Pakistan Journal of Distance & Online Learning
Volume: III, Issue: I, 2017
Design and Development of Online Student
Support System
Kamran Mir
Success of student in open and distance learning (ODL) depends on level
and various forms of information and communication technology (ICT)
support services available to them. Online student support system has an
important central role in ODL where students are geographically distant
from teachers and institute. Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU) is the
first Distance Education University in South Asia which provides
education to around 1.3 million students annually. To provide
administrative and educational support to these large numbers of students
an online support system is developed using latest open-source
technologies to accumulate all the student queries on a single platform
for better data analysis and quick response. The system is capable of
handling queries coming from different sources e.g. email, website,
telephone etc. In-built rating mechanism which is based on student vote
on query response helps in improving the response quality. Custom
reporting module helps in analyzing the nature and category of queries
based on different related parameters. On each query initialization and
response, student is automatically intimated via email and SMS. In this
paper, technical design of online student support system is discussed
followed by detailed query analytics.
Keywords: Online Student Support System, Analytics,
Assistant System Programmer, Allama Iqbal Open University.
Kamran Mir 2
Student support system becomes mandatory in open and distance
learning (ODL) due to geographical distance between student and
institution. In ODL, students face more administrative and technical
problems as compared to face-to-face students.
Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU) is the first Distance
Education University in South Asia which provides education to around
1.3 million students annually. To provide effective administrative and
educational support to these large numbers of students an online support
system becomes the need of time. In this paper, technical design and
analytics of an online student support system is presented. This system is
being developed using latest open-source technologies to accumulate all
the student queries on a single platform for better data analysis and quick
response. Besides these, data analytics is one of the content analysis
techniques which are being used in many industries to make better
decisions by visualizing the existing data. In education, learning
analytics is very popular term which is used to measure and analyze the
learner’s data to make appropriate improvements in learning and
teaching designs. In this paper, analytics module, developed based on
customized requirements is also presented.
Related Work
A study carried out to examine the critical e-learning success factors
as perceived by students identifies six different components in e-learning
that includes pedagogical, administrative, technological, evaluation,
resource support and interface design. E-learning adoption is a difficult
stage for any institution in which these kinds of success factor studies
can give better guidance to the institutions (Puri, 2012).
Support system has a direct impact on success and quality of ODL.
Learner support system is categorized as the key element in quality
distance education. An investigation carried out to identify the major
concerns of distance learners of Asia region states that there are major five
types of support required by a distance learner which includes affective
support, reflective support, cognitive support, gender support and systemic
support. Affective support is meant for motivating distance learner by
providing social, practical and emotional support in educational and
administrative matters. Reflective support means to make learners
reflective and responsive. Cognitive support includes support related to
Design and Development of Online Student Support System 3
educational contents, assessment and tutorials. Gender support is
responsible to handle issues which are related to any specific gender (Jung
and Hong, 2014). Systemic support means to develop a comprehensive
ICT based solution which integrates all kinds of support under one
umbrella. The model of systemic student support illustrated in Fig. 1.
Fig. 1 : Systemic Student Support Model (Jung and Hong, 2014)
The mode of providing student support changes with time. For e-
learning, online support is also very important along with online course
contents. In a research study, it is suggested that online tutors must get
expertise in technology so they can provide technical and administrative
support to online learners. Support activities may not be bound with any
specific mode; however, it must be provided as and when required
depending upon the situation of the learner (Thorpe, 2002).
An analysis conducted by a group of researcher to understand the
dimensions of support system which have close impact on women
learners’ achievement. This study concludes that the role of faculty is the
main contributing factor towards achievement however other factors
Kamran Mir 4
include electronic portal and video conferencing setup (Atan, Rahman,
Majid, Ghani and Idrus, 2015).
A case study of learner support services at Indira Ghandi National
Open University (IGNOU) states that support system provided to
distance learners should be responsive and accessible to everyone. It
means it should work on multiple modes. If the support services provided
are not continuously monitored it will decrease the efficiency and
effectiveness of student support services. In general, support services
should broadly provide information support, institutional support,
learning support and feedback support (Chattopadhyay, 2014).
The use of ICT has completely changed the way of teaching,
learning and support services. This has also changed the delivery mode
of library and tutorial support. Different innovative and technological
steps have been taken at IGNOU to provide support services to its
students (Arora and Babbar, 2013).
In this paper, online student support system developed for AIOU
distance learners is discussed. Fig. 2 shows different sources of support
questions raised by distance learners. As suggested by Jung and Hong
(2002) a comprehensive ICT based system should be developed which
integrates all support services provided to distance learner. Similarly, at
AIOU, different support services were provided in isolation having no
centralized linkage. A comprehensive online support system using open-
source programming technologies has been developed which integrates
all types of support services in one system. All queries and complaints
generated by students using different mediums are stored in a centralized
database of online support system.
Online Support
Walk-in Students
Written Application
Fig. 2: Different Sources of Student Queries
Design and Development of Online Student Support System 5
Fig. 3 illustrates the basic entity relationship diagram of overall
support system. The database structure is based on open-source ticket
management system i.e. HESK. The centralized entity is tickets where all
complaints and queries are stored. Each complaint or query belongs to a
category of problem.
Fig. 3: Entity Relationship Diagram of Online Support System
Results and Discussion
The interface of online support system is customized as shown below
in Fig. 4. From this screen, a student can submit an online query or can
check status of already submitted query. System is also loaded with pool
of frequently asked questions (FAQs) which are automatically suggested
to read during query submission.
On every query submission by student and response by university is
automatically intimated by email and SMS to all the relevant stake
holders. This increases the efficiency and effectiveness of overall system
by providing immediate feedback.
Every response can be rated by concerned student based on which
user rating is calculated as illustrated in Fig. 5. This feature of direct
immediate feedback of student can be very useful for improving the
response quality of different departments which will at large increase the
student satisfaction and improve ODL support quality.
Kamran Mir 6
Fig. 4: Interface of Online Support System
Fig. 5: User Rating System
Using open-source programming and data analytics, customized
dashboard has been developed which shows general summary of queries
generated in each month and its monthly status as shown in below Fig. 6.
Design and Development of Online Student Support System 7
Fig. 6: Monthly status of student queries
Further, it can be analyzed that how many queries belong to what type of
problem in any specific month or assigned to any specific department. It
can also be extracted that how many queries are pending or are not
resolved within time as required.
A comprehensive ICT based online student support system which
integrates all types of support queries is an effective and efficient
solution to provide student support services to open and distance learning
students. This will not only improve the support system but connecting it
with a centralized database can be used for further data analysis and
pattern recognition for better decision making. Detailed analytics can
also be acquired using freely available scripts to capture student
behaviour, location, device attributes and many other important factors
which are very helpful in decision making.
Kamran Mir 8
Puri, G. (2012). Critical success factors in e-learning an empirical study.
International Journal of Multidisciplinary Research, 149-161
Jung, I. and Hong, S. (2014). An elaborated model of student support to
allow for gender considerations in Asian distance education. The
International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning,
15(2), 170-188.
Thorpe, M. (2002). Rethinking learner support: the challenge of
collaborative online learning. Open Learning, 17(2), 105-119.
Atan, H., Rahman, Z., Majid, O., Ghani, N. and Idrus, R. (2015). The
support system in distance education: factors affecting achievements
among women learners. International Women Online Journal of
Distance Education, 4(1), 35-44.
Chattopadhyay, S. (2014). Learner support services in open distance
learning system: case study on IGNOU. Paper presented at Distance
Learning and Reciprocal Library System, Kolkata.
Arora, S. and Babbar, P. (2013). ODL support services through use of
innovation and technology: a case study of Indira Gandhi National Open
University library. Paper presented at Pan-Commonwealth Forum 7.
Citation of this Article:
Mir, K. (2017).Design and development of online student support
system. Pakistan Journal of Distance and Online Learning, 3(1), 01-08.