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Western Courier

STARS receiving a facelift

Nicholas Ebelhack

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Over the summer, Western Illinois University is planning to roll out an updated version of the Student/Alumni Records System (STARS) to improve upon existing accessibility and design features.

Administrative Information Management Systems Manager Dallas Mowen said that with these improvements he is expecting STARS usage to be more effective.

“STARS worked fine prior to this, but of course it wasn’t necessarily pretty,” Mowen said. “It wasn’t really working well on the phone, which is what everybody uses now. Back when we created STARS, it wasn’t really designed for that, and we didn’t know that was the kind of functionality it would need. It’s been around for about 20 years now.”

When the first iteration of STARS was created, Mowen said that the staff working on it didn’t expect the needs that users would have decades down the line, such as optimization for several different devices.

“We decided that we need to change that and that STARS needs to look more uniform and it needs to look more modern,” Mowen said. “We want to bring it into line with how the Western web pages look now.”

The modern look is designed to match what most Western webpages currently look like. Mowen said that issues with staffing and funding have prevented University Technology from being able to work on the project until now.

“The project more of a facelift,” Mowen said. “A lot of the functionality will be similar but it will have a similar look. Over the years, and this is something we have wanted to do, as any entity at this public university we have lost funds and we have lost people to projects probably more important than this.”

Features of the new STARS, in addition to the modern design, include optimization for mobile devices that allow for users to easily browse the system and technology that allows for the layout to change depending on the size of the viewing window.

Applications Analyst Andy Fentem said that STARS would also see a change for users with accessibility needs in terms of both function and cost. Speech reading software on different Internet browsers has been a priority for the team working on the project.

“I think it’s safe to say that we have a preferred browser,” Fentem said. “All of the browsers will work well, but when we talk about browsers and video and NVIDIA, there is a newer speech reading software, which is free, has been up and coming and has a lot of enhancements that we can use. JAWS is an old standby reader, but that costs a lot of money.”

The team behind the project has been looking at JAWS in order to ensure that all users would be able to embrace the full functionality of the system according to Mowen.

“Accessibility is also a big feature,” Mowen said. “We had a lot of room for improvement, so that was something that we wanted to work on. We really mean it when we say we are trying to help out people who are visually impaired so that the features would be more accessible to them.”

Another goal for the update was to make sure that STARS had a uniform look between pages, something that Mowen said was lacking in its current build.

“It‘s still going to work similarly, but now everything is going to look a lot more alike,” Mowen said. “Right now, if you go to the financial aid pages versus registration versus billings and receivables, it all looks different. They have been written in different times, and we didn’t have a good system for overseeing that.”

These features, in addition to others such as multiple menus to replace the single drop menu currently used to access all of STARS’s features, are planned to release before the beginning of the fall 2017 semester.

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The independent student newspaper of Western Illinois University. Serving Macomb since 1905.
STARS receiving a facelift