Compass receives praise, criticism

By Frank Krolicki

With the start of the new semester, many students at the University are discovering a new way of checking grades, taking online quizzes, keeping up with course information and more through a program called Illinois Compass. The program was piloted in the spring and has been met with both praise and criticism by students and staff.

Lanny Arvan, chief information officer for Educational Technologies, said a major benefit of Compass is that it will act as a replacement for various programs, such as Campus Gradebook and WebCT.

According to the Campus Information Technologies and Educational Services (CITES) Web site, these services are being consolidated to “streamline offerings” and “address budget constraints” because many of these programs performed similar functions.

Arvan said the new program was not initiated because of any major faults with the old ones, but that a new system was needed to support campus growth.

“There were definitely some good aspects to the other systems,” he said. “It is not as if Compass is bettering every element, but it should be more efficient and easier for students to use.”

Students will now be able to access services – including checking grades, now that Campus Gradebook has been shut down – in one place instead of multiple sites, Arvan said.

Suhailah Abu Bakar, senior in engineering, said the idea behind Compass was good for this reason, but that she had already encountered glitches.

“One of my professors was trying to show me how to use it, but I couldn’t log in for a while because it was down,” she said.

Art Schmidt, a professor of civil and environmental engineering who was one of 15 professors who tested the program in their classes last semester, said he noticed one particular problem.

“The most notable glitch is that there were bugs with opening PDF files,” Schmidt said. “Many times you would not be able to bring them up, depending on which browser you were using.”

But Schmidt also said there are a number of benefits to the new program.

“There is a great deal of freedom with how much material I can post,” he said. “It allows me to post a lot of information that students would otherwise have to get from the library or buy at the bookstore.”

Schmidt said he liked that Compass offered a discussion area where students could talk and answer one another’s questions. He also said the program gave him a means to gauge more accurately what material his students did and did not understand. He said this was useful because with this information, he could adjust his lectures accordingly.

While not all courses work through Compass yet, including those in the department of Chemistry and the entire College of ACES, Arvan said that would eventually change.

“Compass is powered by WebCT Vista instead of WebCT Campus, and these two departments’ courses are still supported by the Campus edition software,” he said. “I would expect most of these courses to be changed to Compass by Fall 2005.”

Arvan, Abu Bakar and Schmidt all said that Compass could make everyday life on campus easier, but that patience was necessary to get used to it and make sure bugs were worked out.

“It will take time to get comfortable with the program. The system is pretty efficient in getting work done, but you do have to know how to use it,” Arvan said. “I think it will ultimately allow us to communicate more easily with instructors, which will lead to higher levels of teaching and learning.”