A common goal of higher education institutions is to provide a student centric experience. It seems many organizations are utilizing an inside out approach to student centric design when by definition student centric design should be from the outside in. In some cases the approach seems to be:
If we put the tools in the hands of students, a majority of students will use them.
So with this Field of Dreams proverb in mind, schools start investing in technology to automate, or include students, to their existing processes without much regard to how their students actually utilize systems. Unfortunately, many times the reality has become:
If you build tools so students are able to complete portions of your internal processes, a limited number of students will use them.
Students do not have, nor should they have, the patience to try and figure out complex internal processes.
Redesigning Your Approach and Your Technology
So why is it that students, when provided with self-service, do not use the technology? The answer lies in the way students utilize such tools. For many students, it is easier for them to talk to someone or have the organization do the work, then to follow through a convoluted multi-step process that was built on the organization’s processes, which may be based on organizational structure. A student centric experience means the student is able to navigate systems based on their needs and what they would like to accomplish. In other words, do not mandate the steps; allow the student to determine the paths, and collect the data needed to complete the current step. Of course, if the data is not captured and re-used in future activities, the result will be the worst-case scenario, which is repeatedly asking for the same information and a frustrated student.
A Word About Portals
Where does this new approach to student centric tools leave the portal? Back in the summer of 2013, Paul Setze wrote a blog about the death of the portal, which is still relevant today. Portals are provided as part of ERP systems, and for many years they were designed to provide the student self-service. The problem with portals includes the following:
- They are transactional and focused on the ERP back office processes.
- Information is hard to find.
- Processes can be convoluted and hard to understand.
- Although portals can be configured to a personal experience, many are not effective.
According to a recent article in Campus Technology, schools will need to re-think portal design if they intend them to be utilized. The article mentions how Wayne State University redesigned its portal on a social media platform to allow for two-way real-time communication between students and the university. The university hopes to have all 30,000 students use the new portal this fall.
If You Don’t Build It, They Will
As I’ve indicated above, student experience design is not an afterthought. It is an important element of successfully moving to the desired state of “student first” and “student success.” There are examples of students closing the gaps to improve their experience. In August, The New York Times published an article about how clever and technologically savvy students have taken matters into their own hands by creating their own apps to improve their experience with their schools’ information systems. Institutions should ensure they focus outside in, meaning the student experience, as opposed to the internally focused inside out approach to ensure engaged students. And, if the school has the opportunity, enlist the tech savvy students to help design and build the systems they want to utilize.