Navigating the new Compass

Compass screenshot Steve Contorno

Compass screenshot Steve Contorno

By Kate Slaughter

Students who have logged into Illinois Compass recently may have noticed a new look and feel for the site, but that isn’t all that has changed.

Experts at Campus Information Technologies and Educational Services have spent the past few months upgrading the Compass system from the WebCT Vista 3 platform to Blackboard Enterprise Vista 4. The changes are currently in their pilot phase, meaning that all summer courses are hosted in the new system. Fall courses are also being planned within the new system.

Many new features have been packed into Vista 4 that will make the learning experience more interactive for both students and faculty members.

“It seems to be a little bit quicker because it is so user-friendly,” political science teaching assistant Jennifer Romine said.

Among these additions is a “Who’s Online” feature, which allows users to see which professors and students are logged into Compass and are available for help via instant message.

Leslie Hammersmith, director of CITES Educational Technologies, explained that the “Who’s Online” feature “opens up an opportunity for a little bit more interaction with instructors or with other students.”

Tracy Tolliver, manger and technical lead at CITES, explains that another new feature allows users to create a short profile that other students and professors can see, and they can upload a picture of themselves to be shown with their profile information.

A calendar feature has also been added that allows instructors to enter due dates for assignments and exam dates. Reminders about these dates will appear on students’ homepages during the week they are scheduled to occur.

“It’s a lot easier for students,” Romine said. “If they don’t pay attention to the syllabus, they’ve still got a calendar there that says ‘you’ve got an exam next week.'”

One of the top goals of the Vista 4 system was improving ease of use. A permanent toolbar on the side of the page was added to make navigation quicker and easier.

Professor Chester Brown, a course coordinator for MCB 103, 104, and 240 explains that Vista 4 streamlines everything a little more and makes pages easier to get to.

“The new system looks like it might be a little easier in terms of file management,” he said.

Brown believes that the new system seems to be more user-friendly, especially with the improved navigational toolbar.

“It’s nice to see the different features that each role has,” he said. “You see what the builder can do, you see what the student can do, you see what the instructor can do, in terms of what they have access to with the toolbar.”

Romine also explains the new toolbar on the side of the page makes Compass a little easier to navigate. She said it doesn’t take as many clicks to get to the page you want.

Toni Elugbadebo, junior in LAS, explains that Compass is “definitely more organized.”

She says that the toolbar and pop-ups on the side let students see new grades or assignments and other posts by professors right away.

Elugbadebo also thinks that the Blackboard system seems to be more universal.

“Most people are like ‘Compass, what’s Compass?'” she said.

But now that the system is powered by Blackboard, it seems to be something that students from most universities know about, she said.

The new system is fully prepared in the event that a problem should occur.

“Trying to learn from our experiences with past performance issues, we changed the way the system is set up … so that any failure of the system should not be noticeable to the users,” Hammersmith said. “There should be minimal interruption.”

Tolliver also says that the new system is “projected to handle our campus load just fine at this point.”

Students can contact the CITES Help Desk at [email protected] with feature requests. If students are interested in designing a feature that could be offered through Illinois Compass, such as designing a template for an instructor, they are strongly encouraged to contact the CITES Help Desk.