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Universities are offering more and more classes online. But students don't always have all the tools and information they need to succeed. A robust support infrastructure exists for face-to-face students, but those studying at a distance -- particularly in fully-online programs -- don't always have access to the same resources. This was the case the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, an independently-accredited part of the USF System. We decided to figure out how we could bridge this gap. Our goal was to design and build a custom, web-based solution. We believe the product we have prototyped -- and the process we used to build it -- will be of keen interest to many other colleges and universities. We will share lessons learned from both our process and the product we developed. Online students don't always know where to turn for help. Information available is profuse, inconsistent, and requires an understanding of university functions that new students may lack. With careful attention to accessibility, we found a three-pronged approach to address the goals of the portal: A customized chat platform that connects to key points of help A customized search capability that mimics "Google Suggest" A customized set of common questions and solutions that continuously updates to reflect the most sought-after topics


In the fall of 2015, a support portal team reached out to key stakeholders to better understand how to design a system that will serve students in all aspects of their online studies. The team interviewed 27 key stakeholders. A full list of the questions asked is presented as an appendix at the end of this report. During the interviews, several unexpected but important points arose, raising considerations above and beyond those covered by the initial questions. The interviews dealt with these themes: 1.What do you think USFSP students need to be successful with our online courses? 2.What do you see as the biggest roadblocks to student success online? 3.How should your department or area be represented in the portal? What key information should students have access to? Does this content now exist and, if so, where? The stakeholder interviews revealed recurring values and concerns. These themes informed the present report, guided the technologies considered and influenced the solutions proposed.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.