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Academica-ESP: A 21st Century Enterprise Social Portal

for Education Communities
Daren Hubbard, Interim CIO, Wayne State University ● Joseph Sawasky, President and CEO, Merit Network

Topics for Today
Introduction of partner organizations
Legacy portals in higher education
Reimagining the campus portal
What is Academica?
Rollout of Academica at Wayne State and early experiences
Technology framework
Academica and a nascent digital community
The future and distribution models

Wayne State University
• Located in Detroit, Michigan
• Largest single-campus medical school in U.S.
• ~28,000 students


Merit Network
• Michigan’s research & education network,
since 1966
• Located in Ann Arbor, Michigan
• Stand-alone non-profit 501(c)(3)
• Connects all of Michigan’s public
universities and >300 other organizations
serving society in the state
• High-performance networking, cyber
security services, digital community
building, above-the-net services
• Recent completion of 2 federally-funded
fiber expansion projects

Why Wayne State and Merit?
Strong partnership that has existed since 1966
Wayne State - great at technology innovation and serving complex campus needs
Merit - great at connecting organizations and building community
Merit as above-the-net service provider
Shared desire to enhance individual organizations’ portal experience
Shared desire to position willing organizations to participate in a larger digital community


Legacy portals in higher education
Most heavily-accessed enterprise application
Mostly used for single sign-on to other systems
Used to push one-way communications to campus constituents without regard to
personalization and content relevance
Not typically used to improve student engagement and retention
Not typically used to help sustain alumni relationships
Challenges scaling to meet demand spikes
Not always mobile-friendly

Reimagining the campus portal with Academica-ESP
 Serve as your campus community’s secure internal
social network, using Facebook and Twitter-like
features – but more private and secure!
 Work on mobile devices and tablets, as well as
traditional web browsers
 Increase student, faculty and staff collaboration by
being the digital forum people want to use…a place
where everyone has a voice
 Automatically personalize the user interface for
every individual, remembering how they prefer to
 Automatically organize course collaboration groups
for faculty and students

 Improve: incoming student interactions, student
retention and alumni engagement
 Cut through email spam clutter and provide
messages that are relevant to each individual
 Provide Google-like search features
 Scale in the cloud in real-time to meet demand
spikes and simultaneously lower annual operating

What is Academica-ESP?


Enterprise single sign-on portal
Social network, private and secure
Cloud infrastructure


A new place for conversation on campus
WSU envisioned a new way to foster internal
communication, using a new tool that leveraged familiar
Created streams for distinct cohorts
 Course-based (faculty and student)
 Student Orientation
 Work Groups

A new place for conversation on campus
Immediate increase in student collaboration
 Student-to-student conversations are fluid and
 Interactions that are unique to Academica are
taking place with great frequency

A new place for conversation on campus
Departmental campus communicators have
embraced the tool
 Interactive real-time feedback
 Greater opportunities for dialog

Adoption during voluntary phase


Technology framework
Running in the Amazon AWS cloud
Application auto-scales resources
– pay for what you use
Security features
• All users authenticated
• All messages encrypted

Academica-ESP and a nascent digital community
 Replaced their enterprise portal with it
 Very active and growing private social community – students, faculty and staff
 Creating new communications paradigm on campus

 Rolling it out for its statewide member portal
 Institutional liaisons
 Preparing to make it available to all state member institutions’ IT professionals
 Planning to use it as a basis for a new Merit Michigan Digital Commons
 Prepared to help institutions implement it locally as a service

 35 public school districts, public school academies and non-public schools
 Launching service as a pilot for targeted communities of interest

The future and distribution models
• Exploring software distribution models with Wayne State’s Technology
Commercialization group
• Strongly desire open source model for the software itself, but still working on it!
• Imagining eventual federation for ecosystems – K-12, community colleges and
• What can you do? >> Learn more and help us urge open source software model!

Thank you!


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