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Project Glue is a program of the California Community Colleges Technology Center.What do Canvas, the Course Exchange, CCC MyPath portal and CCCApply have in common? Aside from being elements of student success programs in the California Community Colleges (CCC), they all involve massive amounts of data.

Data which, if synchronized between these and other applications among 113 colleges systemwide, would create a seamless continuum of technology offerings designed to help the CCC increase student completion rates and reduce the overall cost of educating more than 2 million students each year.

With the imminent launch of an online course exchange, inter-college data synchronization has suddenly become a pressing need. But incompatible student information systems (SIS) used by the colleges make the task extremely difficult. In fact, to do it would require an integration technology the likes of which can’t be purchased anywhere, according to Gartner Group. This reality gave rise to a homegrown solution known as Project Glue.

Project Glue is being developed from the ground up by the CCC Technology Center, which is the hub of technology development and operations for programs including the Common Assessment Initiative (CAI), Education Planning Initiative (EPI) and CCCApply, among others. It’s also a partner of the Online Education Initiative (OEI), whose Course Exchange will launch in pilot this fall, facilitated by a key software component of Project Glue. Indeed, the OEI exchange was a major driver of Project Glue.

"The development of a college adaptor and its associated API's, now known as Project Glue, were a keystone in the effort to create the online Course Exchange,” said John Sills, OEI Course Exchange Product Manager. “Project Glue is the foundation upon which the Course Exchange is built, and going forward will be the bedrock for the delivery of software applications from the CCC Technology Center."

Sparing Local IT Resoures

A key objective of the Glue project is to integrate all of the Chancellor’s Office technology initiatives without putting additional burden on local college IT departments, noted Louis Delzompo, Chief Technology Officer of the CCC Technology Center, and the architect of Project Glue.

“Two years ago, we were looking at potentially more than 20 integration projects coming down the pipe, and a lack of IT staffing resources at our colleges. All projects were at risk of being delayed as a result,” Delzompo explained. “The idea behind Glue was, let’s build something that connects to the SIS’ in a standardized way so local resources can remain locally focused.”

Delzompo described Project Glue as an architectural concept that will be built out over a period of five to seven years. The architecture has three main parts:

  • A college adapter
  • A standardized set of data objects
  • Data exchange

College Adapter

The college adapter is a software component that is installed locally behind a college’s firewall to facilitate data running in and out of the college’s SIS. It enables disparate SIS’ to communicate in a standardized way through a cloud service, such as the OEI Course Exchange or Canvas. The adapter has already been implemented and fully tested at eight colleges that will pilot the OEI Course Exchange starting this month.

The first version of the adapter, developed for the exchange, is being piloted with Banner and Colleague systems. A variation that includes support for PeopleSoft and custom SIS’ is in process. The Technology Center plans to provide integration assistance to colleges through a vendor.

Standardized Data

An SIS configuration layer marshals SIS data, and moves it in and out of standard data models. This data might include the student’s name, address, where they’re enrolled, the course number, whether they are enrolled full-time or part-time, etc. All these data elements have now been standardized, which has never been done before in the CCC.

Data Exchange Using MDM

A data exchange model is being built around Master Data Management, which will give each college flexibility to choose their SIS, and whether/how often to synch it with the centralized applications. Providing that flexibility puts the onus on Glue to both ensure consistent and up-to-date data as well as support the scale of transactions inherent in the CCC, Delzompo said.

“The basic idea is to create ecosystems for applications to interoperate in a much more real-time and seamless way than they do today,” he said.

For example, a student today might use CCCApply to apply to a community college. But because data is typically imported to the SIS in a batch file on a set schedule, the college doesn’t know the student has applied for hours or days because the data needs to be imported. What’s more, the student has to wait to find out if they’ve been accepted, which is frustrating.

Glue will make that process instantaneous, Delzompo said. “The student clicks a button, they get a message saying ‘You’re in, here’s what to do next: Log in to CCC MyPath, etc.’ Everything they put in their application is now in the [CCC MyPath] portal so we know what information to give them, whether it’s child care, veterans services, whatever.”

Extending the example to online courses, Glue enables real-time communication between the SIS and the Canvas course management system. So as soon as a student enrolls and registers for a course they have access to Canvas, rather than having to wait for the data to be imported.

A ‘Game Changer’

Delzompo acknowledged that there may be some resistance to adopting new technology that colleges may not be ready for. Yet, many colleges welcome Project Glue, he said, adding that vendors see it as a “game changer” and a way to “connect the dots.”

Development of the college adapter was largely funded by the OEI, as the technology was an immediate need to get the Course Exchange off the ground. Additional funding through the Chancellor’s Office will facilitate implementation of Glue at every college in the system.

The Technology Center is currently working with Experis IT for integration project support, so college IT personnel don’t have to take on a new project. A Request for Proposal will be issued soon with the goal of selecting qualified integrators.

Work for the remainder of this year is focused on support for Canvas integration, with CCCApply, electronic transcripts and education planning tools on the roadmap for 2017-18.

Crista Souza is the TechEDge News Editor