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LeagueTLC Innovation Express
Exploring Issues, Innovations, and New Developments with Information Technology Professionals

It's All Within Reach: Using the Digital Campus to Reach Nontraditional Students

North Shore Community College, MA

Nontraditional students are becoming the fastest growing student population. To keep pace, community colleges across the nation are looking for a solution to help meet these students' particular needs. Typically 25 years and older, this group is balancing career, family, and community responsibilities, all while attending college. 

To better serve nontraditional students, community colleges are offering independent learning courses, accelerated schedules, weekend programs, online classes, and interactive video courses. However, to be truly effective, these offerings must reach beyond distance learning and provide nontraditional students with anytime, anywhere access to all campus information and services. 

With nontraditional students representing more than 50 percent of its student base, North Shore Community College (NSCC) in Danvers, Massachusetts, is among a growing number of colleges offering both distance learning course options and unprecedented online access to campus information and services. Although distance learning is commonplace at most colleges, the idea of offering students 24/7 access to campus resources is still gaining in popularity. In 2000, NSCC began building its digital campus and in turn became a trailblazer in employing technology to enhance and customize the campus experience for its large population of nontraditional students. 

The path NSCC took to become more responsive to its nontraditional students required a long-term technology vision and the dedication to ensure that this vision would become a reality for thousands of students juggling families, careers, and academics. 

With a long list of needs and a limited budget, NSCC's Information Services Team set out to find a solution that would enhance the overall teaching and learning experience, ensure open communications, increase constituent accessibility to information, and promote a connected community spanning the college's multiple campuses. To move forward with this challenge, the team developed a technology vision to tackle the specific challenges. Ultimately, the team looked for a solution that would facilitate improvements in three areas:  

  • Access to information and services—NSCC needed to provide its large population of working and nontraditional students with anytime, anywhere access to campus information and services such as registration, class information, course tools, and e-mail, while leveraging its past technology investments, including its SCT Banner student information system (SIS) and Blackboard course tools.

  • Campuswide communications—NSCC faculty and staff needed a way to communicate effectively with students and colleagues in a prompt, cost-efficient manner. 

  • Registration processes—During registration, NSCC students could typically expect to wait in registration lines the length of a football field; the college sought technology that would allow students to register from any Internet-ready computer, regardless of the computer's location.

NSCC's Information Systems Team researched available technologies and chose a solution that would scale to their current needs, deliver measurable results, and provide open architecture for integration with future technology developments. The overarching goal was to provide students with an easily accessible collection of campus information and services. 

After an extensive evaluation process, NSCC selected the Campus Pipeline® Web Platform. The Web Platform would become the foundation for a digital campus that could address each of its challenges and integrate with its existing SCT Banner Student Information System (SIS), Blackboard course tools, and other learning management systems. The digital campus is a single sign-on network that integrates data, portals, calendars, student information systems, and learning management systems.

The digital campus would enable the college to house campus resources under a single umbrella so students wouldn't have to undergo extensive searches and visit numerous websites to complete administrative tasks such as checking e-mail, registering for classes, paying tuition, accessing online courses, and participating in course-related discussion groups. 

Project Planning
To ensure the project's success, the Information Systems Team executed a planning sequence that encompassed tasks ranging from planning to promotions to training. An initial task was to form action teams that would make functional decisions about implementation, which was critical for gaining overall consensus throughout the college community. 

  • The Pipeline Advisory Team, including representatives from academic technology, the marketing department, and student government, was charged with defining procedures and creating the look of the Campus Pipeline environment for the overall digital campus.

  • The SCT Banner Functional Team, representing all of the service areas using the Banner SIS, was charged with configuring the "Web for Student" and "Web for Faculty" products in ways that reflected the college's practices.

  • The Web Technical Team, including IT staff, were responsible for the installation, initial configuration, and maintenance of the SIS and the Web Platform.

When NSCC conducted its pilot Web registration period during the summer 2000 semester, the staff soon started seeing outstanding results. During the program, NSCC's goal was to register 300 students via the Web. These goals were met, and during one registration period alone, over 150 students registered via the Web. The clear success of this pilot convinced key stakeholders to move forward with this technology as a standard way of conducting business and providing services. 

Soon after the digital campus went live, a wave of curiosity quickly spread across campus. The high level of student interest sparked a new challenge: How could campus support personnel assist thousands of students to access their Campus Pipeline accounts? To clear this bottleneck, the team created a short video demonstrating the entire Campus Pipeline account activation procedure, and the video was shown at various campus venues. The introduction video, along with a hardcopy guide and Web-based instructions, sped up the account activation process dramatically and encouraged students to become regular users of the digital campus. 

Another question arose during the implementation process. The Information Systems Team needed to find an efficient way to assign individual usernames and passwords to students so they could access the digital campus. Instead of mailing usernames and passwords to students, the Information Services Team built a front-end account activation form that asked students for three pieces of verification information, which were then checked against corresponding information in the SIS. If the information matched, the account information was provided. The form also required students to answer one of three questions for authentication purposes when requesting remote tech support. It also enabled students to set their own Campus Pipeline password, which updated the temporary Campus Pipeline password provided by the school. 

North Shore Community College's digital campus has freed its nontraditional students from spending countless hours trekking across campus and waiting in line to complete various administrative tasks. Instead, they can spend more time studying, caring for their families, and focusing on their careers. NSCC has realized several remarkable results since introducing its digital campus just two years ago: 

  • Single, sign-on access—NSCC's students can now sign on to a role-based portal within the larger digital campus infrastructure that provides access to campus information and services with a single password and URL. From the main entry page of the portal, students can access library resources, electronic reserve readings, study materials, e-learning and traditional course materials, registration, grades, degree audit reports, graduation requirements, Web-based e-mail, job databases, and online tuition payment options.

  • Expedited administrative processes—In years past, students at NSCC could expect to wait in lengthy registration lines. Since the introduction of online registration, lines are virtually eliminated. 

  • Increased adoption of online services—Over 90 percent of NSCC students are now registering for classes via the digital campus, and more than 1,000 students are enrolled in 100 percent online or Web-supported courses, a figure that the college predicts will double by the fall 2004 semester. 

  • Decreased demands on IT staff—Since the Campus Pipeline updates disparate systems dynamically, the IT staff has far fewer demands to maintain account and enrollment information on each of these systems (e.g., Web services, Learning Management System, Computer-Based Tutorial System). 

  • Efficiency gains and reduced back office support—Instructional Technologists no longer have to create accounts and enroll faculty and students in the Learning Management System. Much of the routine work involved with providing student support and services is now available to students online, thus freeing back office personnel to deal with higher-level support issues. 

  • Improved access and communication between students and faculty—Because the Web Platform automatically creates and updates class e-mail distribution lists for faculty members as students register online, instructors can now communicate with students more easily.

  • Simplified access to class information—Students now have access to course resource areas, including class links, syllabi, class notes, class chat rooms, and message boards for each of their courses from any Web-enabled computer. Since course resource areas are created for each course automatically, faculty members can provide class links and make syllabi and class notes available to students before classes begin.

Lessons Learned
When leaders at North Shore Community College set out to build a digital campus, they envisioned a wealth of campuswide improvements including increased operational efficiency, streamlined administrative processes, and enhanced student services for its nontraditional students. 

The NSCC Information Services Team used five precepts to ensure a smooth transition during the construction of its digital campus, and any institution embarking on its own campus technology project may find these precepts useful:

1. Plan for the impact
Implementing technology infrastructures is a revolutionary undertaking that has the muscle to reshape processes. Because planning is essential to the outcome of any technology implementation, it is important to outline all facets of the project to ensure a smooth transition. Delegating tasks to strategic campus groups helps keep the process on track and invites insight from departments and constituents across the entire campus enterprise. 

2. Training 
Training is critical. If students, faculty, and staff don't know how to use new technology, they won't. Training all campus constituents will take away the mystery of new technology and make new processes more approachable. Self-service training can be carried out in a variety of ways depending on the size and needs of a particular institution. Designing effective self-service training, including distributing pamphlets and offering step-by-step instructions on the Web, makes it easier for busy students to learn about the digital campus at a time and place that is convenient for them. 

3. Getting stakeholders on board 
It can be tempting to let matters rest after initial implementation success; however, being persistent and soliciting visible involvement and input from essential internal constituents can help ensure that the project continues to gain momentum. 

4. Providing 24/7 accessibility
To be truly effective, technology offerings must provide students with anytime, anywhere access to campus information and services, so the digital campus "Open" sign is up regardless of the day or time.

5. Customization is key
Customizing Web content based on an individual's role and academic standing not only personalizes each student's campus experience, but also ensures that the right information is getting to the right people at the right time. 

Nontraditional students are the fastest growing student population, and providing them with the tools they need to succeed is a rising priority for community colleges. The NSCC digital campus is making it possible for working, commuting, and parenting students to easily complete administrative tasks so they can focus their time and energy on their academics, families, and careers. With the right planning, focus, and technology mix, the results NSCC realized can be replicated at other community colleges.

For more information, contact:
Gary Ham 
Chief Information Officer
North Shore Community College

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