis Platform technology (online at www.sct.com), which provides the solid foundation of infrastructure, enterprise applications and portal features required to support a school’s digital campus. Most commonly used in higher education, SCT Luminis creates an online environment that can be customized by every member of the school community. Although the portal is available to the broad Punahou community, the experience is tailored to each type of user. For example, first-graders log on and see different information, graphics and links than fifth-graders because the presentation is enhanced by artwork from each respective grade. But the portal serves more than just students; a special home page allows faculty to easily share files, links and announcements. The school also expects to have resources available to its more than 22,000 alumni this fall.

Online course tools are incorporated with the curriculum, allowing teachers to integrate technology into the lessons and better accommodate various learning and communication styles. From fourth-graders planning a field trip to Volcan'es National Park to high school seniors studying English literature, the tools help further the educational experience.

Although the portal is cutting-edge, students accepted it readily and jumped into the discussion boards and chat rooms without much prompting. For example, the fourth-grade class continued a discussion about a playground incident using online group tools, furthering social education in a constructive new environment. “Their ease with the technology demonstrates that the technical aptitude of young students is growing faster than ever before,” says Brown. “Even our youngest students expect the ability to collaborate and communicate online.”

The virtual environment also is enhancing learning and communications. For example, a group of students has been studying vocabulary words at home in the evenings using the chat tool. Faculty members also post assignments, deadlines and announcements to the portal, making information quickly and easily available to students and parents. Quick Links, Important Contact Information and Campus Calendar channels help keep parents and others in the school community informed. In addition, ePunahou provides a means for students to stay connected to the school and their classmates while traveling for school-approved exchange programs in Europe and Asia.

Adding Value to Learning

The opportunity to implement the SCT Luminis Platform came about when a Punahou alumnus made a generous donation designated for the implementation of a portal. The donor also committed his time to get the project under way. The donor and others defined the vision for the portal as “a single, comprehensive integrated technology platform that supports the communication and information access needs of the global Punahou community.”

Punahou then made a very unusual move for a K-12 school: it hired a CIO, Eric Brown, in January 2003. Soon after, the school selected the SCT Luminis Platform. We considered portals from different vendors, but SCT Luminis was the only solution designed specifically for education. Although it was built for higher education, we saw that we could customize it to meet our needs. Other important factors in the school’s decision, according to Brown, were the fact that Luminis is built on the uPortal open-source platform and that it can integrate with the school’s student information system.

Brown and other administrators quickly realized that the new application would have an impact far beyond the IT department. “For a project to be successful, the change it creates must be managed,” says Brown. “A successful implementation needs to involve cross-functional representatives, with a top-down and bottom-up approach. Preparedness in the areas of organizational readiness, business readiness and technical readiness is critical. Involving people, considering processes and building on stable, robust technology is a formula for success.”

To ensure success, Punahou enlisted the help of SunGard SCT in the areas of planning, training and communication. An important element of all the areas was identifying the various and diverse user groups - which range from elementary-age children to adult alumni - as well as mapping portal content, training and communication activities to each group.

We really needed the services provided by SunGard SCT because no one else has implemented a K-12 portal. Our consultants knew the product well and had enough experience with other schools to provide some best-practice advice, as well as to see and understand the fit of the product features in our environment.

The portal is adding value to students and their learning. It is also adding value to the relationships that students, alumni, parents, faculty and staff have with Punahou. In addition, ePunahou is providing a connection to the school that will go beyond graduation and really make the school experience something lifelong. The impact it is having is far beyond our expectations.

This article originally appeared in the 09/01/2004 issue of THE Journal.

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